Franck: Six months after the earthquake, what grade would you give the Haitian Government in addressing the tragedy and why?
Stanley Lucas: That’s an easy one – they would get a solid F-. They were completely unprepared. The Haitian Bureau of Mines issued a report in October 2002 stating that there was a 100% chance that Haiti would experience and earthquake in the near future. Aristide and then Preval had eight years to put together an emergency plan, to conduct civil education, to strengthen building codes, etc. They did nothing but enrich themselves and their cronies. And the country has now paid dearly for their corruption and incompetence.
Then when the earthquake hit – they ran around like keystone cops and basically ceded the country to the international community to manage the response because they were totally incapable. Preval was wandering around the airport telling reporters he was just there to “see if he could help out”. Can you imagine the President of the country trying to support efforts rather than lead response efforts? It was appalling.
Franck: And, the international community? What grade would you give them and why?
Stanley Lucas: I would give the individual international donors an A+ for their tremendous heart and outpouring of support in the aftermath of the earthquake. People really stepped up to the plate and offered support – big and small. The most inspiring and impactful stories that you hear are individual efforts or small group efforts. There is a businessman in New Jersey who has donated his own time and funding to help fit 400 Haitians with prosthetics. The mayor of Washington, D.C., Adrian Fenty, responded immediately by providing an emergency response capability with WebEOC that allowed us to organize and target intervention.
The news at the government/official level is quite a bit less inspiring. In the immediate aftermath of the quake, there was a huge international response with huge pledges of support. Haitians are most grateful for this response and particularly for the US Government’s efforts to provide immediate assistance and response.
However, in the past six months, despite the huge pledges of support that poured in, the actual funding has only trickled in. The international community of governments has only remitted 2% of what was pledged. Efforts are essentially a patchwork of stopgap measures that unfortunately are not sustainable in the long term. Despite good intentions, we just haven’t seen the impact of all that money. For that I will give them a F-.
Everyone is focusing on the “stalemate” between the international community and the Haitian Government. The international community blames the Haitian government for raising roadblocks and is reticent to remit funds based on past experience with incompetence and corruption. The Haitian Government – really the Preval Administration – blames the international community saying that the path for them is clear but they are holding back to pressure him into accepting their priorities.
The international community has good reason to be weary of the Preval Administration for sure, but at the end of the day – it is only the Haitian people that are suffering. So I’m not interested in this stalemate. I’m interested in how to get the help to the people.
For me, the biggest roadblock is actually a lack of vision, coordination and big thinking. There are no ideas out there to get behind which is part of the reason a stalemate occurs. No one has put forward big anchor projects – let alone a recovery plan – that people can get behind. Everyone is focusing on their own agendas, rather than on the greater good. If there were a compelling plan that people could get behind, the Preval Administration would have no choice but to follow along.
Franck: Then what do you see as the major priorities now for helping the people of Haiti and how should it be done?
Stanley Lucas: It is glaringly obvious that the number one issue is housing. About 2.1 million people are still living in makeshift tents spread out between 1,360 unofficial tent cities or refugees camps that do not meet international standards. It’s appalling – it’s been six months. The scope of the problem is massive and requires a long-term solution. People rely on their houses to access credit. So now with 450,000 houses destroyed these people have nothing to leverage to get credit. We can get better tents. We can put people in refugee camp situations. But that’s not sustainable and will not lead to recover.
We need a two-part solution to the immediate housing crisis:
1. The international community could support the creation of Haitian housing institution to manage a public-private partnership “Housing Fund”. This program could operate as a low interest mortgage program. This would require probably about $2 billion, which could be raised from the already donated funds from multilateral institutions, governments and NGOs (that have collected more than $50 million). As a first step, this institution could identify and vet all individual owners that lost their homes and evaluate the cost to rebuild each unit. As a second step, low interest mortgages could be given for rebuilding or renovating homes. However, for this to be sustainable in the long run, the fund should work with the Ministry of Public Works – with the support of Habitat for Humanity or states such as California that have effective codes – to develop a new construction code that mandates earthquake and hurricane resistant construction. We’d have to carefully vet the claims and then determine appropriate loan amounts for traditional 30 year fixed rate mortgages at let’s say a 2% APR. The donors would actually generate a small return, but more importantly this would be a sustainable project that would also create much-needed jobs in the construction sector.
2. We cannot have recovery without access to credit beyond the housing market. We need to establish a “Recovery Fund” as well that would provide micro-credit loans to the informal sector of the economy to start small businesses or assist the existing medium sized businesses to expand or rebuild. Haitian cooperatives were successful in the past, and this model could be used to launch such a micro credit program. I am positive the Haitian Diaspora community would be receptive to this idea if we could find an organization like the Grameen Bank to set it up and provide guidance to manage it.
Taken together, these two initiatives would make a significant contribution to not only addressing the immediate housing crisis but they would also address the longer term issues of building up a business sector in Haiti that can ultimately drive recovery and growth. Most importantly, this is something that would actually help the Haitian people and businesses rather than go towards building up NGOs
Franck: And so you believe that the international community should focus its efforts on addressing the housing crisis?
Stanley Lucas: That should be one of the main focuses. I also believe the international community has a strong role to play in infrastructure, capacity building and education as well. Clearly, Haiti’s infrastructure took a massive toll during the earthquake and will need rebuilding. These types of large scale construction projects will also provide short term employment opportunities for Haitians. And for Haiti to get on a sustainable path to development, education must be a priority. Before the earthquake only 40% of Haitian children had access to schooling and I can’t imagine what the percentage is now. We need schools, teachers, supplies, computers – you name it. This is an excellent sector for international support – and I know that the international community, including the US military – has been supportive in a small way this area.
As you know 83% of educated Haitians are currently overseas – there has been a significant “brain drain”. With the support of the World Bank and the Inter American Development Bank, a program could be set up to repatriate these Haitians to the public and private sector as well as civil society. In addition, the reconstruction could be more effective if 60% of the NGO’s expatriate staff were Haitians nationals or Haitians that was born or naturalized in the NGO’s home country.
Franck: There has been much discussion about the urgent need for new leadership in Haiti – particularly given the expiration of President Preval’s term in February 2011. The international community – led by the UN and supported by the US Senate – has pushed for November elections to move forward. Given the situation in-country now and the urgent need for a new, more competent government, what is your view on the timing for elections?
Stanley Lucas: I agree that due to the fact the current regime is corrupt, discredited and completely unable to provide any support to Haitians, we need a democratic transition now. However, there is no electoral infrastructure to support elections this coming November – and more importantly, there is no way to guarantee security to the Haitian people.
Let’s take the facts: 45% of the people lost their voter ID -- you cannot vote without one; the voter registration logs need to be updated to (tragically) account for the 300,000 deaths during the earthquake; the CEP facility and 66% of the polling stations were destroyed; MINUSTAH headquarters were destroyed; and, 4 of the 10 Departments were directly impacted and sustained damage – the other six were affected by the heavy number of displaced people that are still occupying the public facilities use in the past as polling centers, so there are really no polling places. Furthermore, the current CEP has been totally discredited for past participate in election rigging in 2009 in favor of President’s Preval party so any elections organized by this CEP would be viewed as tainted. Two of the past CEP presidents have said that there is no possible way to address all these technical issues by November. The current nine members of the Provisional Electoral Council are corrupt according to Haiti’s official anti-corruption unit and were involved in the manipulation of the results of the April and June 2009 elections in favor of President Preval’s party.
There is a credible and tested alternative to rushing forward with what will surely be flawed elections. Article 149 of the constitution stipulates that the President of the Supreme Court can take over as provisional president to manage the day-to-day aspects of governance and organize elections. This has been invoked twice in the past – and resulted in two successful elections in 1990 and 2006. This should be Haiti’s path now.
Let us not forget that every single political crisis in Haiti for the past two decades has been the direct result of rigged elections. We absolutely do not need to compound the fragile situation in Haiti with a political crisis.
The international community has the right intentions, but has made a fundamental miscalculation about the Haitian people. They will not swallow tainted elections for the greater good. It is best to get the elections right and not rush forward under these conditions.
Franck: It almost sounds like you’re outlining a campaign platform. Are you running for President?
Stanley Lucas: I’m focused on rebuilding, recovery and getting help to my fellow countrymen who are really suffering. Haitians have a proud past. We are an industrious and exceptional people – and I want to contribute to restoring our country and putting us on a path to becoming the vibrant, developing country that I know we can be.
Franck: Thank you Stanley – I appreciate your time.
Stanley Lucas: Thank you for the opportunity to address these most important issues. I am still mourning the 300,000 people who died in the earthquake. The numbers are unacceptable. I miss my friends journalist Wanel Fils, woman activists Magalie Marcelin and Myriam Merlet, and MINUSTAH employees Gerardo Le Chevalier and Lisa M’Bele Bong. Kembe La.