Saturday 22 October 2016

Goal staff removed from duty after US aid inquiry

Published 09/05/2016 | 02:30

Charity group Goal have been carrying out work in war-torn Syria Photo: REUTERS / Abdalrhman Ismail
Charity group Goal have been carrying out work in war-torn Syria Photo: REUTERS / Abdalrhman Ismail

American authorities who suspended work being carried out by Goal in Syria have discovered a culture of bribery and collusion among a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and commercial suppliers.

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The US Agency for International Development (USAID) said charity programmes run from Turkey and Jordan had been involved in bid-rigging and kickback schemes while delivering aid in Syria.

USAID has now suspended 14 organisations and individuals from taking part in US-funded relief programmes.

Goal has been affected by a suspension since April 28, preventing it from using €6.2m of US grant money to procure food and non-food items.

The charity confirmed that it replaced a locally staffed logistics team in Turkey in a move relating to the investigation.

USAID's Office of Inspector General said a cross-border investigation was ongoing after a whistleblower identified and "self-reported" procurement irregularities at an NGO.

"The investigation to date has identified a network of commercial vendors, NGO employees, and others who have colluded to engage in bid-rigging and multiple bribery and kickback schemes related to contracts to deliver humanitarian aid in Syria," said a spokesperson.

"A portion of USAID-funded cross-border programmes in Syria were suspended as a result of this investigation. Several NGOs delivering aid to Syria have terminated staff members' employment based on demonstrated misconduct.

"Aid organisations providing life-saving assistance in Syria and the surrounding region face an extremely high-risk environment. Lack of fully competitive procurements, insufficient oversight and the absence of adequate internal controls for obtaining, storing, and delivering relief supplies can jeopardise the integrity of these relief efforts and deny critical aid to those in need."

Goal said it was continuing to co-operate with the investigation.

It emerged at the weekend that a private firm set up by senior managers at Goal was being examined by USAID.

Noble House Business PLC Ltd provides support services to the NGO sector and was set up in 2013 by three people connected to Goal. The charity's chief operating officer, Jonathan Edgar, set up the company alongside Goal colleagues Jeremy Cole and Ernest Halilov.

Goal said it became aware of the establishment of the company and a potential conflict of interest in 2013. It said staff were told that involvement with potential service providers was not acceptable.

Two of the founding members later left Goal but there is no suggestion that any of them have done anything improper.

"Following the departures of a former employee and consultant, Goal implemented a 12-month cooling-off period, during which it had no engagement with Noble House," said a spokesperson for the charity.

"It was agreed that any potential engagement would be on an arm's-length basis as with any other third-party provider.

"It should be noted that Goal did not engage with Noble House in Syria or for any procurements."

Goal denies that it is the focus of the ongoing investigation. However, it confirmed that a logistics team in Turkey had been replaced by a Dublin-based team on the back of the investigation.

The ongoing inquiry means that some of Goal's aid operations have been halted in Syria.

After lobbying, it secured a partial lifting of the suspension to provide bakeries with stocks of flour held in Syria. It now hopes the World Food Programme will take over procurement, so that Goal can distribute food in the war-torn region.

Irish Independent

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