Give Me a Crash Course in . . . Goal’s funding problems

Almost €3m has been frozen while the US investigates alleged fraud in Syria. The charity says it has managed to keep its projects going despite the setback

Daily bread: Goal maintains bakeries in Syria. Photograph: Cem Genco/Anadolu/Getty

Daily bread: Goal maintains bakeries in Syria. Photograph: Cem Genco/Anadolu/Getty

 

Why is Goal in the news?

It emerged this week that the Department of Foreign Affairs has held back almost €3 million in funding for Goal pending the outcome of a US investigation into alleged fraud involving the Irish aid agency’s operation in Syria. Documents released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act also showed that Goal apologised to the department for not informing it about the US investigation before the story broke in April.

What’s the US investigation about?

Goal has not released details, citing a request for confidentiality from the Office of the Inspector General, the spending watchdog for the American government’s foreign-aid arm, United States Agency for International Development (US Aid). But it is understood that the office’s investigation centres on alleged bribery and bid-rigging relating to the buying of items for distribution in Syria. Last month US Aid’s inspector general, Ann Calvaresi Barr, told a House of Representatives committee in Washington that her agency had opened 25 investigations relating to aid for Syria since February 2015. She said the most common fraud schemes involved collusion between vendors and agencies’ procurement and logistics staff, who accepted bribes or kickbacks in exchange for steering contracts to certain suppliers.

Who else is under investigation?

Goal is one of 14 organisations or individuals at the centre of the current inquiry. International Medical Corps, a leading provider of medical supplies, said it had laid off 800 staff and fired three others suspected of involvement in the allegedly fraudulent scheme. It is understood that the investigation also includes the International Rescue Committee, led by the former British foreign secretary David Miliband.

What have been the consequences for Goal so far?

Pending the outcome of its investigation, the US authorities have told Goal to stop procurement of certain supplies using American funding. The suspension affects about €6.2 million of the €113 million that Goal receives from US Aid.

How has Goal responded?

Three Goal staff members based in Turkey have had their contracts terminated. Goal has also sent a team to Turkey, where its Syria operation is based, to review it. That review showed that the procurement process was “in line with Goal policy” but identified “several gaps” in Goal’s internal-control process. The agency has also commissioned an inquiry by the accounting firm BDO, the results of which are expected in the coming weeks.

Do any of the allegations involve Irish taxpayers’ money?

Goal has said no Irish money is involved.

What effect has all of this had on Goal’s work in Syria?

Goal’s programme in Syria, involving humanitarian aid of more than $100 million, is the biggest in the organisation’s history. Its projects benefit more than a million people, particularly in the Idlib province, in northeastern Syria, where Goal maintains water and industrial-baking infrastructure for large population centres by paying municipal workers and providing fuel and maintenance supplies to keep facilities in operation. Goal’s chief executive, Barry Andrews, said the organisation had managed to maintain its projects through partnerships with other agencies.

Will the Government’s decision to withhold funding compound Goal’s problems?

The €3 million withheld by the Department of Foreign Affairs is small compared with Goal’s overall budget of almost €200 million. Andrews said the decision had presented it with “a cash-flow issue”, and had an impact on its response to certain emergencies, but that Goal had managed to “shore up some of the gaps”.
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