Sunday 19 November 2017

Goal reeling after over €7m in funding is withheld due to Syria probe

Irish Aid 'seriously concerned' about corruption claims, writes Shane Phelan

Members of the civil defence rescue children after an air strike in the al-Shaar area of Aleppo in Syria. Photo: Reuters
Members of the civil defence rescue children after an air strike in the al-Shaar area of Aleppo in Syria. Photo: Reuters
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Embattled charity Goal is facing a major funding crisis after the Government decided to withhold more than €7m it had pledged to give the international aid organisation this summer, the Irish Independent has learned.

The charity's board has been holding a series of meetings since the cash was withheld amid concerns of corruption in aid programmes providing humanitarian relief in Syria.

Goal had been due to receive the cash in July for long-term development work in several African countries.

Despite the setback, the agency has been able to maintain existing aid programmes and has stressed its immediate viability is not in danger.

However, Goal said it has had to shelve a number of new initiatives and there may be implications for its 4,000-strong workforce.

It brings to €10.1m the sum being withheld by the Irish Aid section of the Department of Foreign Affairs since a US investigation into the corruption claims began in April.

An injured woman after an air strike in Syria. Photo: Reuters
An injured woman after an air strike in Syria. Photo: Reuters

The investigation involves at least 25 agencies, including Goal, which sacked two staff in Turkey after the probe was launched.

The agency has also been reeling from the suspension of €6.2m in funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which is conducting the probe.

In a statement to the Irish Independent, the department said it "remains seriously concerned about the issues under investigation by the US".

The USAID investigation is focusing on procurement practices for humanitarian assistance operations for Syria.

Goal commissioned a report on the controversy from consultants BDO Ireland and this has been given to the department. However, the unpublished document did not contain anything to cause Irish Aid officials to soften its stance.

"Pending further clarification on the issues under investigation, the department took the decision to withhold funding which had been allocated for Goal's development and humanitarian work in 2016," the statement said.

Officials confirmed the BDO report had been received "on a confidential basis" and was still being examined. Cash from Irish Aid accounted for 9pc of Goal's total funding of €173m last year.

In a statement, the charity said it was in ongoing dialogue with Irish Aid in a bid to resolve the issue.

"The Goal board is treating this matter very seriously. In addition to commissioning the BDO report, the board is in active and ongoing dialogue with its stakeholders and donors, including Irish Aid and USAID, as it has been since the suspension of procurement in April," the statement said.

"The board continues to meet regularly to address and manage this issue and to mitigate any impacts on the humanitarian relief it supports. It maintains oversight of all current issues."

Goal said Irish Aid and USAID were the only organisations to have withheld any funding since the investigation began.

Other major donors include the UK's Department for International Development (DfID), the European Commission Humanitarian Office, the European Union, UN Development Programme, and the UN Children's Fund.


A number of donors contacted by the Irish Independent confirmed they were still providing funding to the charity.

A spokeswoman for DfID, which provided €26.6m in funding to Goal in 2014, said: "We are aware of concerns relating to US-funded aid programmes in Syria and continue to monitor the situation."

A Goal statement said the charity was doing its best to maintain operations despite the withholding of funding.

"Any funding interruptions present challenges but Goal is managing the situation and all current and ongoing Irish Aid-funded programmes are continuing as normal," the statement said.

"However, a number of new proposals that had been earmarked for Irish Aid funding are currently on hold.

"While any withholding or reduction of funding is regrettable, all current Goal programmes are continuing as normal.

"In the case of our Syria programme, notwithstanding the suspension of pr curement by USAID, we continue to operate these programmes with the support of partners."

Irish Independent

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