Haiti’s electoral council announced yesterday that new first-round presidential elections would be held in October after a commission found widespread fraud and irregularities in the previous vote. The prospect of the new vote — to be held alongside dozens of parliamentary seats still up for grabs, has raised questions about how it could be funded. The previous elections — determined to be too marred by fraud and violence to count — cost upward of $100 million, with the bulk of the funding coming from international donors.
But now, donors are balking. Last week the State Department’s Haiti Special Coordinator Ken Merten said that if elections are redone “from scratch” than it would put U.S. assistance in jeopardy. It “could also call into question whether the U.S. will be able to continue to support financially Haiti’s electoral process,” Merten added. In a separate interview, Merten explained:
We still do not know what position we will adopt regarding our financial support. U.S. taxpayers have already spent more than $33 million and that is a lot. We can ask ourselves what was done with the money or what guarantees there are that the same thing will not happen again.
So, what was done with the money? Could the same thing happen again?
To begin with, that figure seems to include money allocated in 2012 – years before the electoral process began. Local and legislative elections, which former president Michel Martelly was constitutionally required to organize, failed to happen. A significant share of this early funding likely went to staffing and overhead costs as international organizations or grantees kept their Haiti programs running, despite the absence of elections. It’s also worth pointing out that many millions of that money never went to electoral authorities, but rather to U.S. programs in support of elections.
In April 2013, USAID awarded a grant to the DC-based Consortium for Elections and Political Processes. In total, $7.23 million went to the consortium before the electoral process even began. An additional $4.95 million was awarded in July 2015, a month before legislative elections. The consortium consists of two DC-based organizations, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). In a January report to Congress, the State Department explained further what some this money went towards:
1. “the creation and implementation of twenty-six Electoral Information Centers (EICs) … to provide information to the general public on the electoral process”
2. “training more than 100 journalists in several departments on topics such as the international standards for elections …”
3. “Funding through INL supported election security.”
4. “USAID also supported the creation of a new domestic election observation platform that helped build greater transparency into the electoral process by establishing a grassroots coalition of reputable and well-trained domestic observers …”
Some funding also went to increasing women’s participation in the electoral process. But it’s questionable what the return on that $12.18 million really was. Not a single woman was elected to parliament — though it now appears as though at least one was elected, only to have her seat stolen through the bribing of an electoral judge. In terms of providing information to the public about the elections, participation in both the legislative and presidential elections was only about a fifth of the population. The money spent on local observers may have been more successful, but not for U.S. interests. The local observer group, the Citizen Observatory for the Institutionalization of Democracy, led by Rosny Desroches, agreed with other local observation missions that a verification commission (opposed by the U.S.) was needed to restore confidence in the elections. The U.S. spent millions training local observers, only to later ignore their analysis. Instead, the U.S. has consistently pointed to the observation work of international organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the EU. The U.S. also provided $1 million to the OAS for their observation work.
Perhaps it’s not a surprise the funding didn’t have the intended effect. A 2012 evaluation of NDI conducted by Norway’s foreign development agency found that about “4 out of every 10 dollars” went to overhead, staff in Washington DC or to the expatriate country director who made more than a quarter of a million dollars.
The U.S. contributed $9.7 million to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) “basket fund” for elections. The UNDP controlled the pooled donor funds and also funds contributed by the Haitian government (more than any other individual donor). Funds were used to print ballots, train workers, and for other logistical operations. However, it’s important to note that $3 million of these funds were distributed in 2012 and 2014, well before any election would take place.
An additional $7.57 million went to the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) for logistical operations for the elections, mainly distributing and picking up ballots before and after the election. After the August legislative elections were plagued by violent groups that shut down voting, UNOPS shifted strategy for the October election. In certain “hot spots,” ballots would not follow the normal procedures for transportation to the tabulation center, instead, UNOPS would bypass the chain, picking up electoral information at 67 voting centers and bringing the materials straight to Port-au-Prince. According to diplomatic sources, UNOPS threatened to pull out entirely if additional funds for this measure were not given. The U.S. awarded $1.8 million to UNOPS on September 29, 2015.
An additional $1.77 million was given to UNOPS in December, but the second-round presidential election never took place. Though it was clear to many that the elections would not be held given widespread condemnation by local observers and civil society groups, the U.S. and others in the international community insisted the second round go ahead. With protests increasing, they moved forward and distributed electoral materials for an election that was never going to happen. This strengthened Martelly’s bargaining power over the opposition, but meant millions of dollars were spent for no reason.
In total, funding to UNOPS, UNDP, OAS, IFES and NDI totaled $30.45 million. This is the vast majority of the $33 million the U.S. says it contributed to the electoral process. Additional funds were also awarded through the State Department for election-related security.
So yes, the U.S. spent over $30 million on Haiti’s elections, but not all of that went directly to the elections or was even spent wisely in supporting them. It’s clear it would take far less for the U.S. to support a Haitian-led electoral process next October. And perhaps the best reason for the U.S. to continue to fund the election, if Haiti requests such support, is that it was the U.S. and other actors in the international community that pushed ahead and put millions of dollars into a fatally flawed electoral process that Haitians have now determined was irreparably marred by fraud. The problem is not that Haitian’s wasted U.S. taxpayer dollars by scrapping the election results; it’s that the U.S. was throwing good money after bad. That’s something that can be fixed.
All grantee funding data is from USASpending.gov.