Procurement corruption in Syria, unwanted peanuts for Haiti: This week in development news

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plan to offload 500 metric tons of surplus peanuts to Haiti has not gone over well with agriculture advocates in the Caribbean nation. Photo by: Daniel Grupel / CC BY-NC

Aid groups and Haitian farmers tell the U.S. government to keep its free peanuts. Kenya plans to close some of the world’s largest refugee camps, and a United Nations intruder vanishes into New York City’s East River. This week in development news:

Several organizations and companies involved in cross-border relief operations to Syria have been implicated in a corruption probe alleging bid-rigging, kickbacks, and bribery. “Major agencies, including International Medical Corps, International Rescue Committee, and the Irish NGO GOAL … have received at least partial funding suspensions,” according to an IRIN investigation, which also detailed the extent to which these NGOs have grown in size since they began delivering aid to conflict-affected Syria. The U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of the Inspector General has been looking into “weaknesses” in the Syria aid delivery supply chain since March 2015. The findings have resulted in a “break in aid delivery,” which could grow into a “sizeable hole in Syrian relief operations” if the suspensions increase in size or duration, IRIN reported.

Speaking of corruption, a major international summit kicked off in London Thursday. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who opened the summit, wrote in the Guardian: “the things we want to see – countries moving out of poverty, people benefiting from their nation’s natural resources, the growth of genuine democracies – will never be possible without an all-out assault on corruption.” Cameron is pushing for public registries of “beneficial ownership,” so law enforcement and tax inspectors can gain “full access to information about who really owns companies registered with them.” Cameron also announced the creation of an international anti-corruption coordination center, which will aid in the prosecution of cross-border corruption. The summit comes on the heels of the Panama Papers leak, the largest in history, which revealed previously hidden offshore holding details managed by a Central American firm.

Kenya’s announcement that it will close refugee camps — including Dabaab, considered the world’s largest — has sparked international concern and calls for the government to reconsider. In addition to closing the camps, the Kenyan government said it will dismantle its Department of Refugee Affairs and facilitate the return of its hundreds of thousands of refugees, many of whom have fled to Kenya from Somalia. “We call on Kenya to continue its support for refugees and voluntary return efforts, and to continue to work with [the U.N. Refugee Agency] and partner nations to find durable solutions that respect humanitarian standards and uphold international law,” United States Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. Kerry also urged the Kenyan government to remember its obligations under the 2013 Tripartite Agreement on the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees living in Kenya, which requires that all returns of Somali refugees from Kenya to Somalia be voluntary.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plan to offload 500 metric tons of surplus peanuts to Haiti has not gone over well with agriculture advocates in the Caribbean nation. Sixty aid groups wrote a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to cancel the shipment. “While the gesture may be well-intentioned, this program stands to become the latest in a long history of U.S.-sponsored programs that have destabilized Haiti’s agricultural sector, driving the nation further into poverty while increasing its dependence on foreign aid,” they wrote. For its part, USAID has kept its distance from the plan, writing in a tweet that the USAID Haiti mission “is not involved in importing peanuts. We are supporting #haitian farmers to boost their production!”

An individual who breached the property of the United Nations headquarters in New York, before leaping into the adjacent East River, has not been identified or apprehended. As of Thursday, the water temperature in the East River was 56.3 degrees fahrenheit.

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About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.