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Zero tolerance against misconduct in the Central African Republic

News Cordaid
Central African Republic -

Cordaid is shocked by the misconduct of staff members in our country office in the Central African Republic. Preliminary outcomes of both internal and external independent investigations in the CAR have provided evidence of a violation of Cordaid’s Code of Conduct and professional standards.

kids playing on airstrip red dirt road
2019, airstrip in Bossangoa, Central African Republic. Image: Mickael Franci / Cordaid

Cordaid is guided by its core values: accountability, respect, diversity, inclusion, and sustainability. We uphold high professional standards and have zero-tolerance policies against breaches of our Code of Conduct. Despite this, we were confronted with an infringement of these standards, which we deeply regret.

What has happened?

The investigations provide evidence of mismanagement, corruption, and fraud committed by certain members of Cordaid staff in Cordaid’s CAR office. Staff involved committed fraud, misappropriated funds, misdirected resources, and deviated from financial and operational procedures.

Other complaints concern power abuse, including sexual harassment by senior staff members towards female staff. These allegations are being investigated.

Our empathy and our duty of care particularly concern those who have had the courage to speak out and complain of power abuse, especially sexual harassment. It takes a lot to do that. And the impact of abuse can never be played down or underestimated.

So far, investigations have provided indications of a toxic and unsafe working environment in the Cordaid CAR office where inappropriate behaviour had become to some extent normal practice.

Importantly, the investigations did not substantiate initial concerns that third parties, including minors, partners, or beneficiaries, could have been affected by or subject to sexual misconduct and other forms of power abuse (e.g. bullying).

Measures taken

Dealing adequately with integrity issues requires firmness as well as due care and therefore time, both in the investigation phase and in taking appropriate measures. We have observed both firmness and due care and will continue to do so.

After learning of the allegations in April 2021, Cordaid took immediate action within and outside of the organisation, as stipulated by our Cordaid integrity procedures. We conducted both internal and external investigations into these matters. To ensure thorough, independent investigations, we hired an external professional investigations agency with a strong track record.

The misconduct implicated at least six Cordaid staff members in the CAR, including the country director, whose contracts were terminated or were suspended from Cordaid service pending further investigation, as stipulated by Dutch labour law, as soon as the initial investigation was concluded. Staff members concerned have been replaced.

Cordaid immediately implemented measures to safeguard the evidence, to better secure the implementation of its (financial) procedures, and mitigate the risk of any potential further breaches.

The reorganisation includes the adjustment of staffing and segregation of duties, better monitoring of transactions, and facilitating trust in integrity reporting procedures, as well as reinstating a positive and safe working environment in the CAR office.

Cordaid has put together a dedicated team that will tighten oversight over administration and finance in the CAR and take away critical functions from CAR Bangui office staff.

In addition, Cordaid is overseeing the operation of its CAR office from its Global Office in The Hague, in close collaboration with the new interim country director. Cordaid works to ensure strict compliance with its current procedures and policies globally and will draw learnings from the case in the CAR to prevent similar situations in the future.

Continuing our work in the Central African Republic

We are conducting fraud risk assessments into all projects in the CAR, on the basis of which thorough audits will be executed, which will provide insight into the specifics of the mismanagement, embezzlement, or fraud for each project. Then we will know whether, and if so to what level, the projects have been affected. We are communicating closely with our institutional donors on this action.

Kees Zevenbergen, CEO of Cordaid: “We are deeply disturbed by these events and we are doing everything in our power to restore the trust of our own staff members, local communities, our partners, and those who support our work. Cordaid has been active in the Central African Republic for over 25 years. We have built a long track record in providing essential healthcare, emergency relief, education, and livelihoods. We want to continue that work and continue to do justice to the communities we work with in the Central African Republic.”

Cordaid works in some of the most fragile countries on earth. Our greatest priority is the quality of our efforts, our commitment, and responsibility towards vulnerable communities, our staff members, and all those who support our work worldwide.

Despite the developments in the CAR, we believe in the power and integrity of our work and our staff. We will use the lessons we learn today to strengthen oversight on upholding and implementing our policies and procedures globally and to ensure safe working environments everywhere. In doing so, we strive to prevent similar situations from happening in the future.