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UN vows to ‘maintain trust’ in Congo aid effort after damning review leaked

‘We share the faults’ when things go wrong

A camp for internally displaced people in the eastern town of Minova, where fraudulent aid distributions occurred several times, according to the Mercy Corps investigation.
A camp for internally displaced people in the eastern town of Minova, where fraudulent aid distributions occurred several times, according to the Mercy Corps investigation. (Philip Kleinfeld/TNH)

The UN has pledged to “carefully consider” the recommendations of an operational review into humanitarian aid operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo after a draft of the document leaked to The New Humanitarian revealed widespread corruption and abuse.

The operational review was commissioned by an anti-fraud taskforce created by UN agencies and aid groups in Congo after the NGO Mercy Corps discovered a large-scale fraud scheme in late 2018 – first made public this week after a more than nine-month investigation by TNH.

Funded by DFID, the UK government department responsible for overseas aid, the 70-page draft review was circulated last month to aid officials working in Congo and describes how corrupt practices have impacted everything from the recruitment of staff to the procurement of supplies and the delivery of aid.

Read more → Congo aid scam triggers sector-wide alarm

“We share the faults” when things go wrong, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Congo, David McLachlan-Karr, said in a frank statement, vowing that the UN 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,” his statement said.

McLachlan-Karr said allegations in the review that the selection committee of the UN’s humanitarian pooled fund – a major pot run by the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA – had demanded kickbacks from national NGOs in exchange for contracts could “damage donor confidence in the Fund and ancillary financing”.

“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,” he said.

OCHA’s pooled funds handled $1.02 billion across 18 countries in 2019, including $77.5 million in Congo.

Sexual abuse and exploitation by aid workers is described as widespread in the draft review, which also says that ineffective systems for reporting SEA mean very few cases are reported, while perpetrators use money and influence to keep survivors and their families quiet.

In his written statement, McLachlan-Karr described the allegations of SEA as “grave”, promising to stamp out abuse and “swiftly” investigate and prosecute perpetrators. 

Read more → Leaked review exposes scale of aid corruption and abuse in Congo

He added that humanitarian operations in the country can only operate “if the highest levels of trust” exist between aid groups, aid recipients, and the Congolese government.

“I take this very seriously,” McLachlan-Karr said. “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.”

The operational review said there is a mutual lack of trust between aid groups and communities in Congo, who “perceive humanitarian aid as corrupt and driven by external agendas”.

McLachlan-Karr said humanitarian organisations in Congo have already introduced a number of measures in recent months. “Pursuant to the allegations,” he said, “the UN and its partners have taken a number of decisive steps to stamp out fraud and abuse.”

According to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, five million people are currently displaced in Congo – one of the world’s longest-running humanitarian crises. Hundreds of thousands of Congolese have become newly displaced in recent months alone.

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