Sex for Aid – Kickbacks for Contracts: Leaked Review exposes widespread corruption in DRC Humanitarian Aid Operations
July 15, 2020
By Prince Kurupati*
Corruption is rampant in DRC’s humanitarian aid operations as revealed in a damning leaked operational review. The operational review is part of the efforts by an anti-fraud taskforce created by UN agencies and several other aid groups in the DRC to reveal and stamp out corruption in humanitarian aid operations in the country.
Late in 2018, a non-governmental organization Mercy Corps discovered widespread corruption in the DRC’s humanitarian aid sphere. The revelations by Mercy Corps forced UN aid agencies through an anti-fraud taskforce to dig further into the rampant corruption claims and in its operational review leaked to The New Humanitarian do agree with the findings by Mercy Corps that there is rampant corruption and abuse in the country’s humanitarian aid sphere.
When it was commissioned, the UN’s anti-fraud taskforce did join hands with several other local aid groups and together they have been collaborating towards the release of the operational review. To ensure that the taskforce is fully funded and able to conduct its responsibilities efficiently and effectively, the taskforce received full funding from DFID, the government department responsible for overseas aid in the UK.
In the leaked review, it’s stated that the corruption in the humanitarian sphere is omnipresent in various sectors from staff recruitment to the procurement of supplies and delivery of aid.
Several allegations in the report suggest that staff and implementing partners have been demanding kickbacks. The selection committee of OCHA, one of the biggest agencies run by UN’s emergency aid coordination body was singled out to be one of the biggest culprits as they are said to have demanded kickbacks from local NGOs in exchange for contracts.
David McLachlan-Karr the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Congo said that his organization is taking the allegations from the leaked operational review very seriously and all those who are implicated will have to answer to the authorities. “We look forward to the publication of the final report and we will carefully consider any recommendations made to improve the performance of humanitarian aid in the DRC…I give my assurance that any allegation of malpractice by either the implementing partner, or any staff working in the Fund, will be taken seriously and be thoroughly investigated.”
The same sentiments were echoed by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spokeswoman Zoe Paxton who said, “Once the report is published, we will carefully consider any recommendations made.”
The major exposes from the leaked operational review whose content was mainly drawn from interviews conducted in the whole of the country with staff at UN agencies, local NGOs, and International NGOs including also the recipients and members of civil society are that:
- Staff at UN agencies demand kickbacks from local NGOs in exchange for contracts
- Most suppliers of goods to aid groups are forced to pay bribes which are as high as 30 per cent of the contract value
- All instances of corruption are hidden as aid workers responsible for evaluating projects are bribed
- Sexual abuse perpetrators pay off victims and the Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) reporting mechanisms are redundant and rarely if ever used
- Staff recruitment is largely skewed towards females in exchange for sexual favours
- Individuals implicated for violating the SEA code are rarely punished
- There has been a breakdown in trust between local communities and aid agencies as well as government officials owing to the widespread corruption
Joseph Inganji who is the head of OCHA said that “everyone will be shocked” when they get to go through the full operational review. He said that the humanitarian aid sector now has syndicates of fraudsters who have embedded corrupt practices in the sector. Further, he noted that owing to the embedded corruption, the systems designed to detect fraud are now basically redundant and useless.
The taskforce’s funder DFID in a statement refused to comment on the findings from the leaked operation review. DFID said that its main role was to simply provide funding for the review as it is committed to tackling fraud and corruption. If any response is to come, then it will come when the final version is published. The final version is expected to be published later this month.
While the operational review has indeed shocked the whole of DRC and beyond, Charles Kenny, an International Aid analyst of the Center for Global Development said that the review alone can never expose how deep rooted the corruption is as the content of the review was drawn from just one side of the spectrum. Kenny said relying solely on anecdotal information “doesn’t allow for an estimate of how pervasive corruption is in humanitarian relief aid in the DRC.” He called for a follow up survey this time targeting intended recipients to ask what they actually received.
Charles Kenny’s sentiments were echoed by a senior UN official in Congo Diego Zorrilla who said the review is not exhaustive but gives “clues of what could be happening.”
Despite the damning exposes from the review, David McLachlan-Karr said that the UN will continue its humanitarian work in the DRC. The UN said it pledges to “carefully consider” the recommendations of an operational review and would do “everything possible to maintain…trust by fighting fraud, corruption and abuse at all levels.”
“We look forward to the publication of the final report and we will carefully consider any recommendations made to improve the performance of humanitarian aid in the DRC,” McLachlan-Karr said. He further went on to say that “It is not acceptable for aid to be diverted and not to reach those who need it. And sexual exploitation and abuse can never be tolerated.” ‘
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