Thursday, June 19, 2014
for the Hon Julie Bishop, MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs, a letter dated 19th June 2014
The Hon Julie Bishop
Minister for Foreign Affairs
House of Representatives, Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
19th June 2014
“Traditional aid approaches are no longer good enough. We need a fresh approach – a new aid paradigm.”
Hear hear! A fresh approach is required in many areas of aid delivery. It is not just direct AusAID funding that is in need of reform. Those NGOs such as the Global Development Group taking advantage of the imprimatur provided by DFAT need to be subjected to much more rigorous scrutiny than they have been to date.
One suggestion I would like to make is that the rights of the recipients of aid be clearly articulated to them. With few exceptions the beneficiaries of Australian aid are extremely poor, illiterate and have no knowledge (or experience) of the rights they have under Cambodian law. These materially poor people are easy prey for cashed up but unscrupulous NGOs. There need to be put in place mechanisms whereby aid recipients can make a complaint to ACFID, to DFAT, secure in the knowledge that it will be properly investigated. Had such mechanisms existed in 2008, Chanti and Chhork’s daughters would most certainly have been returned to them by November that year when it became apparent that Citipointe church had no legal right to detain them.
I have finally managed to get hold of a copy of the standard ‘boilerplate’ pro forma MOU that the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs entered into with expatriate NGOs in 2008. It is six pages long and much of it is not relevant to whether or not Citipointe’s removal of Rosa and Chita in 2008 and the church’s subsequent close-to-six years of detention was legal.
I will quote only those parts of the MOU that are relevant:
“Whereas” The Royal Government of Cambodia has expressed a desire that (name of NGO) will exchange exclusively in humanitarian activities for social welfare and public benefit in cooperation with the Royal Government of Cambodia; and…
“Whereas” (name of NGO) agrees to comply with the laws and regulations of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
The Royal Government of Cambodia, represented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, for the purposes of the present MOU, and (name of MOU) have mutually agreed to the following:
Undertaking of the Royal Government of Cambodia
The Royal Government of Cambodia undertakes to the following:
Recognizes that (name of NGO) is authorized to open its office in Phnom Penh and other provincial cities to conduct its humanitarian activities and to implement its approved projects within the laws and regulations of the Kingdom of Cambodia and in accordance with the provisions of this MOU.
Allows (name of NGO) to carry out its humanitarian projects in other locations or provincial cities upon due approval of relevant government authorities based on government priorities and on (name of NGO) field of competence and budget availabilities…
Undertaking of NGO
(name of NGO) undertakes to the following:
Respects fully the laws and regulations of the Kingdom of Cambodia and will not allow its staff to engage in any activities which might disturb peace, stability and public order or undermine national security, unity, culture and tradition of the Cambodian society.
There is nothing at all in this pro forma MOU that gave Citipointe church the legal right to remove Rosa and Chita in 2008. The document that Citipointe relied on to argue the legality of its actions was the 31st July 2008 ‘contract’ that Leigh Ramsey tricked Chanti and her mother, Vanna, into signing. This ‘contract’ did not give Citipointe the legal right of removal or detention. The moment Chanti and Chhork requested that their daughters be returned to them, a couple of months after Chanti placed her thumb print on this document, Citipointe had no legal right of detention.
Article 8 of the Cambodian Law on Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation is pertinent here:
Definition of Unlawful Removal
The act of unlawful removal in this law shall mean to:
1) remove a person from his/her current place of residence to a place under the actor’s or a third person’s control by means of force, threat, deception, abuse of power, or enticement, or
2) without legal authority or any other legal justification to do so, take a minor or a person under general custody or curatorship or legal custody away from the legal custody of the parents, care taker or guardian.
A person who unlawfully removes a minor or a person under general custody or curatorship or legal custody shall be punished with imprisonment for 2 to 5 years.
Unless Citipointe church entered into an MOU with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that was not ‘boilerplate’, that was different from the MOUs other expatriate NGOs entered into in 2008, Pastor Leigh Ramsey is guilty of ‘unlawful removal under Cambodian law. I have been pointing this out for many years now but my advocacy on behalf of Chanti and Chhork yielded no result for close to six years.
If Citipointe’s 2008 MOU is close to identical to the ‘boilerplate’ MOU, what are we to make of Geoff Armstrong’s defense of Citipointe, as articulated in a letter to me:
“We have thoroughly investigated your concerns and we can’t see any area where SHE Rescue Home has not adhered to their requirement of the ACFID Code of Conduct. Therefore a Code complaint cannot be made….Global Development Group has copies of all the required documentation and has no problems with ‘SHE Rescue Home’.”
So, Geoff Armstrong, in possession of the 2008 MOU Citipointe entered into with the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is satisfied that it gave the ‘SHE Rescue Home’ (funded by GDG) the right to remove Rosa and Chita and to detain them contrary to the express wishes of the parents, Chanti and Chhork!
It is possible, I suppose (though highly unlikely) that Citipointe entered into a quite different MOU to the ‘boilerplate’ one other NGOs entered into in 2008. If so, why have Geoff Armstrong and the board of GDG refused all requests by Chanti, Chhork and myself as their legally appointed advocate, to be provided with a copy of the 2008 MOU.
The argument has been presented to me that since Citipointe church has never been a recipient of AusAID funding, DFAT (and hence ACFID) has no jurisdiction when it comes to assessing the legality of the church’s actions. My reading of the ACFID Code of Conduct suggests otherwise, given that Citipointe’s ‘SHE Rescue Home’ receives funding from the Global Development Group, which is a signitory to the ACFID Code of Conduct.
GDG goes out of its way in its literature and online to assure sponsors and donors that the NGO has the imprimatur of DFAT. I will quote here just one of these. The bold italics are mine:
Cambodian Children's Fund Australia is proud to be a partner in Project J642 The CCF Education Program, Cambodia with Global Development Group (ABN 57 102 400 993), an Australian Non Government Organisation (NGO) carrying out humanitarian projects with approved partners and providing aid to relieve poverty and provide long term solutions through the provision of quality aid and development projects. Global Development Group takes responsibility for approved projects according to DFAT rules, providing a governance role and assisting in the areas of planning, monitoring, reviewing and evaluating to ensure that approved projects are carried out to Australian requirements.
GDG has singularly failed to ensure that Citipointe’s ‘SHE Rescue Home’ abided by ‘DFAT rules’ and in accordance with ‘Australian requirements’.
“The government has a zero tolerance policy towards fraud in the aid program. We will take a robust approach to preventing, detecting and rapidly responding to fraud. Any instance of alleged, suspected, attempted or suspected fraud relating to an aid investment must immediately be reported by DFAT officials and investigated.”
This is a quote from your own opinion piece in yesterday’s Australian.
The evidence points overwhelmingly to Citipointe’s having used fraud to take possession of Rosa and Chita in 2008. The Global Development Group provided AusdAID approved funding to Citipointe church without bothering to check to see if Citipointe was behaving in accordance with Cambodian law, if it was behaving ethically and in terms of the ACFID Code of Conduct. And, when Citipointe’s breaches of Cambodian law, the ACFID Code of Conduct and AusAID rules were pointed out to Geoff Armstrong he staunchly defended Citipointe church.
When Geoff Armstrong’s breaches of the ACFID Code of Conduct were pointed out to the Australian Council for International Development, ACFID, at every level, refused to investigate. The net result is that poor parents like Chanti and Chhork have no-one within DFAT to whom they can turn if their children are fraudulently (and illegally) removed from their care.
The fraud I allege to have been committed by Citipointe church, with the complicity of the Global Development Group and with the ACFID Code of Conduct committee turning a blind eye, is one that can only be investigated properly is the 2008 MOU and the 2009 MOU are taken into account. The refusal on the part of Citipointe, GDG and ACFID to produce these MOUs raises the obvious question: “Why?” If the Global Development Group has acted in accordance with the ACFID Code of Conduct, if the MOUs gave GDG’s funding partner Citipointe church the rights it has asserted, why not produce the MOUs and bring this close-to-six-year dispute to an end?
Just as I have finally managed to obtain a copy of the pro forma MOU that Citipointe almost certainly entered into in 2008, so too will I eventually get hold of a copy of the actual MOU itself. Given your commitment to transparency and accountability, Minister, it should not be necessary for me to put so much time, effort and money into achieving a goal that could be achieved by Ms Sam Mostyn, Dr Sue Anne Wallace, Murray Hanson or Jeremy Leung simply picking up the phone and saying to Geoff Armstrong: “Please send through copies of the MOUs in the next hour.”