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Wednesday, March 12, 2014
This is the first of a two-part series on the PRODEP community development project in Haiti.
- A 61-million-dollar, eight-year community development project funded by the World Bank and executed by the Haitian government and two international development agencies has raised questions of waste and corruption, and even carried out what could be called “social and political re-engineering”.
The Project for Participatory Community Development (Projet de développement communautaire participatif or PRODEP – See Sidebar: What is PRODEP?) enabled the construction of roads and schoolrooms, and the funding of agricultural and other projects.
But a lengthy investigation by Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) found that PRODEP and its millions of dollars appear to have done real harm to Haiti’s fragile democracy and have likely contributed to the country’s growing status as a so-called “NGO Republic”. These findings are largely corroborated by a new study of hundreds of similar “community driven development” or CDD projects by two economists working for the very institution which funded PRODEP, the World Bank.
Examples of various kinds of failure were not hard to spot in and around the small southern coastal town of Bainet, where HGW did its fieldwork in 2011 and 2012. According to the U.S.-based Pan-American Development Foundation (PADF), PRODEP funded a total of 60 projects in the commune of Bainet, and over 70 percent were “successful”.
But journalists from the capital and from a local community radio station came to a different conclusion when they visited two projects in town. The first, a water purification business run by Òganizasyon Fanm Bene or Organisation of Bainet Women (OFB), and financed with a grant of about 19,000 dollars, never even got off the ground.
“PRODEP/PADF gave us a bunch of machinery that never worked,” claimed an OFB member, who asked that her name not be used, as she unlocked the storefront. Inside, dust-covered machinery filled the room. The plastic bags meant to be filled with purified water lay flat in dusty heaps on the floor.
Nearby, the “OPA-net” cyber-café was also locked up tight. Run by Oganizasyon Peyizan an Aksyon or Organisation Peasants in Action (OPA) and funded with almost 20,000 dollars, according to World Bank documents, the project came to halt on Jan. 12, 2010, the day of the deadly earthquake, according to Coordinator Saint-Gladys Fleuranville.
“It was working very well until then,” he said. “PADF has a Reinforcement Programme that will help us. We are waiting for them because this is the only cyber-café in the entire community.”
Asked about the water and cyber-café projects, PADF’s Arsel Jerome, who runs their PRODEP programme, said he was aware that both were closed down.
“The way those projects began was a little amateurish,” Jerome admitted. So much so that they, and over 100 more of the 700 or so projects PADF oversaw, needed “correction” or “reinforcement”, he said. But Jerome refused to talk of corruption or even waste, calling the issues instead “administrative problems”.
Three years later, the “administrative problems” had not yet been resolved at either project in Bainet. Both remained padlocked.
HGW visited four more projects, in Bainet’s 9th communal section, Anba Grigri, on the other side of the Bainet River and up a bumpy, muddy and rocky road. The hamlet and surrounding hills are home to about 10,000 people who have no electricity, and no access to clean drinking water or modern sanitation. Farmers grow potatoes, corn, sorghum and herd cows and goats; coastal residents fish. For weeks at a time, villagers from Anba Grigri cannot reach Bainet because of the rain-bloated river.
A goat project appears to have been successful.
“Before, not too many of our members had goats. Now almost everyone has a goat because our organisation got the project funding,” said Alezi Jean Bastien, a member of the group that benefited. “Life has improved a little bit for people.”
But three other projects gave cause for concern.
The most infamous grantee is OD9S (Oganizasyon pou Devlòpman 9vyèm Seksyon or Organisation for the Development of the 9th Section), which got 17,500 dollars for a fishing project. Almost immediately, the organisation split over how the money should be used.
The fishermen prevailed, buying new engines and other materials, but an engine was soon stolen and other items disappeared. Today the boats sit in disrepair. Most alarmingly, OD9S fell apart.
“The project dissolved the organisation,” one of the fishermen told HGW.
Nearby, the Coordination of Bainet Woman (Kòdinasyon Fanm Bene or KOFAB) received a grant to set up a corn mill. But that’s not to say that KOFAB runs it. A man is in charge.
“People in the community are employing me,” explained manager Fabien Jean André Paul. “From time to time I meet with the women’s organisation and give them a report.”
Another grantee set up the so-called Community Store of Bainet. The shop stocks the same, mostly imported items that jam shelves in many small stores or “boutiques” throughout the zone: canned goods, rice, beans, spaghetti, cooking oil, tomato paste, crackers, rum and other products.
It sells products at the same prices and doesn’t get much business. During a HGW visit, store manager Delva Henry asked a friend to “buy” something for HGW’s camera.
“There are a lot of other stores in our communal section,” Delva admitted. He said he was thinking of “writing a proposal” to ask for more money so that he could better stock his store.
HGW concluded that PRODEP’s track record in and around Bainet is not “over 70 percent success” and this was confirmed by a member of the PRODEP-formed committee, COPRODEP, that originally picked the projects to be funded.
“The projects didn’t work out the way they were supposed to,” said farmer Emile Theodore. “The majority of them have disappeared. You can’t find a trace of them. There are others that are run by a husband and wife, like the community store. As for the fish project, a little group of people is running that one also.”
The World Bank says that an impact evaluation study completed in 2012 and two technical audits were carried out on a sample of 160 (out of a total of 1,700) subprojects and 20 training programmes. The studies show that 60 percent of the 1,700 subprojects are deemed successful; 20 percent are undergoing a process of strengthening and restructuring; and 20 percent have not produced the intended results.
HGW asked for and was promised the impact evaulation three times by staff from the Haitian government’s Office for the Monetisation of Development Aid projects, but it was never delivered.
“This overall result is consistent with international experiences with community driven development (CDD) projects,” Laurent Msellati, a sector manager at the Bank, told IPS by email.
Part one of two. For part two, click here.
*Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA), community radio stations from the Association of Haitian Community Media and students from the Journalism Laboratory at the State University of Haiti.
The full HGW series can be read here.