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Malfeasance in Foreign Aid: the Essay

Some images first to set the scene:

Link to Tweet and full article in DEVEX by Sophie Edwards.
My comment at the end of the article:


This piece is about a definition submitted to Wikipedia 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.

As well as "Malfeasance in Foreign Aid", there are three closely-related pages:

Development Aid - section on Corruption

My suggestions for amendments here can be found below "Notes".

There is some excellent work done by Oliver May, formerly of OXFAM, including an excellent tool-kit that should be used extensively by all charities and NGOs operating abroad.


Malfeasance in Foreign Aid

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] (Old English includes the word "misfeasance".)

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 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 recognised 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 where 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 not 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 - he or she may not even be authorized to give a reference on behalf of an organisation. Employment histories may also be doctored to hide previous misconduct.   In Cambodia a particular practice persists where serving government officials are allowed leave to work for NGOs and other better-paid posts. Very often they are arranged informally, without transparency or conflicts of interest being declared. Indeed often their public service salary is collected and retained by superiors. The practice explains why there are so many "ghosts".

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 countries 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 is still 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 assistance, technical assistance, international aid, overseas aid, official 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_aid “Humanitarian 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/1459242
September 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/1024067367876276224 “Hard 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.pdf “Many 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-gpp “Good Practice Project), aiming at promoting professionalism and good practice within NGOs operating in Cambodia.”

Suggestions for clarifications and explanations Wikipedia Pages on Malfeasance in Foreign Aid

Although fraud and misuse of Foreign Aid has been known to exist for many years (see Note 1] only in 2017 did a more insidious form of malfeasance come to light. This was criminal behavior, serious sexual abuse and exploitation, within international development NGOs that first received widespread attention after revelations of abuse by Oxfam leaders in Haiti. [2] This was blatant abuse of power by top officials exploiting the world's most vulnerable groups in the midst of a disaster.

Although the incident was concerned with a British organisation, the phenomenon spread quickly to 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 [3] but so did relevant Government Ministers such as DfID Minister Penny Mordaunt [4] and the International Development Committee of the UK Parliament. Its report [5] issued on 31 July 2018 gained rapid attention in the media and Foreign Aid sector around the world highlighting within the sector “Complacency verging on complicity...more concern for [their own] reputations than for victims”.

International NGOs like Save the Children [6] strengthened their policies with new safeguarding instructions. [7]

The United Nations too has been rocked by more allegations of abuse by its official Peace-Keepers, military forces from member states around the world, deployed as Blue Helmets [8] on its behalf, to keep peace and protect civilian populations in conflict situations. [9]

Below United States

Other Countries

The predominance in use of English around the world has meant that terms such as malfeasance now feature in official reports in other countries. For example in Cambodia it is used to describe where corruption extends beyond financial impropriety to include abuse of power. For example the Cambodia Daily [10] in 2011 quoted “Finance Minister Keat Chhon wrote to Social Affairs Minister Ith Sam Heng, saying a recent AntiCorruption Unit probe had revealed evidence of broad-based malfeasance”. Officials in all of the ministry’s provincial offices had made arbitrary deductions from pensions and illegally acquired the pension rights of pensioners collecting and retaining payments in their name.

Malfeasance has also extended beyond public service in to Foreign Aid. For example Professor Sophal Ear refers to “In June 2006 more financial malfeasance was uncovered with seven additional World Bank projects.” [11] World Bank [12]

Professor Sophal Ear is the author of “Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy” [13]

A more recent example reached a wider world audience as one of the largest donors, the Global Fund to Fights AIDS, Tubercolosis and Malaria" [14] after an investigation in 2012 revealed serious financial malfeasance had been committed by the Cambodian Ministry of Health” [15] as well as by MEDICAM the alliance of Health NGOs. [18]

In Section 5 Corruption A new paragraph at the end. Corruption and financial impropriety are not the only forms of serious misconduct or malfeasance that can afflict foreign aid. It extends to include abuse of power that harms not only the effective delivery of aid but also its impact for intended beneficiaries i.e. the world's poor people. One of the largest donors, the Global Fund to Fights AIDS, Tubercolosis and Malaria ” [16] after an investigation in 2012 revealed serious financial malfeasance had been committed by the Cambodian Ministry of Health” [17] and by "MEDICAM" the Health NGO Alliance. [18]

I notice that in the section on Aid Effectiveness, there is no mention of the international gatherings to promote foreign aid effectiveness that I had put in to my first suggestion to you. That is an omission. You could add at the end:

Global efforts have been made in recent years to promote Foreign Aid effectiveness of which the most prominent began in Paris [19] followed by Accra and Busan.[20]

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