Decision on whether to pull public funding of Oxfam 'will not be taken hastily'

A decision on whether to withdraw public funding from Oxfam over the aid worker sex scandal will not be taken "hastily", International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has said.

The charity has issued an "unreserved apology" to the Government, donors, supporters and the people of Haiti over its handling of sex allegations, including the use of prostitutes by workers, in the earthquake-hit country in 2011.

Ms Mordaunt said she would take the issue "very seriously" but stressed she would be guided by a Charity Commission inquiry into Oxfam while deciding whether to pull funding.

The charity received £31.7 million from the Government in 2016/17, but the support has been put at risk by the scandal, which led to the resignation of its deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence.

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt leaving 10 Downing Street, London, after a Cabinet meeting. (Victoria Jones/PA)
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt says she is taking the Oxfam aid worker sex scandal 'very seriously' (Victoria Jones/PA)

Ms Mordaunt said: "I know people will be worried about the charity, they'll be worried about the money, but we need to be guided by what the Charity Commission are doing and also I have made it very clear to Oxfam what we expect to see from them.

"But these decisions shouldn't be taken hastily, but I am considering them."

The minister spoke after former Conservative leader Lord Hague warned against cutting the foreign aid budget in the wake of the scandal.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, the former foreign secretary said "a reduction in aid would be a strategic blunder, ultimately damaging our own national interest and our ability to deal with one of the biggest problems heading our way".

He said there was an "overwhelming strategic, as well as moral, imperative to deliver aid to the world's poorest people", but that the sector needs to show it is setting and meeting the highest standards.

"The case for the type of work done by Oxfam is too strong to allow it to be undermined by bad behaviour and inadequate standards of disclosure or investigation," he said.

The Charity Commission said Oxfam may not have "fully and frankly disclosed material details" when it first investigated allegations of misconduct in 2011.

The watchdog also said it had concerns about the charity's handling of incidents since, and the impact that these have both had on public trust and confidence.

On Monday, Helen Evans, Oxfam's former global head of safeguarding, told Channel 4 News that she begged senior staff, ministers and the regulator to act on the sexual abuse allegations.

She also detailed three new allegations made against Oxfam staff overseas in a single day.

Ms Evans said: "There was one of a woman being coerced to have sex in a humanitarian response by another aid worker, another case where a woman had been coerced in exchange for aid and another one where it had come to our attention where a member of staff had been struck off for sexual abuse and hadn't disclosed that, and we were then concerned about what he might be doing, and that was three allegations in one day."

After Helen Evans quit her role at @oxfamgb she details how she escalated her concerns to the the Charity Commission. She claims regulator didn't even return her phone calls until, at the end of 2017 - two years after she first sounded the alarm - it finally launched an inquiry. pic.twitter.com/XbJkbaesJ0

-- Hayley Barlow (@Hayley_Barlow) February 12, 2018

Oxfam's chief executive Mark Goldring has said he will not stand down unless the charity's board tells him it has lost faith in his leadership, and has apologised to Ms Evans over the way her concerns were handled.

Shadow international development secretary Kate Osamor said both the watchdog and the Government have questions to answer over Ms Evans's claims they ignored her calls to act.

The Labour frontbencher said: "The Charity Commission and Government departments have serious questions to answer: why did they take no action in response to concerns raised by Helen Evans in June 2015 and August 2015? Are there other whistleblowers that have brought safeguarding concerns to the Charity Commission only to be ignored?

"It is crucial that we now understand how far this appalling scandal reaches, and whether the Charity Commission is operating effectively as an independent regulator."

Four members of Oxfam staff were dismissed and three, including the country director Roland van Hauwermeiren, resigned before the end of the 2011 investigation.

According to The Times, Oxfam knew about concerns over the conduct of Mr van Hauwermeiren and another man when they worked in Chad before they were given senior roles in Haiti.

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