Up until now, 2018 has been far from an easy year for both the development cooperation sector and aid organisations worldwide. Since the English newspaper The Times broke the news on the Oxfam scandal on February, 9th, not only Oxfam’s but the entire aid organisations’ sector’s integrity has been put under severe scrutiny. In Belgium, Alexander De Croo, minister of Development Cooperation, invited the Belgian development actors to reconfirm their commitment to integrity by signing a charter. VLIR-UOS signed this ‘integrity charter’ today.
The charter contains a few important basic principles on how the complying organisations should work on maintaining their integrity. These include having an ethical code, organising courses on integrity, introducing a contact line for integrity violations and communicating on these violations globally once per year. De Croo emphasizes the importance of both financial (neither fraud nor corruption) as well as moral (no sexually inappropriate behaviour, abuse, discrimination or conflicts of interest) integrity.
“Integrity is very important in higher education,” says Kristien Verbrugghen, the organisation’s director, who signed the charter today on behalf of all Flemish universities and university colleges. “It is not just about managing risks, avoiding fraud and corruption or moral integrity. Scientific integrity is important as well, both for the institutions and individual academics.”
In this respect, Verbrugghen emphasizes the importance of quality and objectivity in academic research. “Civilians, governments, the private sector, civil society organisations, … they all count on science for an objective, evidence-based and a well-balanced accumulation of knowledge at the highest level. All Flemish universities commit themselves each day to guarantee and optimise this level of quality, something that they apply to their university cooperation for development projects as well.”
This is not the first time that the Belgian minister has emphasized the importance of integrity throughout the sector, though. In 2016, he put forward the integrity principle explicitly in his new formal framework for non-governmental cooperation. In 2017, there has been a policy instruction on integrity.
In January 2018, a Task Force ‘Integrity’ was created to help organisations to implement the charter. The Task Force has some plans ready for joint integrity courses and to set up a central contact line. The organisations that will have to sign - NGOs, Enabel and BIO – will have time to put the charter’s principles into practice until mid-2019.
You can find the integrity charter here.