Author: Oliver May
ISBN No: 9781472453143
Review date: 02/03/2024
No of pages: 172
Publisher: Gower - Routledge
Year of publication: 17/06/2016
Fighting Fraud and Corruption in the Humanitarian and Global Development Sector
Oliver May spoke impressively at the Fraud Advisory Panel conference on fraud against the charity sector last year; and he has spoken at other events since. He brings an engaging manner to raise questions about wrong-doing in organisations that can be uncomfortable to confront at the best of times, let alone in his chosen specialist sector, charities, where people seek to do good for others and may be loath to admit that fellow workers, or donors or partners, are doing fraud. His new book, Fighting Fraud and Corruption in the Humanitarian and Global Development Sector, is in keeping with his speaking: informed, and challenging.
He opens with frankness about his arrival at Oxfam GB in 2012, from the forerunner of the National Crime Agency, SOCA. Oliver, previously a crime analyst for the police, had been recruited to replace a manager who had done an invoice fraud. That’s in the public domain, because the case went to court; Oliver reports that Oxfam did ‘exactly the right course of action’ and ‘was open with its supporters’. Here right away Oliver confronts the problem that any organisation has that faces the risk of staff or others doing fraud against it. Oxfam like other charities is there to do good; yet fraudsters seek to take advantage of that good-will and trust. As he says, Oxfam was large enough to survive the breach of trust; but would a smaller NGO (non-governmental organisation)?
Oliver sets out the challenge; briefly, that donors (you and me, and governments using the ‘third sector’) want to see value for money; regulators and laws are around, such as the Charity Commission and the Bribery Act in the UK; and money stolen from charities is money not going to those that need it; a pound taken by fraud can mean someone doesn’t eat tomorrow. He’s wise about how charities run; understandably, especially in a famine or other emergency, the urge may be to get aid to where it’s needed, and if it appears that bribes need to be paid at a border, or a port, to get things moving – it’s a price that has to be paid; or so the aid worker may argue. But Oliver asks if that is really for the best. Is humanitarian work somehow exempt from compliance, and stock control?!
As he sets out, the risks that charities face are really not different from anyone else; fraud may come during procurement; staff in the field may give jobs to mates and relatives; they may siphon off goods. He confronts myths, such as fraud in conflict zones is inevitable, or the price you pay for getting aid through. Oliver warns against being ‘over-pragmatic’. He sets out what to do practically, rather than being disapproving. The bulk of the book is taken up with such practicalities; how to deter, prevent, detect, respond to incidents, and investigate. That leads him to ‘a counter-fraud culture’, and what it looks like in a charity or a NGO. He suggests that it’s empowering the honest majority to tackle fraud, and corruption (because, as he points out, the honest aid workers on the ground are indignant about kick-backs and the like, and as indignant that managers do nothing about it). Much of what Oliver suggests will make sense to a general counter-fraud person, such as getting senior management buy-in, and how important it is for those at the top to set the ‘tone’, in what they do and what they say.
You might say that it’s all very well; that it’s fine to say such things at head office, but what about Afghanistan. For one thing, as Oliver says, he has been there, to give staff training; and in any case, it’s not only the right thing to talk about the ‘f-word’, and to use the stick of punishment against offenders; it makes for a more businesslike and efficient, and mindful organisation – one that is truly respectful, we could add, of its task and duty towards those that give towards its work.
To sum up, Oliver has done a first-class job here; in style and content; his book is well-referenced for what is a little-admitted problem. It’s well worth fraud prevention people generally, and charity sector managers generally, picking up. Bravo. If you want to read more of Oliver, or you want to get a feel for his writing before you take the plunge and buy the book, he blogs at ‘Second Marshmallow’, also recommended. Lately he has covered investigations, the lessons arising from the Panama Papers affair, and ‘aid diversion to terrorists’. The only quibble that comes to mind, and it’s nothing to do with the author, is that for quite a short book, the price is high; but then an international publishing company is not a charity?!
Fighting Fraud and Corruption in the Humanitarian and Global Development Sector, by Oliver May, published 2016 by Routledge. Hardback, £75, ISBN 9781472453143. Visit https://www.routledge.com.