The Sunday Times December 10, 2006
Doubts over charity worker 'delay' humanitarian award
AND the winner of the Meteor Humanitarian Award for 2007 is . . . not Mike Meegan. The prestigious award, previously won by Bono, Elton John and the aid worker Adi Roche, was to have been bestowed next February on Meegan, an international director of Icross, a developing-world charity. But organisers have told the aid worker that he will not be given the prize, which comes with a €100,000 cheque, at next year’s Meteor Music Awards. He may be given it in 2008 instead. Organisers say they changed their minds due to concerns that Meegan is about to part company with the aid agency he founded. But the charity boss was also embroiled in controversy earlier this year when it emerged he overstated his academic qualifications in an attempt to win a €2m grant from the US National Institutes of Health, for a study into home care for Aids sufferers.
Justin Green of MCD, the music-promotion company that organises the awards, has denied Meegan was passed over for the award because of the controversy. “The award recognises people who change lives, not people with postgraduate degrees. It didn’t have an influence. We hope to be able to give Mike the award next year,” Green said. MCD confirmed that a different winner has now been chosen for the show on February 1.
Meegan said he was disappointed that Icross’s infant mortality and child survival programme won’t benefit from the award, but vowed to continue his work. “I was delighted to be considered, but we are not in Africa for awards,” he said. Rebecca Burrell, a director of Icross, confirmed that the charity is currently restructuring. “We are a small charity and €100,000 is a huge donation, but the award is given in a personal capacity, not to a particular charity,” she said.
Meegan, who is based in the remote village of Majiwa in western Kenya, confirmed he is considering his future role in Icross after an organisational review. The charity boss hopes to play a greater role in lobbying politicians. “We want to Africanise the administration,” he said. Meegan’s work in East Africa earned him an International Person of the Year Award in 2003 and an honorary degree from NUI Galway earlier this year. An RTE documentary, When You Say 4,000 Goodbyes, chronicles his efforts to fight Aids in Kenya and Tanzania. It has picked up awards in America. The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland has collaborated on a number of Icross’s African projects, saying it was impressed by Meegan’s “low-tech, evidence-based, sustainable solutions”.
But his reputation was dealt a blow in the summer, when it emerged that Meegan, who is listed with the title doctor on Icross’s website, had received his doctorate from Knightsbridge University, which trades from a post-box address in Denmark and is not recognised by the Danish government.
An official biography prepared for a US conference also claimed that Meegan had a PhD from Trinity College, Dublin in medical anthropology, although the university confirmed last week it could find no record of his place on the course. He eventually lost the American grant over concerns about his academic achievements. The charity boss now says he has a masters in community health from Trinity College and confirms that he pursued a correspondence course with Knightsbridge. “I was in the remote bush in rural Africa with no phones or electricity. It was done in good faith and examined by a qualified supervisor. As it turns out, it was not especially useful,” he said. In 2002 USAID, a US government body, asked Price Waterhouse Coopers to carry out an audit of the organisation’s Kenyan accounts after it became concerned that funds were being mismanaged. The inquiry found that the charity had a number of “internal control weaknesses”. Meegan would have joined an illustrious list of humanitarian workers had he been given the award. Over six years the recipients have included Fr Peter McVerry, Sr Stanislaus Kennedy and Christina Noble, as well as Roche, Bono and Elton John.