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Oxfam suspends Haiti staff on misconduct allegations

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 8 Aug 2011 12:23 GMT
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LONDON (AlertNet) – Oxfam has suspended a "small number" of staff working in quake-shattered Haiti due to allegations of misconduct which the British-based charity is investigating, it said on Monday.

Oxfam spokeswoman Jen Corlew said an internal investigation was expected to be completed by the end of the month. However, she was unable to provide details on whether international or local staff were being investigated, how many were involved or what they were alleged to have done.

"What we wanted to do is be accountable and transparent that this is going on, but unfortunately it's a bit difficult. We're not able to disclose much information until the investigation is completed," Corlew told AlertNet.

"At the moment, due to issues of security and reputational risk of individuals it's not possible to give more (information)," she added.

Last year's 7.0-magnitude earthquake killed tens of thousands of people and left 1.5 million people homeless in the Caribbean nation, triggering a massive humanitarian response.

Although hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised to help survivors, more than 600,000 Haitians are still living under tents and tarpaulins some 17 months after the disaster.

Oxfam, which has been in Haiti since 1978, runs development programmes in the country, focusing on improving people's livelihoods and bolstering civil society groups.

"Oxfam never tolerates misconduct by our aid workers," Oxfam GB Chief Executive Barbara Stocking said in a statement dated August 5. "We will take forceful and immediate action pending the outcome of the investigation."

It is not the first time the international charity has had to investigate staff members for alleged wrongdoing.

In 2006, Oxfam was forced to suspend most of its operations in the tsunami-hit Indonesian province of Aceh while it investigated the possible theft of tens of thousands of dollars in tsunami funds.

In June this year, it said it had launched a probe after discovering that aid money meant to help Pakistanis hit by last year's devastating floods may have been misappropriated.

Corruption, mismanagement and diversion of funds or supplies are risks all aid agencies face. However, few groups publicly admit to such problems, often for fear of jeopardising their fundraising efforts.

(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)

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