July 11, 2012
Vijaya Ramachandran and Julie Walz of the Center for Global Development recently reported on their trip to Haiti, where they further examined aid accountability and the ongoing reconstruction effort, the themes of their recent policy paper which we have previously described.
Among the problems that Ramachandran and Walz noted were:
International NGOs have frequent staff turnover and very high costs. In the aftermath of the quake, we learned that senior staff came and went, some staying as little as a few weeks. A new arrival meant starting all over again, often with an individual who had little knowledge of Haiti and no knowledge of Creole (or even French). The cost of maintaining expatriate staff in Haiti is very high. According to the Miami Herald, it can cost upwards of $200,000 annually in housing and other benefits to keep a senior-level manager in Haiti. Some of our interviewees explained how NGOs and foreign workers are exempt from Haitian taxes and often do not follow Haitian registration requirements. Donors have spent billions of dollars trying to repair Haiti’s broken infrastructure, largely with their own goods and labor. In the meantime, most Haitians in Port-au-Prince spend their day trying to sell a few vegetables or fruit or other goods on the sidewalk, which in most cases, does not generate enough money to feed themselves or their families.
We repeatedly heard stories about the unintended economic and social consequences of the influx of foreign workers. Housing costs in certain areas have skyrocketed – rentals easily go for over $30,000 per year, with some houses being rented for a lot more. Restaurants and supermarkets in certain areas of Petion-ville cater exclusively to foreign tastes, and prices of basic goods have been driven up to a level that even middle-class Haitians cannot afford.
[I]nternational NGOs have set up programs and carried out construction projects that are often at odds with local needs, and sometimes harmful in the longer-term. The United Nations Logistics Center, near the airport, was virtually inaccessible to Haitians in the period immediately following the quake. The brand new U.S. embassy, housing the largest USAID mission in the world, is like a fortress, complete with a perimeter of sandbags and armed guards. A lack of communication often means mistakes are made, for instance we learned of a housing project constructed by an NGO over a watershed for Port-au-Prince, in violation of environmental guidelines and the Government of Haiti’s own rules.
(See the full post here.)
But as we have described in earlier posts, it is not only NGO’s that carry out ill-planned construction projects. As Haiti Grassroots Watch details in a new investigative report, the Haitian government appears to be channeling PetroCaribe funds into a massive housing development, apparently to be adjacent to a planned industrial park. HGW’s contacted various authorities in an effort to get answers to questions about the project, such as
What is the exact number of lodgings to be built? What is the total budget? When will the construction be completed? Under what conditions was the contract signed, and by whom? What firm is executing the project, and what firm is overseeing the project? Does the project fit with the government’s new housing policy? Who is or are the landowner(s) and how much money did he or they receive?
Are the houses meant to be “public” housing for the victims of the January 2010 earthquake?
Or – like the housing being built in the north near the new industrial park in Caracol – are they “private,” meant for the eventual workers at another industrial park, planned by the government? Or maybe for the workers that will work at a third set of factories, planned for the private “integrated economic zone” of Corail, more commonly known as “NABATEC”?
Is the “public” subsidizing the “private” by making it cheaper and easier for foreign corporations to set up factories where they can hire workers for the lowest salary in the hemisphere?
But HGW describes their inquiries into the Morne à Cabri housing project being met with obstruction and obfuscation by an array of authorities. For example
The Supreme Court of Accounts and of Administrative Litigations (CSCCA in French) is supposed to give advice on all the contracts, accords and convention that the government signs. But on two visits, a journalist was rebuked.
“You don’t have the right to that information. Who are you to ask me about the contracts? A state agency? A company?” were among the rude and hostile responses.
The HGW team summarized the cold response thus:
Haitian officials have decided to keep their mouths shut about the circumstances that led to the country’s largest housing project, even though that silence is a flagrant violation of Article 40 of the Haitian Constitution, which states:
“The State is obligated to publicize via the written, spoken and televised media, in Creole and French, the laws, orders, decrees, international accords, treaties, conventions, and all that concerns the life of the nation, except for information that would put in jeopardy national security.”
The list of authorities and entities refusing to speak – or at least, to speak about the contract – is long.