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Monday, October 11, 2010

RAND Haiti Policy Report Review by Stanley Lucas

Report Summary

The RAND Corporation, a non-profit institution that helps improve policy and decision making through research and analysis, released a report entitled, “Building a More Resilient Haitian State” earlier this year.  A book version of the report can be purchased online at for about $20 or can be downloaded free.  The Carnegie Corporation and the Smith Richardson Foundation funded the report.


The report states that Haiti's future prosperity and peace require building a more effective, resilient state.  For the past several decades Haiti’s state institutions have been riddled with weaknesses in human resources, organization, procedures, and policies.  The researchers begin by summarizing Haiti’s overall challenges and then assess key sectors, including:  Governance and Administration; Justice; Security; Economic Policy; Housing and Infrastructure; Education; Health; and Donor Cooperation and Building the Haitian State. 


For each sector, RAND researchers identified Haiti's main challenges, assessed current strategic plans to tackle the key issues and recommended a set of state-building priorities that are necessary, feasible, and sustainable.  Priorities include civil service reform, justice-system reform, ongoing involvement of United Nations peacekeepers, streamlined regulations for business, and improved access and quality assurance for healthcare and schools.


RAND singles out the primacy of Haiti’s poor governance over the past several decades as the key factor for the devastation in Haiti after the earthquake and “society's almost complete dependence on help from abroad to deal with the consequences.”  They conclude that:


State-building is intimately connected with politics.  Without executive decisiveness and legislative action, state-building cannot proceed.  Donors and international organizations can assist — not only by providing financial resources but also by promoting political consensus and encouraging adherence to strategic plans.


Report Analysis

At the outset the report misses the mark in its analysis of the tent cities as being an effective stopgap solution to the housing challenges.  Haitians are not even living in tents.  Rather, most are living under tarps in unorganized, unofficial camps.  They are facing violence, disease, lack of regular access to food and water, and eviction from landowners.  This is by no means effective and many observers have said that the tent cities do not meet international standards for disaster relief efforts.


The governance challenges set forth in this report are well known to the Haitian people.  Haiti – having the most significant income disparity ratio in the world – is controlled largely by a small elite (Groupe de Bourdon) that is resistant to reform and an entrenched, corrupt leadership.  Given high levels of corruption, many donors are unwilling to fund all important capacity building, which has stymied progress even further and failed to tackle the root of the problem in Haiti.  The recommendations in the governance section are well-worn territory but present a good assessment of the current strategic plans.  One of their most interesting conclusions, which is also a theme of the report, is that current plans are often overly comprehensive and fail to set forth priorities and clear timelines for implementation.  They also neglect to establish benchmarks and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) mechanisms.  This is true across all sectors and is a failing of all the strategic plans put forward to date.  In many cases, plans are so broad it allows donors to justify any program that they develop.


The healthcare section offers some of the most interesting ideas for how to reorganize the sector.  They advocate having the Haitian Health Ministry (MSPP) set the priorities, with international technical support, but then introducing a competitive bidding system to operate the Haitian healthcare system.  Currently donors operate a patchwork of uncoordinated programs and often operate completely outside of the Haitian government.  Although well intentioned, this dynamic ends up undermining the Haitian Health Ministry and is often not in the best interest of the long-term development of the system.  This is a particularly compelling suggestion as they recommend dividing the country and contracts into regions and having NGOs operate Haitian Government branded facilities in order to build public confidence as well.  Clearly there would be resistance to such a radical shift and to the Haitian Government asserting its authority.  The researchers recognize that some donors could chose to walk away from their programs, but in the end, operating a few large scale programs would have more impact and be more manageable than operating many smaller scale projects.


Interestingly, the report also singles out donors for not being as effective as they could be.  The report states that Haiti has been a focus of international donors and aid organizations as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and the only country to see a decline in GDP in the past 30 years.  However, all this attention has not translated into any improvement in Haiti’s circumstances.  In fact, Haiti’s social, economic and political situations have worsened.  In order to get this situation under control, the report advocates for the Haitian government to take a greater role in streamlining aid and focusing projects on priorities rather than accepting anything the aid community offers, including the small one-off projects.


On the flip side, the report advocates for aid organizations to subtly guide the political process in Haiti and encourage adherence to plans.  This seems somewhat incongruent with the tone of the report overall.  In several places the researchers advocate that the Haitian government should be stronger in asserting its leadership and providing direction to the aid organizations.  It recognizes that the Government may need technical assistance in developing priorities, but that there should be more consideration to what is best for building the Haitian state rather than what is in the best interest of the NGOs.  In fact, they note that many NGOs compete with each other for funding and primacy on issues.  It is not the role of the NGO community to subtly guide the political process or promote political consensus.  To do so may contribute to the perception that aid organizations are trying to build winners and losers.  We agree that NGOs and donors should focus more on capacity building more in line with the Nine Principles of Development and Reconstruction issued by the USAID.


One other aspect of the rebuilding process that would have been useful to delve into was to help build up a national watchdog function to monitor the Haitian Government and donor community by tracking dollars and impact and publicizing the results.  A key lesson from the tsunami recovery in Aceh was that donor confidence was bolstered by financial accountability.  A small Haitian watchdog group has tried to monitor funds but was undermined by the UN, which said they would provide that function.  While it is of course fine for the UN to provide a watchdog function, they missed an important opportunity to build a more resilient state by providing technical and financial assistance to building capacity in-country.  Haiti has been plagued by corruption for decades and has landed at the top of Transparency International’s list for the past several years as being one of the most corrupt countries in the world.  Surely a civil society watchdog function would go a long way toward building resiliency in the Haitian state.

Overall the report is a very useful overview of the various plans out there to tackle Haiti’s problems and provides a very valuable contribution in noting the main shortfall with those plans (namely the lack of timelines and priorities).