June 23, 2008

The Burma Campaign UK today condemned Save the Children for handing over DFID aid to the Burmese military dictatorship. A written Parliamentary statement of 18th June has revealed that Save the Children handed over 9,000 plastic sheets paid for by UK taxpayers to the regime. The regime claimed they would use them to repair housing in the cyclone hit delta region. UK aid rules prohibit British aid being distributed through the regime because of the risk of it being stolen, and also used by the regime for propaganda purposes. There is also no guarantee that the regime will distribute aid on the basis of need. Instead it can go to favoured business people or regime allies.

Save the Children have also recently attracted criticism by working closely with Serge Pun, a business crony of the regime.

“We are outraged that Save the Children gave British aid to the dictatorship,” said Anna Roberts, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “They seem uncomfortably close to the regime, giving them aid, working with their business cronies, and never talking about the political problems that cause poverty in Burma in the first place. Save the Children does important work saving lives in Burma. It must not allow itself to be compromised by becoming too close to the regime.”

The Burmese military dictatorship refused to allow international aid to survivors of cyclone Nargis, which hit Burma seven weeks ago, resulting in unknown thousands of deaths. Seven weeks on hundreds of thousands of people have still not received any aid as the regime broke its word to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about allowing free access to the delta region.

For more information contact Anna Roberts on 020 7324 4711 or 07950 849 529.

The full written ministerial statement by Douglas Alexander follows:
The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The written parliamentary statement issued on 3 June 2008, Official Report, column 57-58 WS, on Burma Cyclone Nargis stated that “none of the UK’s assistance will go through the Burmese regime”. This statement reflected a reply I gave to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) on 2 June.

18 Jun 2008 : Column 53WS
On 10 June I was informed that there were conflicting reports over the destination of 9,000 plastic sheets that DFID had delivered to Save the Children for distribution to victims of the cyclone. These reports indicated that the Burmese Ministry of Social Welfare had requested these sheets from Save the Children. I immediately asked officials to make enquiries to ascertain the facts. The permanent secretary of the Department for International Development concluded these enquiries and updated me on 17 June. The permanent secretary also expressed our strong concern to the chief executive of Save the Children on the same day.

These enquiries confirmed that on 6 June, Save the Children was approached through the Burmese Ministry of Home Affairs for plastic sheets to repair schools. After discussion with the UN humanitarian co-ordinator and despite attempts to negotiate alternative arrangements, Save the Children handed the remaining 9,000 sheets in their warehouse to the Ministry of Social Welfare on 7 June.

Save the Children’s own enquiries indicate that, to date, 5,800 of the sheets have been distributed in Laputta township to repair housing, including for teachers. Save the Children was not involved in the distribution, although they have been able to monitor how the sheeting has been used. The remaining sheets are in the warehouse of the Laputta township Co-ordination Committee and Save the Children plan to monitor their distribution.

These 9,000 sheets were part of an overall consignment of 131,000 sheets that had been delivered by DFID to international NGOs, the Red Cross and the UN to assist the victims of the cyclone. The 9,000 sheets represent around 0.25 per cent. of the total £27.5 million committed by the UK for humanitarian assistance in Burma.

On 17 June the permanent secretary wrote to the chief executive of Save the Children expressing concern over this episode and noting that Save the Children would secure replacement of the 9,000 sheets and distribute these through their own independent channels as soon as possible, as originally agreed with DFID. The UN has offered to help Save the Children secure replacement plastic sheets quickly.

DFID staff are re-checking with other partners through which we channel funds and goods. We have not found evidence of any other incident yet of UK goods or funding being channelled through the Burmese regime. We will continue to monitor the delivery of UK assistance to our UN, NGO and Red Cross partners for the victims of the cyclone.


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