Reports of dreadful behaviour by aid workers allied to a number of charitable organisations are all over the Sunday papers: this is mainly about Oxfam in Haiti and Chad, but others are also named. Taking advantage of vulnerable people to score cheap - and in some cases under-age - sex is bang out of order. Paying survivors of wars or other disasters to enter into prostitution is something that will tarnish reputations for some time to come.
Penny Mordaunt - unsmiling ideologue
No-one should seek to defend such behaviour; it is beyond defensible. But at the same time we should not forget that a whole slew of what are termed Non Governmental Organisations are part of the lifeline that helps communities, and indeed whole countries, come back from the brink after war, disease, famine, and other extreme weather events. We should not rush to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Nor should the news be leveraged for political advantage, score-settling, points scoring or other instances of grandstanding. But that is exactly what some of our less than totally reputable politicians are looking to do. First to call for defunding was, to no surprise, self-promoting ex-minister Priti Patel, with the East Anglian Daily Times reporting “Essex MP Priti Patel has called for Oxfam to be stripped of its government funding in the wake of sex allegations against some of the charity’s staff”. Subtle, isn’t she?
There was no suggestion of any of this namby-pamby due process rubbish - Oxfam were, as far as she was concerned, guilty as charged: “Those responsible for these crimes should be prosecuted and UK aid should be withdrawn from this scandalous organisation”, she claimed. Yes, Oxfam is now “scandalous”. And sadly she was not alone.
Priti Patel - principle-free zone
This was confirmed by an appearance by DFID minister Penny Mordaunt on The Andy Marr Show (tm). As the BBC has reported, “Charities doing overseas aid work will lose funding if they fail to cooperate over safeguarding issues, warned the international development secretary … Penny Mordaunt said it was ‘despicable’ that sexual exploitation and abuse still existed in the aid sector”. And we’ve seen this sort of thing before.
The most extreme case of defunding by shock horror guilt came in the USA, when the community organising group ACORN was more or less bust overnight after a campaign by right-wing activists. That campaign relied on instant shock value, and getting the group hobbled before the evidence was scrutinised too closely - because the evidence consisted of a number of effectively faked videos. Always look before leaping.
So our politicians must not be allowed to rush to judgment. Nor should they be allowed to get away with all this bellicose behaviour until we get a sense of proportion. For starters, how does the Oxfam scandal measure up, as a percentage of total staff employed, with the sexual misconduct that has gone on in and around Parliament for decades now? Getting righteous while standing in a draughty glasshouse is never a good look.
And we should not forget that those who really matter in all this are the people being helped by aid workers, whoever they work for. Disrupting their lives just to score a quick and cheap ideological victory would be shameful in the extreme.
Priti Patel should butt out. And Penny Mordaunt needs to stop and think. That is all.