Penny Mordaunt has warned that the Oxfam scandal has rocked voter confidence
Penny Mordaunt warned that a string of organisations involved in overseas assistance had to rebuild public trust after the revelations of “grotesque” conduct including aid workers paying for sex in disaster zones.
She also accused charities for putting concern for their reputations ahead of the need to put the victims of poverty first.
Ms Mordaunt hit out at the “failings” of charities in a speech to a conference for overseas aid organisations in London.
British people had proved generous in donating cash in emergencies but had become wary about how the money was spent, the Tory Cabinet minister said.
“They believe in what we do – they are just sceptical about how we are going about doing that,” Ms Mordaunt said.
To deliver on the promises we’ve made to the world’s poorest, business as usual isn’t going to cut it
“I want to take a bit of a fresh approach to this and I would love the British people to be proud of everything that this sector does.”
Ms Mordaunt warned that the aid sector needed to be overhauled following revelations of sexual misconduct by charity staff working overseas.
Her speech followed the temporary suspension of Oxfam GB’s work in Haiti pending an investigation into how the charity handled the case of former staff paying for sex.
Other aid charities including Save The Children and the Red Cross have also been hit by revelations of sexual misconduct.
“To deliver on the promises we’ve made to the world’s poorest, business as usual isn’t going to cut it,” she said.
Penny Mordaunt has outlined how she will tackle lack of public confidence
“And to understand how we need to change we need to understand why the world, and we as a sector, are falling short.”
Ms Mordaunt urged charity bosses to reflect on the way “sexual exploitation of the vulnerable” had been ignored. “How did we get to this?” she asked.
“How did those, there to protect, support and serve the most vulnerable people on earth, become complicit in their exploitation – by protecting the perpetrators, by failing to grip the problem or turning a blind eye? Because we failed to put the beneficiaries of aid first.”
She added: “How did we lose sight of that fundamental duty, for all the good people, many in this room today, and all the good works done? For be in no doubt that is what has happened.”
Rivalry between competing organisations may have encouraged the dereliction of the “fundamental duty” to care for the vulnerable, Ms Mordaunt said.
“It may have started with an attitude born of fundraising pressures, fierce competition for bids or work, guarding an organisation’s reputation to maximise its reach and offer.
“That attitude found a justification, via the chaotic and complex situations we operate in, the belief that reporting wrongdoing would do more harm than good, that we’ve so many other things to worry about, or that peacekeeping troops are doing far worse.
“And then any nagging doubts that lingered, as predatory individuals moved to another organisation’s payroll, were banished, in order to avoid any criticism of the sector. Maybe that’s how it happened.
“However it did, the result was the grotesque fact of aid workers sexually exploiting the most vulnerable people, and threatening whistle-blowers if they protested.”
Ms Mordaunt said the aid sector had forgotten the need to serve the vulnerable and the “expectations of those who enable us to – the British people”.
She said: “To recover we must put the beneficiaries of aid first. We must live up to the values of our nation.”
Ms Mordaunt added: “Let this moment not just be a wake-up call to improve safeguarding. Let it also be a wake-up call to all that we must be, if we are to deliver on our promise to the world’s poor.”
The International Development Secretary’s speech follows the Daily Express’s “Stop The Foreign Aid Madness” crusade against waste in the taxpayer-funded £13.4billion annual aid budget.
Earlier this month, a petition backed by around 100,000 Express readers was delivered to Theresa May calling for part of the annual sum to be directed towards other pressing concerns including the NHS and social care for the elderly.