The head of Oxfam on Friday hit back at criticism over a prostitution scandal that he said was “out of proportion,” as the British charity agreed not to bid for more government funds until it cleans up its act.
Chief executive Mark Goldring has repeatedly apologized for failings in the way the charity dealt with claims of sexual misconduct by its aid staff, but said some people refused to listen to explanations.
“The intensity and the ferocity of the attack makes you wonder, what did we do?” he said in an interview with the Guardian newspaper. “We murdered babies in their cots? Certainly, the scale and the intensity of the attacks feels out of proportion to the level of culpability. I struggle to understand it.”
He suggested that some critics were motivated in part by opposition to taxpayer-funded aid — Oxfam received nearly ￡31.7 million pounds (US$$44 million) from the British government last year.
Earlier, the charity unveiled an action plan to tackle sexual harassment and abuse, and agreed not to bid for any more state funds until reforms were in place.
“Oxfam has agreed to withdraw from bidding for any new UK government funding until the Department for International Development is satisfied that they can meet the high standards we expect of our partners,” British Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt said.
She said all the government’s charitable partners had been asked to give assurances on their safeguarding and reporting practices by Feb. 26.
Oxfam has been mired in scandal since revelations one week ago that staff used prostitutes while working in Haiti following a devastating 2010 earthquake.
There have since been claims made about aid workers in Chad, Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines, and three Oxfam global ambassadors, including retired South African archbishop Desmond Tutu have quit their roles.
Oxfam International executive director Winnie Byanyima on Friday said the Haiti scandal would haunt the charity.
“What happened in Haiti and afterwards is a stain on Oxfam that will shame us for years, and rightly so,” she told the BBC, adding: “From the bottom of my heart, I am asking for forgiveness.”
Ministers have demanded Oxfam produce a plan on how to deal with any forthcoming allegations, that it report any staff members involved in the Haiti scandal and that it fully cooperate with the Haitian authorities.
The group said it would create an independent commission with the power to access records and interview staff, and impose stricter controls on employees.
It will also double the number of staff engaged in safeguarding and triple its funding in this area to more than US$1 million.
Roland van Hauwermeiren, Oxfam’s director in Haiti at the time and one of the three who resigned from the charity, dismissed the allegations.
“I have never been into a brothel, a nightclub or a bar in that country,” the 68-year-old Belgian said in a four-page letter published on the web site of Belgian VTM News.
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