Aid char­ity Goal loses €4.3m over US fraud probe

Cri­sis-hit agency’s ac­counts re­veal im­pact of Syria in­ves­ti­ga­tion

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - NEWS - Maeve Sheehan

AN Amer­i­can in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the aid agency Goal over al­leged fraud in its op­er­a­tions in Syria has cost the char­ity €4.3m.

The over­seas aid agency says it spent the money on “pro­fes­sional ser­vices as­so­ci­ated with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion”, in­clud­ing foren­sic ac­count­ing and le­gal ad­vice, ac­cord­ing to the char­ity’s lat­est ac­counts.

In ad­di­tion, Goal re­ceived le­gal and pro­fes­sional ac­coun­tancy ad­vice to the value of €2m but the ser­vices were “pro bono” and of­fered as a “do­na­tion in kind”, the ac­counts state.

The multi-mil­lion euro fall­out of the probe is dis­closed in Goal’s an­nual ac­counts for 2016 which were pub­lished last Fri­day.

The char­ity was plunged into cri­sis in April last year when it emerged that its Syr­ian op­er­a­tions were under in­ves­ti­ga­tion by US au­thor­i­ties.

The Of­fice of the In­spec­tor Gen­eral (OIG) launched an in­quiry into al­le­ga­tions of bid-rig­ging by sup­pli­ers to Goal and other hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tions work­ing in Turkey and Syria. Two Turk­ish-born Goal staff were fired. There were also con­cerns about con­flict of in­ter­est.

The dis­clo­sures rocked the char­ity. The Irish Gov­ern­ment suspended its €7m fund­ing but later re­stored it and the US con­sid­ered cut­ting its aid fund­ing but this was averted by the char­ity’s swift re­sponse to the cri­sis.

The ac­counts de­vote con­sid­er­able space to the OIG in­ves­ti­ga­tion, de­tail­ing the gov­er­nance and man­age­ment changes in­tro­duced in the past year.

Goal in­sti­gated a rad­i­cal re­form progamme in the wake of the scan­dal.

Se­nior man­age­ment roles were over­hauled and the for­mer Goal chief ex­ec­u­tive, Barry An­drews, stepped down to al­low the char­ity “a fresh start” in terms of lead­er­ship.

The char­ity also re­cruited a for­mer se­nior po­lice of­fi­cer to head up an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions and counter fraud unit.

As a re­sult of the OIG in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Goal closed coun­try of­fices in Ukraine, Nepal, In­dia and Liberia and did not open an of­fice in Ye­men.

Other coun­tries’ pro­grammes were op­er­ated at a re­duced level.

Goal also con­sid­ered merg­ing with Ox­fam but talks fell through.

The ac­counts note that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion put a fur­ther strain on the char­ity’s cash­flow. Af­ter the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was dis­closed, some donors stopped pro­vid­ing up­front fund­ing, and in­stead pro­vided fund­ing in ar­rears.

While Goal’s in­come dropped last year by more than a fifth from €210m to €163m, the in­come de­cline was at­trib­uted in the main to the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s de­ci­sion to end the alert over the Ebola out­break in Africa, which caused the fund­ing for Goal’s work there to end.

The char­ity’s to­tal funds at the end of 2016 were €27m, of which €10m were un­re­stricted funds that it was free to use in the event of an emer­gency re­sponse.

The ac­counts note that Goal will look back on 2016 as the most chal­leng­ing in its 40-year his­tory. The OIG in­ves­ti­ga­tion is on­go­ing.

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