An initial internal inquiry by Oxfam Great Britain (OGB) proved accurate as an independent investigation commissioned by the aid agency into one of its local partners confirmed fraud of up to £135,000.
The investigation, carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), looked into financial irregularities from September 2010 to March 2011 of two humanitarian programmes carried out and managed by Pirbhat Women’s Development Society. The embezzled funds were earmarked for operating expenses, overheads and human resources for the flood relief programme in Sindh.
The programmes in question involved the delivery of water and sanitation goods to temporary camp sites in Shahdadkot and Larkana, upper Sindh. It also included the distribution of cheques to people affected by the flood to meet their basic daily needs.
The investigators found falsified invoices and extensive manipulation of cheques to the supplier and traced it back to a (now former) employee of Pirbhat. According to a statement released by the British aid agency, the emergency flood response in Pakistan totals £27 million. It is estimated that Oxfam is currently reaching more than 1.95 million people with humanitarian aid in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh.
“We will recover every penny of this money and continue to ensure that donors’ funds reach the people who need it most,” said Neva Khan, who is the country director in Pakistan for OGB. “Oxfam has a zero-tolerance policy towards corruption. It, literally, takes away food from peoples’ mouths. It takes away clean water to give them life and takes money away that could provide people with better hygiene and shelter. We, and all our partners, share a commitment to high legal, ethical and moral standards,” she added.
A statement also read: “Pirbhat said the senior official identified in the report as a perpetrator and beneficiary of the scam had his employment contract terminated in May.” It also stated that Pirbhat intends to take appropriate action against the accused and will recover and repay the misappropriated money in full.
OGB’s statement also quoted Pirbhat as saying: “We first began working with OGB on women’s development issues seven years ago. We feel that our good work and name has been blackened because of the action of one senior individual who has badly let us down as well as the communities we work with. We have already taken steps to tighten our policies and practices to ensure this never happens again.”
OGB has ended all financial relationships with Pirbhat. Speaking to The Express Tribune on Friday, Khan said, “It is a bit like a marriage that is going through a divorce, severing all ties will take time. We are providing guidance to Pirbhat on strengthening their internal administrative procedures and they are making an effort as far as I am aware. But we will no longer be working with them. However, our commitment to other national partners is still very much there.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2011.