Oxfam admits man dismissed over Haiti prostitution scandal in 2011 was rehired later that year in Ethiopia

Oxfam says it is examining how 'serious error' happened 

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 15 February 2018 15:59 GMT
One of the staff members dismissed over alleged sexual abuse following the 2010 Haiti earthquake was re-hired in Ethiopia
One of the staff members dismissed over alleged sexual abuse following the 2010 Haiti earthquake was re-hired in Ethiopia (Getty)

Oxfam re-hired one of the aid workers sacked over alleged sexual misconduct in Haiti just months later, it has emerged.

The charity apologised for the “serious error” shortly after Desmond Tutu became the latest high-profile figure to step down as an ambassador.

A spokesperson confirmed that the man was dismissed from his post in Haiti in 2011 but subsequently hired as a consultant in Ethiopia from October to December that year.

“Hiring him, even in an emergency as a short-term consultant, was a serious error and should never have happened,” a statement said.

“We are still checking how this occurred but it further highlights that we need an organisation and sector-wide approach to the vetting and recruitment of both staff and consultants, especially in emergencies where there is pressure to fill posts quickly in order to help save lives.

“We are now checking whether there were any issues in Ethiopia while he was there.”

The man was among four members of Oxfam staff to be dismissed over the alleged use of prostitutes in Haiti, although the extent of their involvement is unclear.

Oxfam's head of safeguarding: In one instance 'a woman had been coerced to have sex in exchange for aid'

Three others, including the country director Roland van Hauwermeiren, resigned before the end of an internal investigation in 2011.

The Charity Commission has launched a statutory investigation into Oxfam after claiming it failed to “fully and frankly disclose material details” of allegations against its staff.

The Government has warned that aid agencies failing to offer adequate assurances about their safeguarding processes and transparency could have funding withdrawn, while Labour is calling for a full inquiry.

Archbishop Emeritus Tutu became the latest high-profile figure to distance himself from Oxfam as the scandal continued on Thursday.

The South African Anglican leader said he was “deeply disappointed by allegations of immorality and possibly criminality involving humanitarian workers linked to the charity”, which he had supported for many years.

“He is also saddened by the impact of the allegations on the many thousands of good people who have supported Oxfam’s righteous work,” a spokesperson added, confirming he had retired from the position of global ambassador.

Actress Minnie Driver resigned earlier this week, followed by Senagalese singer Baaba Maal, while former ambassador Livia Firth, the wife of actor Colin, said the men involved had “betrayed all who put their faith in them”.

“It would be a tragedy to see this relief work and advocacy stopped,” she added.

Minnie Driver was the first celebrity to distance herself from Oxfam
Minnie Driver was the first celebrity to distance herself from Oxfam (Getty)

”Oxfam must do everything in its power to heal the damage to those who depend on both its work and the good faith and generosity of its supporters.“

Mr Van Hauwermeiren, the Belgian aid worker at the heart of the scandal, claims reports of his activities as Oxfam’s country director for Haiti and previously in Chad included ”lies and exaggerations“.

"A lot of people, including in the international media, will be blushing with shame when they hear my version of the facts,” he told De Standaard.

"It is not that I deny everything. There are things that are described correctly. But there are many lies and exaggerations.

"Parties every week? Fancy villas? Women paid with money from the organisation?"

He indicated the revelations had taken a personal toll, telling the paper: "It is especially bad that my family no longer want to see me."

Corporate support for Oxfam has been wavering and although the charity says it is too early to tell the impact of the crisis” on donations, it revealed 1,270 people cancelled their direct debits between Saturday and Monday - almost double the average of 600 cancellations per month.

The scandal already caused the resignation of the charity’s deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence, who said she took “full responsibility” for the alleged use of prostitutes by senior staff in Haiti and on a previous placement in Chad.

A subsequent country director for Haiti, Damien Berrendorf, was sacked last year but had no connection to the previous case.

Oxfam said Mr Berrendorf, who was in the post from 2012 to 2017, was dismissed for mismanagement.

“The dismissal was not related to sexual misconduct and was not connected to the case in 2011, however, there were allegations of inappropriate behaviour,” a spokesperson added.

“As soon as the allegations were reported via Oxfam’s whistleblowing line, they were investigated and the individual was dismissed.”

It came as the International Development Secretary met with the National Crime Agency (NCA) discuss how they could jointly tackle sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid industry.

The NCA has been “closely monitoring” allegations and confirmed it has a range of powers to investigate sexual offences committed outside the UK and support foreign security forces.

Penny Mordaunt has threatened to cut Oxfam’s public funding, which totalled £31.7m in 2016/17, and that from other charities that fail to reassure the Government vulnerable people are safeguarded.

“No organisation is too big, or our work with them too complex, for me to hesitate to remove funding from them if we cannot trust them to put the beneficiaries of aid first,” she said.

The Government has written to all British charities working overseas demanding “absolute assurances” that they are protecting vulnerable people and referring complaints to authorities.

A new unit dedicated to reviewing safeguarding in the aid sector and stopping “criminal and predatory individuals” being employed by other charities has been created, and a global register of development workers may be established.

The International Development Committee is to hold an urgent session on Tuesday to question Oxfam UK's chief executive Mark Goldring and its chair of trustees, Caroline Thomson.

Save the Children's chief executive, Kevin Watkins, is due to give evidence on wider sexual exploitation in the aid sector and a Government representative will be present to explain its knowledge of the problem.

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