We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Chump charity

What did you do to help the victims and survivors of the Asian Tsunami? Did you help to raise money. Did you don your jogging bottoms and wheeze your way through a sponsored run? Did you sit in bathtub full of maggots for twenty-fours hours? Did you gladly humiliate yourself by joining in with a charity sing-a-thon? Did you run around like headless chicken collecting cuddly toys, blankets and unwanted packs of paracetamol?

Or maybe you just plunged your hand generously into your own pocket, scooped out a chunk of change and handed it over with the (understandably) sincere intentions of doing just a little to help ease the plight of the unfortunate victims of that catastrophe.

If you did any of those things, well, you have certainly provided relief to some quarters:

Oxfam has had to pay £550,000 in customs duty to the Sri Lankan government for importing 25 four-wheel-drive vehicles to help victims of the tsunami, The Daily Telegraph has learned.

The sum was levied by customs in Colombo which have refused to grant tax exemptions to non-governmental organisations working to repair damage caused by the giant Boxing Day wave.

The Indian-made Mahindra vehicles, essential to negotiate damaged roads and rough tracks, remained stuck in port at Colombo for almost a month as officials completed the small mountain of paperwork required to release them. Customs charged £2,750 “demurrage” for every day they stood idle.

So there we have it, good people. Kindly Westerners care more about the sodden, bedraggled, impoverished masses of Sri Lanka than their own government which has made a priority of cutting off its own pound (or several hundred thousands of pounds) of flesh first. And this is only the stuff that is being reported. Try to imagine, if you can, the graft and pilfering that is going on underneath the radar.

As for Oxfam, I can spare no words of comfort. Their incessant mewling about ‘fair trade’ means putting even more power and looted wealth into the hands of the kind of third-world government spivs who have just royally shafted them. I doubt very much if they will learn anything useful from this object lesson. These people seldom do.

If I had suggested, in the days following the disaster, that all those munificent donations were going to be stolen then the comments section of this blog would have experienced a mini-tsunami of its own as a wave of furious readers flooded in to inform me that I had “reached new lows”. Too cynical? There is no such thing as ‘too cynical’. Allow me to put the record straight: every penny of that relief fund is eventually going to worm its way into the pockets of state officials and professional Western poverty-mongers.

The Emperor was always naked but now he’s running around flashing his genitals as well.

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39 comments to Chump charity

  • Verity

    Not one thin penny.

    People become competetively stupid on occasions like this. I don’t know why. Is it naiveté? Is it the lemming syndrome? Are they joiners? They want to feel they are members of the sympathy club?

    Surely they never thought there would be saintly charity people on the docks taking their kindly pounds and dollars and distributing them carefully to Sri Lankan families in the form of hotel and food vouchers?

  • Sylvain Galineau

    I did not give a dime. From the get-go, it was obvious there would be more than enough fools to be guilt-tripped into giving their money.

    As for Oxfam, their fair-trade stance is not only incoherent, it is dishonest. Go into an Oxfam store. Buy a pound of their fair trade coffee. Check out the company that buys and packages the stuff : Cafe Direct. Go to their web site. Guess who owns 25% of the company ?

    Don’t hold your breath for an article in The Guardian denouncing that conflict of interest. As long as you claim to have good intentions and make the right noises, you can pretty much do whatever you want.

  • JuliaM

    Nothing at all, because I knew it would eventually end up like this, falling into the pockets of corrupt local officials or being wasted by inaction or inefficiency.

    If I had known anyone affected by it over here, I’d have offered them what practical help I could, direct to the source. But to donate to any large charity organisation is usually to throw money down the drain…

  • Pete_London

    Put me down as zilch, along with a couple of friends whose money I managed to talk back into their pockets before being thrown away.

  • Jim

    “If I had suggested, in the days following the disaster, that all those munificent donations were going to be stolen …”

    “every penny of that relief fund is eventually going to worm its way into the pockets of state officials and professional Western poverty-mongers”

    Let me see if I’ve got this straight. You’re saying that no money whatsoever that was donated by ‘Westerners’ will actually find its way to the people it was intended to help. None.

    An interesting claim, and also particularly implausible. I mean, there’s obviously quite a bit of diversion, graft and out-right theft going on, but there’s also obviously some relief and reconstruction going on. Oxfam have pictures on their website of water tanks, food aid, temporary shelters and son on being provided to people in Sri Lanka – are you saying these are faked?

  • John East

    If the chief executive of the charity has a higher income than I do, then they usually get zilch. Why should I transfer some of my disposable income to someone who has more disposable income than I have?
    I made an exception with the Tsunami appeal. As it was a one-off disaster I was happy to donate thinking that my cash would be put to good use. Several stories have appeared in the media since refuting this, so I can’t help thinking, why bother in future?
    If I can find a charity which guarantees low overheads and effective distribution maybe I’ll feel inclined to donate, otherwise I think that my spare cash is better spent on my family and my local community where I can see how it is spent.

  • JuliaM

    “there’s obviously quite a bit of diversion, graft and out-right theft going on, but there’s also obviously some relief and reconstruction going on”

    I’m not happy to put petrol in my car on the basis that some will refuel it, and the rest run out on to the road, so why should giving to charity be done on that basis?

    I’m happy to donate items that I know will be used for the purpose intended – extra tins of cat food/bags of litter to our local Cats Protection lady every Christmas – but I don’t put money into collecting tins for the RSPCA to see it go towards glossy heart-tugging advertising campaigns, or into the pockets of the expensive consultants that dream up those campaigns.

  • Jim

    “I’m not happy to put petrol in my car on the basis that some will refuel it, and the rest run out on to the road, so why should giving to charity be done on that basis?”

    Because it isn’t a good analogy, that’s why.

    Nobody’s going to lose their life or livelihood if you decide not to put petrol in your car that time. But I know that if I want a particular group of people in Sri Lanka without access to drinking water to have some, and I know that I can pay someone else to get them that, I’ll do it even if I know that some of my money might get diverted to non-drinking-water purposes (such as a bribe here and there to move things along), as long as I think that the good done by the service provided outweighs the harm done by the bribery and graft.

    It’s a judgement call, but I haven’t seen enough evidence so far to suggest that I made the wrong decision in donating. And claiming on the basis of a customs charge for 25 vehicles that every single penny of money donated is being wasted strikes me as particularly insane, even for a Samizdata post.

  • I didn’t contribute, because it quickly became obvious they had far more than they knew what to do with, and there were plenty of other places my charity dollars could go where they wouldn’t be surplus/at the whim of a kleptocracy.

  • GCooper

    JuliaM writes:

    “I’m happy to donate items that I know will be used for the purpose intended – extra tins of cat food/bags of litter to our local Cats Protection lady every Christmas – but I don’t put money into collecting tins for the RSPCA to see it go towards glossy heart-tugging advertising campaigns, or into the pockets of the expensive consultants that dream up those campaigns.”

    Precisely! Offering goods and practical help which cannot be filtered through a dozen pockets before they reach the intended recipients is almost all I am willing to do these days – and cat food is quite high on the list. Alternatively, I give to tiny (preferably local) organisations where I can see how the money is being used.

    I learned the ‘big charity’ lesson some years ago, when I had the opportunity to witness at close hand the workings of a large medical charity. It wasn’t that the organisation was corrupt – it was that it had no notion that it wasn’t BP or Ford and that it should conduct itself more frugally in every area, so as to maximise its income for the purpose intended. The level of waste was obscene.

    And yes, you can add my name to the list of refuseniks. I didn’t give a penny. It was obvious from the moment the Geldofians started turning the event into a media frenzy of over-dramatised pseudo-grief what was going to happen.

  • Yes, David, you are being too cynical. Although your prediction that every penny of charity given would benefit unworthy people is probably close to being literally true – money circulates, and in a statist economy it must pass through the state – in the sense in which you meant it the prediction cannot be true. How would you know? People were fed, bandaged etc.

    Was lots of it wasted or stolen? Yes. (And I expect the Great British Public had a realistic awareness that this would happen, judging from recent surveys about aid.) Are you correct to say, “Their incessant mewling about ‘fair trade’ means putting even more power and looted wealth into the hands of the kind of third-world government spivs who have just royally shafted them”? Yes. Did there come a point in the appeal when it was clear that they had more money than they knew what to do with? Yes.

    Did it do no good thereby? No. Several hundred thousands had their most urgent needs met.

  • JuliaM

    “Because it isn’t a good analogy, that’s why.

    Nobody’s going to lose their life or livelihood if you decide not to put petrol in your car that time”

    It’s actually a pretty good analogy if you don’t go off at a tangent & bring life & livelihood into it – both situations produce waste in inverse proportion to the good they do.

    I’d just rather not allow the opportunity for good works to be used by those far more interested in feathering their own nests on the back of deserving cases. My admiration goes to those tourists on the spot who helped, and to the US/Australian/UK & other troops who sent immediate aid & assistance while the UN workers were on their cellphones booking first class hotel suites to hold meetings in to discuss what should be done. I suspect a lot of the major charities were just the same….

  • Verity

    I endorse everything that JuliaM has said. The fact that “some” of the tsunami of cash got through is no more cheering, as JuliaM said, than knowing that when you pump petrol into your car, “some” of it will get through to the gas tank and most will run down the road, wasted.

    It was clear to me that the Ozzie, American, Indian and Singaporean armed services, who were there in a flash, were doing what needed to be done. Governments, which have slush funds for these events, were sending funds on the advice of their government representatives on the ground – not fanciful, emotive figures dreamed up by UNICEF, etc.

    It was also obvious that because this happened in a tropical zone, most of the needs would be infrastructural anyway, and those can only be tackled by governments. No one needs warm clothing on the equator. Tens of thousands didn’t have to be housed in village halls and the like. On the equator, people can live outdoors for a few nights and no harm done. Food, clean water and malaria and other medications were immediately being flown in by the militaries of the countries above mentioned. Doctors and other medical personnel were arriving.

    I felt at the time that this tremendous “outpouring” as the media loved to call it was simply a few hundred thousand wannabees who wanted to be a part of a worldwide event. Exactly the same reason tens of thousands of fools went to London to put flowers outside Kensington Palace when Diana died. They wanted to be part of it.

    I too give to animal charities because the people who run them are, in the main, committed to bettering the lot of the animals who come into their care and not enhancing their own status. I’ve never seen an animal charity with big fancy offices (although maybe the WWF?) or with a director who drives a fancy car.

  • Verity

    Just out of interest, has anyone read any figures about the amount of the average donation in Britain? I would imagine, to generate the requisite amounts of endorphins to make it worthwhile, it would have to be upwards of £50.

  • jonathanhunter

    I went on a week long break last week to Phuket. I didn’t see much aid getting through although most of the beach area seemed rather unscathed to me. I did, however, enjoy buying trinkets from the locals as well as eating the local food. It just goes to show that market capitalism is a far more effective mechanism in lifting people from natural disasters/poverty/charity handouts than governments are.

  • Jim

    “It was clear to me that the Ozzie, American, Indian and Singaporean armed services, who were there in a flash, were doing what needed to be done. Governments, which have slush funds for these events, were sending funds on the advice of their government representatives on the ground – not fanciful, emotive figures dreamed up by UNICEF, etc.

    It was also obvious that because this happened in a tropical zone, most of the needs would be infrastructural anyway, and those can only be tackled by governments.”

    Nice to see such a ringing endorsement of effective government action. Though I’d also like to see any actual evidence that UNICEF made up figures or lied about providing life-saving supplies to people affected by the famine.

  • Verity

    I have always maintained that one of the three legitimate actions for government is the provision of armed forces. Two others are the maintenance of law and provision for civil contracts. The lawyers among us will tell me the proper terms for what I am trying to describe.

    To put it at its kindest, UNICEF makes wild stabs at estimates because no one ever knows for sure. What I do know is all these “humanitarian disasters” predicted with numbing frequency by UNICEF and the International Red Cross (seeking additional funds) never seem to happen.

  • JuliaM

    “a ringing endorsement of effective government action”

    Not really; apart from giving the ‘go’ order, what did government do? The logistics & strategy experts in the armed forces did the rest, as they always do when needed….

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Several weeks ago, I attended a briefing by a SAF officer who was on the scene, commanding part of the Singapore relief operation on Sumatra, one of which was to clear a path inland from Meulaboh, which had been logistically severed from the rest of the land transport network. They literally bulldozed a path through after making amphibious landings near the target area.

    The Lt. Col. had some great anecdotes, some of which indicted the UN, the Russians, and a few others. I guess he could have hit harder and told us more, but he was, I think, being diplomatically polite and didn’t want to reveal too much for fear of upsetting the cart.

    The efforts of our local boys makes me feel that my time as a draftee wasn’t wasted if that means we’re always able to make a difference when called upon.

    And yeah, I gave up S$50 to the Red Cross. Oh well, I fully expected some of it to be wasted, but what’s done is done.

    TWG

  • GCooper

    Verity writes:

    “(although maybe the WWF?”

    The WWF blew it over a decade ago when it decided to ally itself with the anti-science, eco-moonbat brigade.

    My only reservation about animal charities in general is when they morph into PETA-like animal fascists.

    It’s easy to lose a sense of proportion when you’re scooping-up hedgehogs from the road every day, but, for example, the Folly Wildlife hospital which was mentioned on Samizdata a few months ago (and to which I contributed) recently sent out a newsletter in which its suggested a speed governor be fitted to every car, to prevent wildlife deaths.

    I can see how someone gets into that frame of mind, but I do wish they wouldn’t do it.

  • Verity

    Agreed about the WWF, G Cooper, which is why I singled it out as possibly one animal charity that has snazzy offices and nice staff cars.

    I don’t remember the exact moment it changed from being a nice charity to help preserve wild animals in their native habitat into an Amnesty International/International Red Cross/Greenpeace type organisation, but I do remember noting it for some reason. Maybe their literature started to read differently, i.e., with a political message that wasn’t there before; maybe it was slicker … I can’t remember, but I do remember being conscious of a change. Naturally, I wrote them off the list.

    At least The Cats’ Protection League has dingy, makeshift premises with, in the winter, temperatures just kept above freezing, but you can see the skinny little strays with a square meal in a dish in front of them, and fresh water. You can see cats with bandages recovering from their ops. You can see big bags of kitty litter stacked against the wall. You may have to wait outside in the cold because Mrs Whatsit, who’s keeping half a dozen overflow cats, doesn’t get home from work until 6. But you can see exactly where your money goes, and there is nothing between your contribution and its end use. I am full of admiration for this charity.

  • Tim

    jonathan.

    this is the key to growth – trade. Whether through tourism, services or products.

    I’d like to know about people like graphic and web designers in Africa? I want to help the country and would give someone from say, Botswana slight preference in the name of giving someone there a boost, but I’d still expect them to deliver.

    In some ways, Africa makes a lot of sense for outsourcing – they are close to our time zones.

  • Verity

    Actually, I’d be interested in seeing a website for a Western country designed in Africa. Could be interesting … could be fraught with problems of the designer not understanding the Western consciousness and concepts we take for granted.

    But an intriguing idea …

  • GCooper

    Verity writes:

    “I am full of admiration for this charity.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more – the CPL is right at the top of my list. As self-confessed cat lovers we might be accused of special pleading, but I don’t think that’s the case.

    Some charities seem able to keep their feet on the ground, others get corporatised. In common with many (though sadly not all) animal charities, the CPL seems to have remained sane.

    As for the WWF, it’s a great shame. Back when they were the World Wildlife Fund (what marketing imbecile made them change the name?) you had the feeling that a donation, just might have helped a threatened species. I find it hard to have any confidence at all in them today and you are absolutely right to bracket them with ‘useful idiots’ like the Red Cross and Greenpeace.

    I wonder if working with animals ‘grounds’ people in harsh, messy reality, while working for ‘noble’ humanitarian causes allows people to get uselessly and abstractly political?

  • John K

    Didn’t the problem here get worse when governments started having competitions to see who could piss highest, or at least piss their taxpayers’ money away quickest? Thus, if Japan gave x million, the USA had to give 2x million, or appear “mean”. It’s always easy for governments to blow money which isn’t theirs to begin with, and once it’s gone, do they really care how it’s spent?

  • Mark

    I seem to vaguely remember some story on the BBC in which some aid advocate was asked a question along the lines of “Many people fear that some aid may be wasted or may be delayed, how would you recommend donators avoid this?” The response went along the lines of “Donators should ensure they give to committed efficient bodies like the UN…” at which point I spat my dinner out.

    Is there a good reason for the similarities between big charities and big governments?

  • Verity

    Mark, of course, the BBC’s another transnational controlling, fascist (I hate to use that word and if someone can suggest another, equally strong, I will gladly accept it) power-seeker. The BBC (it doesn’t matter who funds it; it’s the power that counts, and they’ve got it), the International Red Cross – and, of course, these days – the wonderful Red Crescent!, Amnesty International, the WWF, Greenpeace, the UN and all its spawn and, oh, have I missed anyone?

    The BBC is seriously important because it’s set up to communicate in dozens of languages in which to disperse its tranzi propaganda under its respected brand, which is going to take some undoing. In fact, the first one of the above to get rid of should be the BBC. Second, Koffi au Lait and his merry band of thieves. The IRC and Amnesty blah blah blah would have no credibilty once the BBC and the UN had been neutralised.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    The Red Cross is another charity who have been stricken with acute moral mission creep. It’s a shame to see a charity with such a proud history of service to humanity (especially in times of war) now trying to save the world.

  • Verity

    Suffering – But they’re all subject to mission creep, aren’t they? Greenpeace got mission creep. So did Amnesty International. The International Red Cross has “humanitarian disasters” as its brief, so it needs to have some. As mentioned above, the WWF is now no longer about helping animals to survive in their natural habitat, but saving the world. Some of them have moved on to space (their own natural habitat) to keep it unpolluted by man. Amnesty International has redefined torture, so we can have more of it to fight. Now being force to wear an orange boiler suit if it doesn’t go with your eyes is probably classed as torture. Blue eyed people should get indigo or lavender boiler suits. Green eyed people look their best in emerald. Anything less is destructive to their self-respect, which is the same as torture.

    This descent into insanity is very worrying. I don’t care about the perpetrators themselves – and prove it by never sending them any money – but it worries me that they are accorded status by the media.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    Verity – trouble is, it sells. We’re in a catch-22 here; on the one hand, we don’t want tranzi idiotarians hogging the media spotlight. On the other, we think commercial media should deliver what its customers want to watch. Greenpeace whackjobs in rubber duckies chasing whale boats may not actually *be* particularly newsworthy*, however it’s popularly contentious. It’s drama on the high seas. It looks damn newsworthy to the average punter who probably hasn’t thought through the concept of whaling a great deal.

    This reasoning extends to smelly dreadlocked knuckledraggers who should be wearing mothballs on chains as earrings rather than safety pins, stuck up trees because they’ve nothing better to do than to obstruct legal, wealth-creating activities like logging. This kind of media-covered eco-terrorism practiced by the greenies may alienate 85% of the general public, but it fires up a minority who carry on the torch of the luddite few.

    My point is that the descent into madness that you describe is a natural byproduct of a free market, as long as enough people don’t believe in said free market – which incidentally gives the bastard greenies oxygen.

    *as far as I’m concerned, killing a minke whale is analagous to killing a bull for beef

  • Verity

    I don’t know that I agree with you, Suffering. At the risk of sounding like a total whacko, I think there’s a – probably unenunciated definitively – conspiracy among tranzis to elevate the cause of One-Worlderism.

    This is why the BBC and other leftie media love them. Amnesty International is in charge of a) who is allowed to be taken prisoner; b) how they’re classified – i.e. political; c) how they must be treated; d) “negotiating” on their behalf for whatever – TVs, diet; how many letters they can receive; getting visitors in to see them; gold plated Korans; whatever.

    In other words, they have made themselves into the supranational boss of “prisoners of conscience” (or as those of us proles know them, “terrorists”).

    The IRC has an equally onerous task because it has to decide how land will be used; what is the daily minimum nutrition for adult women, adult men, teenagers, children and infants; it has to decide what chemicals can be used in third world agriculture; they decide what agricultural experts are needed and what logistical experts are needed for distribution; they decide what kind of storage facilities need to be constructed, and where, to prevent “a humanitarian disaster” and … well, you can write the rest yourself. Again, they have made themselves into the boss of several countries in particular niche area.

    This is why the supranational media love them so.

    Can I just mention an award I would like to give for Most Promising Newcomer? I would like to nominate Medécins sans Frontières for opening up the whole new category of medical relief. You can see that they’ve already got the hang of it from the imperious statements their spokesmen give to the media, and, of course, from their snazzy literature.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    But Verity, commercial media love them, too, because they either a) do such telegenic things OR b) have a ostensibly altrusitic mission that appeals to everyone.

  • Verity

    Yes, the commercial media does love them too, probably because they think it shows their “caring” side. But they get the deference from the tranzi BBC.

    I think we are going to see Medécins sans Frontières come up very smartly on the inside track. Interestingly, they are the only tranzi – embryonic at the moment, but they’ll get there – which is not Anglo-Saxon.

    Well, other than in W Africa, they will have to operate in English! Ha ha ha ha ha! Waterloo Day! Ha ha ha ha ha!

  • I'm suffering for my art

    probably because they think it shows their “caring” side.

    This is my point. They show a “caring” side because they feel they need to. Appeal to the market.

    I want to reiterate that there’s nothing wrong with this, and that I think that a free market will ultimately defeat the demons that prosper under such a system. I should say, I hope it will, and the more we are ready to counter the tranzis that multiply under our watch, the better.

  • Verity

    Actually, Suffering, I take your point. They perceive that their audience wants them to “care”. And they are right. I am not sure the public will ever get tired of humanitarian disaster spectaculars, though.

  • Julian Taylor

    I did not give a dime. From the get-go, it was obvious there would be more than enough fools to be guilt-tripped into giving their money.

    Personally Sylvain Galineau I think that for that comment you are one complete cunt of an individual. I know enough people who suffered from losing family (one associate of mine lost his wife and 3 children in the space of a few seconds), let alone the people not just in Thailand, Sri Lanka or Indonesia but families as far off as Tanzania (one ferry was capsized killing hundreds of people) and the the large numbers killed on the beaches in Somalia.

    How people can, some 6 months after the event, say something like that is beyond me. I shall hope that one day you and your family suffer such a catatrosphe.

  • Verity

    So, Julian Taylor, to respond to your extremely vicious post to Sylvain Galinau, are you saying the ferry in Tanzania wouldn’t “have capsized killing hundreds” if Sylvain had only whupped out his credit card and dialled the toll-free number for UNICEF? And that your tragic colleague would not have lost his wife and three children in a space of seconds had the rest of us only chipped in?

    Did you understand the tenor of the above post at all?

    Not one of us tried to diminish the human misery this event occasioned. We are saying that governments with armed services were on the spot and providing assistance almost immediately and they do it better and are more professional and effective than showy charities. We also felt – at least, speaking for myself – I felt (as I wouldn’t want to attract obscenities to anyone else) that the charities encouraged donors to feel part of the drama to get them to part with their money, most of which would go to themselves and government agencies like the Sri Lankan customs people. That was the essence of it.

    Despite what you clearly imagine is your angry eloquence, I for one remain unmoved and my arguments remain unchanged, as do my convictions.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    That’s right, and an American aircraft carrier stacked high with personnel and materiel isn’t likely to be kept aside for months and months on a Jakarta or Colombo dock by overzealous/corrupt customs officials.

    Now, join the dots and figure out why you look like a buffoon…

    I shall hope that one day you and your family suffer such a catatrosphe.

    I think that for that comment you are one complete cunt of an individual.

  • Verity

    Suffering – I too was appalled when I read Julian Taylor’s remark.