Goal financially stable and optimistic about future

€2.3 million spent on legal fees, forensic and accountancy services after 2016 crisis

Investigations into price fixing and conflicts of interest at Irish charity Goal caused concern among donors last year. But despite a drop in income, the organisation has weathered its troubles, stabilised financially and is optimistic about the future.

Speaking ahead of the publication of its annual report on Wednesday, general manager Celine Fitzgerald, appointed in late 2016 to help deal with the crisis, has said donors believe the organisation is "a new Goal".

“I think we have put in place a programme of reform which has satisfied our donors and that is evidenced by the restoration of grants,” she said.

In April 2016, the overseas aid charity was thrown into crisis when it was drawn into an investigation by the US Office of the Inspector General (OIG) into alleged collusion and bid-rigging in southern Turkey, from which Goal and other aid agencies ran their Syria operations. There were also separate concerns about conflicts of interest at the charity's headquarters in Dublin.

Its funding from USAID was in jeopardy and other donors, including Irish Aid, suspended funding pending an outcome to the investigation. There were high-profile resignations from the charity and redundancies.

In March this year, USAID reached a two-year agreement around reform with Goal and reinstated its funding.

Completely clean audit

While there were question marks over the financial stability of the non-governmental organisation a year ago, and auditors had raised concerns, that position has now changed.

“This year we have a completely clean audit, which says “this organisation is viable, we are satisfied about their future funding, we are satisfied that they are in a financially stable situation”, and that is notwithstanding the reduction in our reserves, which is significant, but not fatal by any stretch of the imagination,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

Reductions in the charity’s income, down from €210 million in 2015 to €163 million last year, has been largely attributed to a decline in programmes related to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, after the World Health Organisation announced the outbreaks were at an end.

The suspension of funding by donors, including Irish Aid, also had an effect and total reserves fell from €60.8 million in 2015 to €27.6 million last year. Goal had to either suspend some of its own programmes during its financial difficulties, or fund them from reserves. It used its reserves and they will take a few years to rebuild, Ms Fitzgerald has said.

Procurement rules

Goal also spent €2.3 million of its reserves on professional services associated with its investigation into OIG concerns, including legal fees, forensic and accountancy services.

Accountancy consultants BDO made a series of recommendations for the charity following an investigation it was commissioned to carry out by the board. These included restructuring and strengthening of governance at the charity, training, including about conflicts of interest, and new procurement rules.

Ms Fitzgerald said all procurement over the value of €30,000 is now handled in Dublin to remove “any kind of localised peculiarities”.

The charity has reduced the number of countries it operates in, to 13 from 20 last year. There were also 25 redundancies at HQ.

The charity considers itself to be “in the foothills of recovery”. Ms Fitzgerald said it had been a very difficult period, but the organisation is the better for it. And they are planning for the next five to 10 years.

As for Ms Fitzgerald’s future there, she will move on when a new chief executive is appointed, likely some time in 2018.

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist