Saturday 17 August 2019

GOAL corrects record on €4.3m cost of US probe

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Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The aid agency, GOAL, has corrected a “discrepancy” in its annual financial statements relating to the cost to the charity of the American investigation into its operations in Syria last year.

The charity’s accounts for 2016 stated that GOAL spent €4.3m “in total”, on professional services associated with the investigation.

However, GOAL said the correct cost to the charity is €2.3m.

The “discrepancy” arose over legal and accountancy advice to value of €2m, which was provided as a “donation in kind” to the charity.  A spokesman said the directors’ report “erroneously” said the €2m in “pro bono” advice was “in addition” to the total of €4.3m spent, when it should have been included within that figure.  "The “in addition” reference should have read “included within this” and was subsequently amended,” the spokesman said, adding that the matter was “dealt with correctly at all times”  In the main financial statement.

The accounts were published by the Companies Registration Office last Friday. They reveal the fall-out of the American investigation on the charity, which has since introduced radical reforms and restructuring.

News of the investigation emerged in April last year. The US Office of the Inspector General (OIG) launched an inquiry into allegations of bid-rigging by suppliers to Goal and other humanitarian organisations working in Turkey and Syria. Two Turkish-born Goal staff were fired. There were also concerns about conflict of interest.

The disclosures rocked the charity. The Irish Government suspended its €7m funding but later restored it and the US considered cutting its aid funding but this was averted by the charity's swift response to the crisis.

The accounts devote considerable space to the OIG investigation, detailing the governance and management changes introduced in the past year.

Goal instigated a radical reform progamme. Senior management roles were overhauled and the former GOAL chief executive, Barry Andrews, stepped down to allow the charity "a fresh start" in terms of leadership. The charity also recruited a former senior police officer to head up an internal investigations and counter fraud unit. As a result of the OIG investigation, GOAL closed country offices in Ukraine, Nepal, India and Liberia and did not open an office in Yemen. Other countries' programmes were operated at a reduced level.  GOAL also considered merging with Oxfam but talks fell through.

The accounts note that the investigation put a further strain on the charity's cashflow. After the investigation was disclosed, some donors stopped providing upfront funding, and instead provided funding in arrears.

While GOAL's income dropped last year by more than a fifth from €210m to €163m, the income decline was attributed in the main to the World Health Organisation's decision to end the alert over the Ebola outbreak in Africa, which caused the funding for GOAL's work there to end. The charity's total funds at the end of 2016 were €27m, of which €10m were unrestricted funds at the charity's disposal, to use in the event of having to respond to an emergency. The accounts note that GOAL will look back on 2016 as the most challenging in its 40-year history. The OIG investigation is ongoing.

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