Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cut Corruption, Don't Cut Aid

I arrived in Nakuru in September of last year expecting to work for an organisation called ICROSS (International Community for Relief of Starvation and Suffering), supposedly to work on a HIV related project. However, in my first week in Nakuru I realised they didn't have any active projects. Officially, they were waiting for funding. But as I was led from one 'site' to another, I realised there was something not quite right about ICROSS. It was hard to put a finger on, but the first thing I found strange was that only a couple of people had ever even met the guy who headed ICROSS, Mike Meegan (also known as Mike Elmore-Meegan, Dr Meegan, Fr Meegan, Br Meegan and probably a few other names not worth repeating). Some had heard of him but most didn't even recognise the name.

Well, it quickly turned out that none of the 'sites', these community based organisations and support groups that I was being taken to see, had any real connection with ICROSS. ICROSS would just collect up organisations and include them in their proposals when they were looking for funding, which was all the time. The only function the organisation seemed to serve was to find funding. Anything worthwhile that was achieved was done by a handful of volunteers, along with some of these organisations that had been 'absorbed' by ICROSS. Of course, ICROSS would always take the credit.

So, to those who are worried about how this work will be affected by the demise of ICROSS Ireland? For a start, it's only ICROSS Ireland that has closed. ICROSS Kenya continues its 'operations'. But even if that were to close, very little would happen on the ground in Nakuru. ICROSS simply didn't do very much here, aside from pay visits when they wanted to show potential funders or publicists around. They would take a few photos, maybe hand out something small that they had acquired from some donor or other, then head back to the Nairobi office (where none of the projects were based).

The many small organisations that ICROSS claims (incorrectly) to have founded just continue as they did before ICROSS arrived. Some will be better off, some will be a small bit worse off, but most will continue as if nothing had happened. Because nothing has happened to most of them. Some of them will continue to welcome anyone from ICROSS because there is a slight chance of a handout, a few may collapse because they only got together to pick up anything being given out by organisations like ICROSS, but for most, ICROSS will be a faint memory.

As to what happened to all the money ICROSS has raised over the years, these newspaper articles are silent. In addition to the one above, there is another in the Sunday Times, one in the Irish Mail on Sunday and one in the Irish Examiner. These can be added to the collection of articles on the organisation's suspect activities, going back years. For the moment, we can only guess at what the money was used for.

The numerous scientific papers that have Meegan's name on them may seem suspect now, too. But judging from what I've heard, he is unlikely to have had anything to do with the data, at any level. None of the people involved in one of these projects in particular had ever met the man and he never visited the sites where the participants lived, where data was produced and collected. Let's hope that's the case, because many would not wish to rely on data that could be seriously flawed.

But I wouldn't want people to think that no harm has been done, that no one has been depending on all the money donated to ICROSS over the years. After spending a few weeks finding out that ICROSS wasn't doing anything effective in Nakuru, I asked Meegan to make some money available, urgently, as people were sick and in need of help. He and I disagreed on this matter and I finished working with ICROSS before I had even started. Some of the sick people who were in dire need died and many will continue to suffer and die. Meegan likes to boast about how many people he knows have died of Aids here in Kenya. But some of them are dying because aid money is not getting to them.

On a broader scale, also, it matters very much that money intended for poor people, sick people and starving people is not getting to them, regardless of whether it is diverted to repressive regimes, rich foreign contractors, greedy governments or where ever else it may go. If charities, aid organisations, governments, consultancies, commercial organisations or other parties are corrupt, that needs to be remedied. But there are too many people who would like to see aid cut or stopped altogether. Why punish the people who are already suffering because of the conduct of those who are supposed to be accountable, who are from wealthy countries, who are well off themselves? Aid is not the problem, corruption is.

It is extraordinary that Meegan seems to have surrounded himself with so many prominent people. The few people I know who have met him find him utterly unconvincing and I agree with them. But he seems to have been able to fool a lot of people for a long time. Audits and investigations have been carried out over the years and both he and his organisation have been found wanting. Yet ICROSS continued their fundraising and somebody continued, presumably, spending the money. Just not in Nakuru. Hopefully this time will be different.



Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. You've been able to put into words some of the sentiments I felt when 'working' with iCross and the hypocrite himself, Mr. Meegan.

As for the data, I am under the impression that it is extremely sound (especially the solar disinfection studies), and it should in no way be disregarded.

Simon said...

Thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear you also had that experience. Yes, I agree with you about the data and papers that emanated from the organization. But as I said, I think that's because Meegan and the organisation had little to do with it.

Anonymous said...

Am here in ireland from Malawi doing development studys. ICROSS and Meegan in the papers here but story is of fight between ICROSS in Ireland and Kenya and that Meegan accused of bad things- may be more behind this- corruption in many places and first story may not be the end story- usually money troubles in these things. If money not there how could the work be done? If no money and no work then not surprising that not good. Maybe you should help with getting money and then doing work? Seem to me that in my course I learn that people on the ground are ones to do the work

Simon said...

Thanks Anonymous, you're right, I'm on the ground, working. Meegan isn't on the ground, he's hardly been seen in Nakuru in the 6 or 7 years ICROSS are supposed to have been here. I hope you learn a lot on your course and then return to Malawi or somewhere else and do some work. I have no doubt you'll be doing a lot more than Meegan ever did.

Anonymous said...

Dear Simon

From, Anonymous #1 :)

Simon said...

Thanks Anonymous, there were also articles in the Herald, the Examiner and the Times. It sounds as if a lot of people have been letting him get away with this for a long time, even helping him get away with it. DialogueIreland have collected up all the articles about Meegan and ICROSS: