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"Smarter Aid, not more Aid!"

The Northumbrian Abroad

Well, here we are! I succumbed.  Rather than blogging on other people's sites, I have decided to have my own.  Why?  Well like most of us, I think I have something to say and some folks out there may be interested.  I quite often find especially with larger media, that they tend to want things expressed in their own way, imposing a kind of censorship.  Well this is the pure unadultered me!  As a person who comes from a distinct part of the world, betwixt the warring English and Scots, I think we have our special characteristics.  Those stand us in good stead when plodding around the world.  So I like to compare and contrast situations at home or in the past but within living memory, with those encountered in the developing world.  My blogs delve in to some intricate details.
My "Alnwickdotes" are of course anecdotes, usually lighter stories of things that have happened over the years.  Please go to the link below for a quick-list. Most still have a development connection.  Over time, I will write up more of them, as well as blog on any subject in my areas of interest trending on social media.  I explain the term Alnwickdote in No 1 in the series. One clue is Alnwick may be the "most mispronounced place-name in the UK".

My life journey briefly has taken me far in to the distance from Northumberland (and back)  to Leicester; Kingston-upon-Thames, Exeter, Dorchester, Saint Helena Island, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Malawi, Rwanda and Cambodia plus many stops on the way. You can access my latest CV here.

I must warn you, and maybe apologize in advance? I do tend to rant; rave, groan and moan, perhaps a North-Eastern attribute, but then who would not want to associate with the High Level Ranters?  (For the uninitiated, this great band was called after one of the 5 Bridges now 7 that grace the River Tyne in Newcastle, made famous by the Nice.) Their equally talented and humorous peers, the band Lindisfarne, are more famous - lads I met in Kingston before they were rich and famous! (The Fog on the Thames was all wors!).

Actually, as my blogs show, there is not so much difference between life in cities like Newcastle and Phnom Penh, despite the passage of time and distance.  Listen to my chum Chris Minko and his great Cambodian girl singers in Sin City. Just Like Eric Burdon and the Animals "We gotta get out of this place"?

You can go to my Google Drive for some of my Classic Photographs - this is a work-in-progress that I started in August 2017. Takhmau, Cambodia is now the place I have lived in longest, as you can see by the "Takhmau Girls" who have served my beer or over the years.

The background picture is of Longhoughton Quarry Pond.  I see it every day when I crank up the computer!  When we grew up, the pond was small but a constant source of fascination with the fishes, frogs, and newts. Apart from a few fishermen, few people seem to go to enjoy its beauty*.  Maybe that is because one thing has not changed.  There may be still explosive charges to extract the stone.  Many years later when in Malawi, Africa, I recalled instantly those days.  Young Pioneers.......

* PS - Well that was until Vera visited! (A TV detective show set in and around #northumberland Great Tweet of her in Amble here 15 June 2018.  I've taken the liberty of borrowing the photograph too.

About Me

The inaugural AGM of the new local NGO for indigenous people in Mondulkiri, Cambodia. I am a bit too centre-stage for my liking, but they like it!

I am of course a long-time worker in international community development and human rights, but have come a long way from my Northumbrian origins.

Malfeasance in Foreign Aid: the Essay

Work-in-Progress - to be finalized.

This piece is about a definition I hope to add to Foreign Aid literature so that misconduct whenever it occurs is not kept being seen in isolation but part of a wider phenomenon peculiar to the sector, with circumstances creating a culture that tolerates it instead of deterring it.

Malfeasance  [1] in Foreign Aid [2] or Development Aid [3] is wrongdoing by an officer or agent of an organisation, public or private, not-for-profit or commercial, engaged in the administration and arrangement of funds and assets given for the relief and development of people in need usually in a “developing” or “least developed country. [4].  Malfeasance also occurs in Humanitarian Aid. [5]

Malfeasance in Foreign Aid has existed for many years, reported as far back as 2002 [6] and before, but has become more well-known after 2017 because of serious cases rapidly receiving widespread attention in mainstream and social media.

The phrase “Malfeasance in Foreign Aid” was added to the development literature in the Foreign Aid community network DEVEX <ref>https://www.devex.com/ in 2018 by John Lowrie  [7]  It was coined in response to the perceived increase in scale and diversity of wrong-doing being reported and recognized around the world but not covered by a generic phrase. The argument is that wherever one type of misconduct is unearthed, often there are others, combined with weak governance; supervisory and inspection regimes within those organisations and external regulatory bodies.

The most common malfeasance, although its incidence is not fully-known is financial impropriety, through fraud and other measures that prevent money and resources being used for the exact purpose for which the funds were raised. [8]  A leading work  [9] on this was published in 2014 is by Oliver B. May entitled: Fighting Fraud and Corruption in the Humanitarian and Global Development Sector”.
 More malfeasance emerged in 2017 in the form of even more insidious criminal behavior of serious sexual abuse and exploitation within development NGOs receiving widespread attention after revelations of abuse by Oxfam leaders in Haiti. [10]
 Although the incident was concerned with a British organisation, it quickly spread to encompass many others, indeed serving as a springboard for more revelations and allegations to emerge.  Not only did the United Kingdom’s charity regulator the Charities Commission invoke investigations [11] but so did relevant Government Ministers such as DfID Minister Penny Mordaunt  [12] and the International Development Committee of the UK Parliament.  Its report [13] issued on 31 July 2018 gained rapid attention in the media and foreign aid sector around the world highlighting within the Foreign Aid sector “Complacency verging on complicity...more concern for victims than reputations”.
 Misrepresentation can also be a serious form of Malfeasance in Foreign Aid.  One troubling form, mentioned in Graham Hancock’s seminal work in 1994 on Foreign Aid Lords of Poverty [14] are “suitcase NGOs” that turn up during disasters and crises, portending to offer aid alongside legitimate NGOs but instead are there for easy funding opportunities.  See also Maryan L Tuppy. [15]
 Another equally dishonest form of misrepresentation in Foreign Aid is where an organisation or individual deliberately fabricates or exaggerates facts to raise funds. Celebrity philanthropist and NGO founder Somaly Mam was exposed in 2014 [17] making false claims about her human rights victims.
 Misrepresentation in Foreign Aid also appears in forms that can vary in acceptability due to the nature of modern fundraising.  Donors invite NGOs to submit proposals to tackle pre-identified “targets” of wherer and how to work in specified sectoral or geographical areas and/or vulnerable client groups.  Some NGOs “chase the money”, changing their mission, reinventing their core expertise.  In extreme cases, if not eliminated as part of due diligence [17] checks that may not be thorough, it amounts to a serious misuse of funds as well as depriving better-placed legitimate NGOs of the money and providing proper services and benefits.
 Other forms of malfeasance or misconduct include but are not limited to misuse of resources such as vehicles for personal/unauthorised purposes; not adhering to contracts of employment; conditions of service, as well as expected rules and ethics.  Such behavior is easier to carry out and get away with, according to  colleagues[18] because Foreign Aid people are in privileged jobs and high status social positions in capitals of developing countries. They are more likely to breach standards of accountability than in their home country capitals.  Such behavior can be emulated by domestic employees.
 Malfeasance in Foreign Aid takes place in the lucrative areas of consultancy contracts. [19] This has led to larger donors like USAID strengthening controls.
 Failure to declare interests for consultancies and evaluation contracts can also amount to malfeasance. For example, a person connected with an organisation presently or in the recent past should be engaged to conduct an independent evaluation of it or close peers. Although a light-hearted analysis, one article [20] does make some leading points to avoid malfeasance.
 Malfeasance occurs in employment policies in Foreign Aid, through favoritism towards family members (nepotism) [21} and friends (cronyism). In Asian countries especially such practices can be seen as legitimate “Asian Values”.  Self-serving patron-dependency networks can operate within organisations.  True connections may be concealed especially where family names differ or can be changed.  This is particularly concerning when taking up references as the referee may not be impartial. Employment histories may also been doctored to hider previous misconduct.   Malfeasance in Foreign Aid runs counter to global efforts to promote Foreign Aid effectiveness – better use of aid money and resources, as advocated by several initiatives, of which the most prominent began in Paris with Accra [22] and Busan. [23]
 Malfeasance in Foreign Aid, despite amounting to crimes in judicial systems in both host and donor countrie,s seldom results in formal reporting to law enforcement authorities, a failing [24| acknowledged by OXFAM..  There is a growing realization that impunity must not be allowed to flourish in Foreign Aid.
 In 2018 there was no organized international inspectorate of Foreign Aid, not even within the vast United Nations  system, to carry out inspections or co-ordinate information about malfeasance to fulfill similar cross-country functions such as Interpol. Most donor agencies have some internal capacity as well as relying on regulators but very few if any deploy inspectors overseas as a routine to deter malfeasance.   OECD  estimates that worldwide US$ 146billion is spent on Foreign Aid worldwide.
 There have been local initiatives to inculcate more effective and ethical working such as the Cambodia Co-operation Committee’s NGO Governance Scheme [25] This scheme originated in response to the concerns expressed in cases cited by Robert Carmichael Op cit.  It is in essence a self-certification process by an umbrella group of NGOs of its fellow members in the absence of independent accreditation checks.
 1 https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/malfeasance Malfeasance is bad behavior, especially from officials or people who should know better”2  https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_aid Foreign aid is when one country helps another country. The country may give money or things; it may also send people. This is especially needed when a disaster happens in a poor country. Sometimes this help comes from a country's government and sometimes the ordinary people give money.”
3  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_aid Development aid or development cooperation (also development assistancetechnical assistanceinternational aidoverseas aidofficial development assistance (ODA), or foreign aid) is financial aid given by governments and other agencies to support the economic, environmental, social, and political development of developing countries.
4  https://www.un.org/development/desa/dpad/least-developed-country-category.html Least developed countries (LDCs) are low-income countries confronting severe structural impediments to sustainable development. They are highly vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks and have low levels of human assets.There are {August 2018] 47 countries on the list of LDCs which is reviewed every three years by the United Nations Committee for Development .

5  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanitarian_aidHumanitarian aid is material and logistic assistance to people who need help after natural disasters, wars and famines with the aim of save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain human dignity
6  https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/donor-dollars-and-ngo-accountability-getting-balance-right Robert Carmichael  former editor Phnom Penh Post and author of “When Clouds Fell From the Sky” published in April 2015 a story that “humanizes and brings new insights into the causes of the Khmer Rouge's reign and tragedy in Cambodia”.
7  http://mondulkiri-centre.org/uploads/JOHN%20LOWRIE%20brief%20CV%20English%202017.pdf
 John Lowrie has been a development and human rights worker since 1987 working in Saint Helena Island; Saudi Arabia, Malawi, Rwanda and for the last 20 years in Cambodia.
8  https://www.fundraisingregulator.org.uk/code Rule 1.4c applies particularly to prevent fraud or unauthorised viremeent.
9  https://www.amazon.com/Fighting-Corruption-Humanitarian-Global-Development/dp/147245314X  Fighting Fraud and Corruption in the Humanitarian and Global Development Sector by Oliver May “is a timely, accessible and relevant how-to guide, which explores the scale and nature of the threat, debunks pervasive myths, and shows readers how to help their NGOs to better deter, prevent, detect and respond to fraud and corruption”.
10  https://www.thirdsector.co.uk/oxfam-timeline-haiti-scandal-unfolded/governance/article/1459242September 2011: Six Oxfam members of staff in Haiti leave the charity after being found guilty of misconduct.
11 https://www.thirdsector.co.uk/regulator-contacts-oxfam-sexual-harassment-allegations/management/article/1448661 “The Charity Commission has responded to an article in The Times that claimed a former Oxfam manager was sacked after making allegations of sexual assault against a senior colleague.”
12 https://www.gov.uk/government/people/penny-mordaunt
13  https://twitter.com/CommonsIDC/status/1024067367876276224Hard hitting report calling for a raft of changes to better safeguard people from abuse in the aid sector” per Councillor Helen Evans former Oxfam Client Safeguarding Officer.
13 https://www.thirdsector.co.uk/minister-says-government-will-stop-funding-organisations-dont-meet-standards/policy-and-politics/article/1458033
14  https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0871134691/reasonmagazineA Thanks to bureaucratic inefficiency, misguided policies, large executive salaries, political corruption, and the self-perpetuating “overhead” of the administrative agencies, much of this tremendous wealth is frittered away.”
15 https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/dpa9.pdf s. “Unfortunately, aid has harmed rather than helped Africa. It has failed to stimulate growth or reform, and encouraged waste and corruption.”
16  https://www.newsweek.com/2014/05/30/somaly-mam-holy-saint-and-sinner-sex-trafficking-251642.html Ratha finally confessed that her story was fabricated and carefully rehearsed... She, like Pross, was never a victim of sex trafficking; she and a sister were sent to AFESIP in 1997 because their parents were unable to care for all seven of their children.”
 17 https://www.international-due-diligence.org/due-diligence-ngos-and-charities/ Aaround the world NGOs or charities that are just used to get donations from guilty thick wallets operated by thins minds. Everything from helping the disabled, to car donations, etc… are used to fund a business whose sole purpose is to live off the donated funds.”
18  https://www.fundsforngos.org/article-contributions/663/  “Aid for Who?” by Chris Minko “This Culture of Comfort wastes money and often causes justifiable anger and resentment from local people who see foreigners living luxurious lives based on their poverty”.
19  As for [6] above.
20  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-sabotage-independent-evaluation-8-steps-undermining-zyck/“You too can, like so many before you, sabotage that independent monitoring or evaluation process by following these simple steps.”
21   https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/1836.pdf“Many humanitarian workers have a narrow view of what constitutes corruption, seeing it primarily as a financial issue, rather than abuse of power.”
22  Paris and Accra http://www.oecd.org/dac/effectiveness/34428351.pdfMany donors and partner countries are making aid effectiveness a high priority, and we reaffirm our commitment to accelerate progress.”
23  Busan http://www.oecd.org/dac/effectiveness/fourthhighlevelforumonaideffectiveness.htm
24 https://www.oxfam.org/en/how-we-are-working-rebuild-your-trust New measures to regain confidence of donors, regulators and beneficiaries.
25 http://www.ccc-cambodia.org/en/membership/ngo-governance-professional-practice-gppGood Practice Project), aiming at promoting professionalism and good practice within NGOs operating in Cambodia.”

Children know best!

Article for St Helena Independent - to be published.

Thea surprised us all.  For a start she was a girl [1].  She was neither the oldest nor the brightest. She was one of the more disabled in our troupe of mixed-ability children.  She had been reluctant to join.  She was shy.  Yet there was no mistaking it.  Thea (short for Sokunthea) had emerged as their leader.  All the children were poor [2].  That’s why they were with us.  They just wanted to be like “normal” children [3] able to learn Computing and English, a small element in our project for mainly poor and disabled people with two main components. One was to improve livelihoods. The other “was to do something about their low status”.

Going up in the world!

Street 251 Takhmau - our new concrete road elevated 1 metre above surrounding land
The idea behind this blog had been in my mind for a long time.  Apart from the sad case of the Boeung Kak Lake community who had lost their homes, and Phnom Penh city a wonderful amenity, the way we have been treated in Takhmau illustrates just what keeps going wrong.  There is a dedicated up-to-date blog about our own case.

Going up in the world?  Or from one extreme to the other?

A blog continuing the theme of comparing and contrasting Northumberland (UK) with Cambodia, and how things can be done better, lessons learned, if there is the good will to do so.

Planning permission to build or change land use in the United Kingdom is often a long-winded process, if for good reasons.  In Cambodia it’s the exact opposite and for reasons known only to a select few.

When the cat's away the mouse will play

The Governing Council of a local Cambodian NGO, elected representatives of community self-help groups of disabled people, who pursued a complaint against a UK charity 2008-13 on behalf of their members, 800 families in Tuok Phos District, Kampong Chhnang province, Cambodia. Photograph John Lowrie.

Public life comes under scrutiny and fire whenever someone falls from expected standards. In developed democracies where there is good knowledge of standards, usually people falling well-short - and superiors responsible for them - can be held to account. Those are the advantages of an educated population; a system of checks and balances; rule of law and a free press to try to bring about accountability.
When it comes to “#foreignaid” and charities operating abroad, such as OXFAM and Save the Children who were recently caught up in scandals, those advantages don't usually exist. It's where all kinds of malfeasance can occur.

Fascinating Back Streets and Coal-Shed Doors

Alnwick – one of the backstreets we would use often as children. Today you don't see children playing there. The old tin dustbins are gone, replaced by wheelie-bins but one family is still using the old-fashioned clothes- line instead of the modern  indoor electric clothes-drier.  It was fun to cycle or run through all washing lines pegged with clothes hung out to dry to the shouts of many a woman upset we were soiling her washing.  Quite often soot from chimneys did a better job than us.  This picture was taken from beside the once railway line near Alnwick Station, now housing Barter Books - I write about them and their "Keep Calm and Carry On" fame here.

Despite suffering a pique of jealousy – because a friend got there before me – I want to relate my fascination with back streets. I was pipped at the post to extol the virtues of the “The Run” in Jamestown Saint Helena.  It must, however, be one of the best, possibly the very best of back alleyways in the world.  I have come across a few other candidates for the title.  Some like the ones I talk about here in Alnwick, Northumberland, qualify because of their past glory, hence this blog. Others like our current street in Takhmau, Cambodia, make the list because in many respects they are today like others were in the [good] old days.

"Your mission is over. You go!"

The fine levied on me for overstaying my visa Cambodia
"Your mission is over. You go!"

Those were not the words anyone would want said to them after 20 years of service, half an entire working professional career in Cambodia, but those were the final words in impeccable English delivered by the grim-faced Immigration Official, a senior uniformed and well-decorated Police Chief, at Phnom Penh Airport on 23 February 2018.  I had to pay my fine of US$220 to him for the privilege too.  That is more than a week's of my UK state pension, the source of income that enables me to continue to give voluntary support to causes in Cambodia.