As the AP reported last week, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission’s (IHRC) mandate expired on Friday, October 21. The mandate had called for a transition to a Haitian government development authority to take the place of the commission. The date passed with little fanfare and no official statements from the IHRC itself. Reports in the Haitian press indicate that newly designated Prime Minister Gary Conille intends to submit a bill asking for the panel’s extension to Parliament, where some members have already expressed their reluctance to vote for it. Conille is a former advisor to Bill Clinton; Clinton co-chairs the IHRC.
Throughout the relief and reconstruction process, many have pointed out that the Haitian government has largely been bypassed and that Haitians themselves have been left out of the decision making process. In response, donors often point to the IHRC. The United States, for instance, said in January 2011 that “[t]o ensure that the reconstruction is Haitian-led, the U.S. Government coordinates all its recovery assistance through the IHRC.”
For its part the United State seems convinced the panel will be renewed. Although the U.S. government has made no official statement, USAID extended the contract of an undisclosed foreign contractor on September 30. The award description states, “The purpose of this modification is to extend the POP from September 30, 2011 to October 21, 2012 to serve as the disbursing agent of the IHRC; and increment funds in $45,387.00.” Then on October 20, the day before the mandate expired, the same contractor received an additional $20,000. Overall USAID has given more than $500,000 to this contractor to act as a steward of IHRC funds. It is unclear why the US would extend the contract until October 2012 without knowing if the IHRC would even continue to operate.
Regardless of whether or not the panel continues, after 18 months of operations the IHRC has little to show. The June report (PDF) from the Performance and Anti-Corruption Office of the IHRC provides the only detailed analysis of IHRC projects. All together the commission approved 75 projects worth a total of $3.2 billion dollars, and many of these projects were already planned prior to the earthquake. Of the 75 projects, only four had been completed and an additional 41 projects were either in the contracting or funding phase. Overall -- although not all projects provided financial updates -- just $117.7 million had been reported as disbursed out of the $3.2 billion in projects, a rate of just 3.7 per cent.
The IHRC, which approves projects but does not provide funding, has relied on the Haiti Reconstruction Fund (HRF) to fund priority projects. The fall report (PDF) from the HRF notes that “[a]t the request of the IHRC, the HRF Steering Committee has allocated US$267.08 million of available funds for 15 projects.” Yet the same report notes that the vast majority of this money remains unspent. The HRF implementing partners (World Bank, IDB and UN) had spent just 15 percent of the $267 million as of September 30.
The lack of progress should come as little surprise as the US Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) May 2011 assessment found the IHCR barely operational. With just five months left in its mandate, only two out of five director positions had been filled and of the 34 positions that were called for, 22 had yet to be staffed. The GAO report noted that the PAO, whose June report provided the first update on projects, had no staff and had conducted no risk analyses of any of the IHRC approved projects. The GAO noted that international donors have “filled some of the commission’s day-to-day staffing needs with consultants and temporary staff” but these stop-gap measures were clearly not enough to make the agency functional and may have undermined what little independence the IHRC was supposed to have.
The other serious limitation the GAO report found was that the IHRC had very little control over how money was allocated since donors often wanted their money allocated to certain sectors. As a result, the IHRC signaled that “funding for reconstruction projects is unevenly spread among sectors and does not necessarily reflect Haitian government priorities.” This criticism is echoed in the HRF annual report, as one of the HRF’s goals for next year is to “dissuade existing and future donors from preferencing their contributions so that the GoH has maximum flexibility to use HRF resources to finance strategic priorities.” The US, which is the largest contributor to the HRF, attached preferences to the entire $120 million that was given. Although the sectors for which it earmarked its donations are all important, it takes away the flexibility that is supposed to be the hallmark of the HRF and IHRC and limits the ability of the government of Haiti to lead the reconstruction process.