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WASHINGTON, May 15 2012 (IPS) - More than two years after the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, NGOs and private contractors are continuing to provide 80 percent of the country’s social services.
The dominance of primarily international actors has led to the creation of a “parallel state structure more powerful than the government itself”, according to a new report released here on Monday.
“These entities have built an alternative infrastructure for the provision of social services, but do not have much accountability to the Haitian government or people,” write Vijaya Ramachandran and Julie Walz in a report for the Washington-based Center for Global Development, “Haiti: Where Has All the Money Gone?”
The 7.0-magnitude earthquake and its aftershocks, with an epicentre just 25 km from the capital, Port-au-Prince, affected some three million people and destroyed hundreds of thousands of buildings, leaving the national government effectively unable to operate.
The following weeks saw a massive international effort, including an unprecedented response in terms of international aid, particularly from the U.S. public and private sector. Yet of the roughly 2.29 billion dollars funnelled into Haiti during 2010 and 2011 – out of a total six billion dollars overall – less than one percent went to the Haitian government.
Further, none of the humanitarian aid from the United States, totalling some 1.28 billion dollars, went to the Haitian government. Over the past two years, this number has risen to just one percent for long-term recovery funding.
This despite the fact that the Haitian government has specified that general budget support through the treasury is its “preferred channel” of aid disbursement.
“Even if we believe that non-profit organizations and private contractors may be more efficient in disbursing immediate aid, longer-term recovery requires government leadership. By circumventing the Haitian government, donors are prolonging this process and continuing to undermine the public sector.”
This lack of coordination has resulted in volatility in service delivery, which many in Haiti have come to blame on the international community. According to the United Nations deputy special envoy to Haiti, Paul Farmer, “There’s graffiti all over the walls in Port-au- Prince right now saying, ‘Down with NGOs’ … I think people in the NGO sector need to read the writing on the wall.”
Still, some warn that significant aid money cannot feasibly be funnelled through the Haitian government until reforms in governance have been implemented.
“Asking the international community to put money into a government that has not started to make steps to deal with corruption – we’ve tried that in other places, and it doesn’t work,” John Norris, a development expert with the Center for American Progress here in Washington, told IPS.
Norris points to the issue of state-controlled ports in Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. “Again and again, life-saving support was bottled up in the docks at Port-au-Prince so that government officials could take their cut, knowing the whole time that doing so would mean that fewer lives could be saved,” he says.
“If you can’t get your guys at the docks to perform after you’ve suffered a devastating catastrophe, what does that say about your willingness to change?”
At the same time, Norris cautions against any approach that cuts out a priority on the government altogether.
“You can pour tonnes of money into NGOs trying to get around the government, but you’re not going to get development right until you get some reforms in governance. Haiti’s just not there yet,” he says.
The amount of aid monies available, coupled with the international community’s reluctance to fund the Haitian government directly, led to a steep uptick in the number of private organisations operating in the already NGO-rich country. In the immediate aftermath of the quake, according to United Nations statistics cited by the CGD report, almost 100 new NGOs were created.
There has been no parallel increase in transparency surrounding these operations, however. Of 196 non-government organisations identified by Ramachandran and Walz, “only eight had public and regularly updated situation reports on their activities in Haiti.”
Such lack of openness is doubly problematic given that the vast majority of these groups are not actually headquartered in Haiti itself. The report authors found that a full 51 percent of NGOs currently operating in Haiti have their headquarters in the U.S. alone, with many others based elsewhere around the world.
Further, one of the most significant offenders in this regard is the United States’ own foreign-aid agency, USAID. A 2011 external audit of the agency’s Haiti operations, made public in April, found a “disquieting lack of data”.
“This isn’t just an NGO problem – it starts with the donors,” Karin Christiansen, the managing director of Publish What You Fund, a London-based advocacy group focusing on aid transparency, told IPS. “The first step to fixing the problem is clear: U.S. government agencies have information on all the projects and activities they are funding, and should release this systematically.”
Ultimately, all three of the final recommendations made by Ramachandran and Walz focus on issues of transparency, for both Haitian and international groups. In particular, the report highlights the need to work in accordance with the International Aid Transparency Initiative, a set of global guidelines created in 2008 and currently supported by 40 countries.
“Getting information on all that is happening on the ground – on who is doing what, where, why and is it working – is exactly what the International Aid Transparency Initiative has been designed for,” says Christiansen. “The U.S. government signed up in December, but now they need to start implementing it.”
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