It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light

Mwen se echantiyon yon ras kap boujonnen men ki poko donnen

Si vous voulez vous faire des ennemis essayer de changer les choses

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Haiti Interim Reconstruction Commission: Strengthening or Undermining Haiti? by Stanley Lucas

While the international community and President Preval are moving ahead with Haiti's Interim Reconstruction Commission (HIRC), the Emergency and Reconstruction Law that created that structure has been challenged in Haitian courts for potential violation of the constitution.  According to the law, the HIRC replaced the constitutional government of Haiti for 18 months, eliminates parliament and its right to control the country's finances, gives political rights to foreigners, suppresses civil rights, and puts aside the state institutions that control spending and corruption.  Haiti's General Accounting Office (Cour Superieure des Comptes) and the Inspector General of the Ministry of Finance that ensures that money is properly disbursed and allocated have been put aside.  The law also eliminates the state office that manages state RFPs.  

Haitian people are worried about how the $9.9 billion will be disbursed without the proper oversight or really any control over the country's finance.  There is a feeling that nothing has changed.  After eliminating all the government oversight, are they supposed to be have oversight over themselves?  This had led many to conclude that business in Haiti will continue as usual.  The big contracts will be awarded on the basis of political connections rather than on competition and price, and Haitians -- except for the Groupe de Bourdon business cartel -- will be excluded.  The only difference this time is that key elements of international community will get a piece of the pie -- a pie that is hard to come by in tough economic times.    

Further, a Haitian civil society group attempted to establish a watchdog group   to track how the money is spent.  Rather than reinforce capacity in-country by funding this grassroots watchdog group, the UN quickly put in place their own mechanism, under the HIRC, to officially monitor the disbursement of aid money and effectively marginalize the Haitian watchdog group.  This was immediately after the watchdog group issued their second, somewhat critical, report.  

The organizational chart for the HIRC underscores these questions about whether the Commission is strengthening Haiti or replacing Haitians.

First, the Commission is co-chaired by Mr. Clinton and Prime Minister Bellerive, essentially giving Clinton equal footing with the Haitian Prime Minister in setting the post-quake agenda and priorities.  And second, the Board of the HIRC is comprised of 65% foreign representatives, mainly from donor nations, and 35% Haitians.

Under this structure, Haitians essentially are not fully empowered to make decisions about the priorities of their country.  There may be many areas where Haitian priorities align with international goals, but there will be others were interests are divergent.  In fact, there is a widening gap between the Preval-international community agenda and the growing alliance between key elements of the Diaspora community and the Haitian people.  

Andrew Natsios, Clinton’s director of the USAID, put forth nine principles of foreign assistance with the main premise being that you must not replace the client (or foreign government) in the provision of aid, i.e. the people in-country have a greater understanding of the dynamics in their country and are better able to make decisions regarding its fate.

In high profile speeches, there has been mention of building capacity in Haiti and empowering Haitians, but the structure of this all powerful commission does not seem to support those assertions.  By contrast, after the Chinese earthquake, the Chinese government set their priorities and requested that USAID vet international aid proposals for those projects through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) structure.  In other words, the Chinese set the agenda and the international community competed to complete the projects they determined.  Haiti should at least be given this level of control of their destiny as an equally sovereign country.

At the end of the day, however, the only thing that matters is that the people are getting the aid that the donors intended them to get.  On this score, the track record is pretty grim.  Five months after the quake, 1.7 million people are still sleeping on the streets. They are living in 1,350 makeshift camps without decent shelter, sanitation, medical care, or electricity.  Violence against women and children is increasing, especially at night when there is no power to light the camps.  They are asking where all the money has gone?  And how will they face the upcoming brutal hurricane season -- forecast to be one of the worst seasons in a decade?