Oxfam probes new sexual misconduct cases as MPs grill bosses

Oxfam's chief executive Mark Goldring (L) and Oxfam's chair of trustees Caroline Thomson leave the Department for International Development (DFID) in central London on February 12, 2018. (AFP/Daniel Leal-Olivas)
Updated 20 February 2018
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Oxfam probes new sexual misconduct cases as MPs grill bosses

LONDON: Oxfam revealed Tuesday it was investigating 26 new cases of sexual misconduct since the crisis erupted over its handling of a 2011 prostitution scandal in Haiti, which the British charity called a “wake-up call.”
Chief executive Mark Goldring told a parliamentary committee in London that the cases varied in their seriousness, while 16 related to its international operation.
“They range in time frame from more recent events to long historic events where people did not report them at the time,” he said.
Goldring added he believed the latest cases had emerged as “a direct response to the publicity” around the Haitian scandal.
“We really want people to come forward,” he added.
The Oxfam chief was unable to provide further details on the cases when pressed by British lawmakers.
The committee said it would be conducting its own inquiry into abuses in the foreign aid sector.
Three of Oxfam’s most senior leaders repeatedly apologized for the charity’s handling of an internal investigation into the use of prostitutes by staff in Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Caroline Thomson, chair of trustees, said: “It’s right to admit this has been a real wake-up call.”
The charity revealed 7,000 regular donors had been lost since the scandal emerged following reporting by The Times newspaper.
It said safeguards had been put in place following the 2011 probe, but admitted they had not gone far enough.
Thomson vowed to take “personal responsibility” for ongoing reform: “I have decided that we need to have more focus on safeguarding.”
Last week, Oxfam unveiled an action plan to tackle sexual harassment and abuse, including creating a new vetting system for staff.
The charity formally also apologized to Haiti on Monday over the scandal and for failing to report the matter adequately.
“Oxfam should have reported the matter to the Haitian authorities,” Goldring told lawmakers.
“It was not for Oxfam to decide whether a crime had been committed ... that was the wrong decision.”


Former Philippine president Aquino charged in $1.35 billion budget case

Updated 9 min 9 sec ago
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Former Philippine president Aquino charged in $1.35 billion budget case

MANILA: Former Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has been indicted in a $1.35 billion criminal case over his failure to get congressional approval to use state funds to jump-start major government projects, authorities said Wednesday.
The money became a source of controversy during Aquino’s term from 2010-2016, with critics claiming he used it to barter for favors from legislators. He has always denied any wrongdoing.
The charge, filed last week by a special anti-corruption prosecutor but only made public Wednesday, alleges that Aquino violated the constitution’s separation of powers.
In the indictment, prosecutor Conchita Morales alleged Aquino wrote a series of instructions to his budget minister to funnel 72 billion pesos ($1.35 billion) into a special initiative in June 2012.
“Without the approval of the said memoranda by respondent Aquino, (the budget ministry’s fund release order) would not have been issued,” Morales said in a statement.
Aquino branded the initiative, the “Disbursement Allocation Program,” an attempt to speed up public spending in the notoriously bureaucratic nation in order to boost economic growth.
The scheme redirected money left unspent in agencies’ budgets to other parts of the government that needed funding for projects.
The program began in 2012 but Aquino was forced to halt it two years later, after the Supreme Court ruled it violated a constitutional provision which gives the legislature sole power to authorize government spending.
Aquino had yet to receive a copy of the indictment alleging “usurpation of legislative powers,” his spokeswoman Abigail Valte said.
“We’re quite curious to study how the (prosecutor) arrived at a reversal of its previous decision finding no liability on the part of former president Aquino,” Valte added.
The prosecutor dropped the case in 2015, but reversed herself following an appeal by a group of legislators and anti-corruption campaigners.
If convicted, Aquino could face up to two years and four months behind bars.
Both of Aquino’s predecessors were hit with charges after their terms ended.
Joseph Estrada, a populist movie star who swept to a landslide electoral win in 1998, was arrested in 2001 shortly after a bloodless popular revolt cut short his six-year mandate.
A court sentenced him to life in prison for plunder in 2007, but he won a pardon from his successor Gloria Arroyo less than six weeks later.
Arroyo, who ruled for nine years, was arrested in 2010 and charged with rigging the 2007 senatorial election, a case which carries a life sentence but which remains under trial.
She was released from nearly five years in detention in 2016, shortly after Rodrigo Duterte was elected president, when the Supreme Court acquitted her on charges of misusing 366 million pesos in state lottery funds.