The three countries responsible for keeping Haiti functioning (France, USA, and Canada) have argued that the Haitian government is too corrupt, too fickle, too irresponsible to be trusted with billions of dollars of foreign aid. Instead of providing direct aid to the Haitian government aid donors give the money to NGOs. Nearly 99.1% of yearly foreign aid appropriated for Haiti is distributed through USAID who then distributes the money to NGOs like Oxfam. Oxfam and others operate as a de facto government without supervision, accountability, and transparency. This model has proved to be an abject failure and must change.
The plight of the Haitian people has not improved. The country becomes poorer, as people become more dependent on the largess of NGOs that often abuse the very people they have been mandated to help, as in the case of the Oxfam sex scandal. Countries like Haiti are poor because of lack of income and resources needed, technical and intellectual, to develop and maintain institutions capable of adequate response to the needs of their citizens.
In the case of Haiti, non-governmental organizations – (NGOs) rush in to fill the void and supplant the government. Every time there is a natural disaster in Haiti, the same NGOs rush in and offer emergency assistance by engaging in short-term fixes such as the distribution of foods and water, leaving the country more vulnerable and more dependable on charity. If the Haitian government cannot respond to natural disasters, the most efficient way to help the Haitian people is to assist the government in building its capacity for effective governance, which means budget support must be part of any foreign aid package.
A day after the earthquake of 2010, the world descended to Haiti. Countries as far as Israel landed there, and quickly established a temporary hospital to help victims, and most Haitians were thankful for the help. When former US president Bill Clinton was appointed UN special envoy to Haiti and began to speak about a “better way to build Haiti,” I was hopeful that finally, donors would make the Haitian government a true partner in delivering aid with lasting impact. Five years later the people grew disillusioned wondering what happened to the billions that were promised to rebuild Haiti. Some assumed that the Haitian government must have stolen the money. The truth is, very little of that money if any went to the Haitian government in the form of budget support. Most of the aid money went to NGOs and spent in the same country that donated the funds. Meanwhile, Haiti has not been rebuilt, the government is no better, and the people are trying to survive on less than $2 a day.
The earthquake presented foreign donors with an excellent opportunity to help the Haitian government build its capacity. Before the donor conference in New York on March 31, 2010, the Haitian government was asked to provide a rebuilding plan. The government submitted a rebuilding plan totaling 11.5 billion dollars. The government requested 350 million dollars as budget support. But instead of offering budget support to the government, over 98% of the earthquake aid dollars went to NGOs from the United States, France, and Canada. The NGOs spent over 96% of that money in the donor country, not in Haiti. Meanwhile, the donors take credit for funding projects in Haiti that provided no long-term benefit to the Haitian people. The beneficiaries of the projects were the vendors who made money, the foreign consultants who most often have no idea what they are talking about; the NGOs staff devoid of local knowledge and an understanding of the culture of the people that they are trying to serve.
The time has come for foreign donors to re-examine the way foreign aid is administered and deployed. If the Haitian government cannot be trusted with foreign dollars, it is because the government has not been able to build the kind of institutions capable of administering such aid properly and adequately. Therefore, the best way to help Haiti is to create a real partnership with the government based on mutual respect where the government can decide which project is beneficial in the long term. Studies have shown that recipients of foreign aid do better when budget support is provided directly to the government allowing it to develop its capacity to respond to the needs of its people. Foreign aid should be temporary. The aid must have only one purpose, to help the country build capacity for managing its affairs and respond to natural disasters and other needs of its citizens.
HOW TO CURB CORRUPTION IN HAITI
If corruption is what prevents direct budget support of the Haitian government, we must recognize that accountability, responsibility, and transparency begin with a crackdown on corruption. Foreign donors can begin by helping Haiti build a justice system capable of administering justice free of corruption. That means money must be allocated to train judges, investigators, lawyers and support staff. MINIJUSTH is a step in the right direction, but more must be done to assist the Haitian judiciary in building confidence in the justice system.
The independence of the judiciary is important if it must crack down on both government and business corruption. Currently, the Haitian judiciary operates on a shoestring budget where judges, government lawyers and support staff go for months without being paid. That kind of situation is precisely what invites corruption. Haitian civil society has been pushing for a special investigation into the Petrocaribe fund, and the Haitian people support Susan D. Page, (the UN representative in Haiti in charge of MINIJUSTH), and the work MINIJUSTH is doing to support the Haitian judiciary.
In Guatemala and other South American countries, the UN has partnered with the judicial branches and local prosecutors in the fight against corruption, and have gotten excellent results. The Haitian government and some members of the Haitian business elite will push back just like the elite in Guatemala have done. But that should not deter the UN and foreign donors from assisting in the fight against corruption. Corruption is cancer affecting every part of the Haitian economy, from government officials accepting bribes and kickbacks, to private businesses colluding to inflate the price of goods artificially, corruption has been a roadblock to economic recovery and growth. The Haitian government losses approximately 250 million dollars a year through corruption. It makes sense to establish a zero tolerance for both private and official corruption and the place to start is to reform the judiciary.
BUDGET SUPPORT IS NECESSARY TO BUILD CAPACITY AND INSTITUTIONS
Haiti’s major donors (US, France, and Canada) as a matter of policy do not provide foreign aid in term of budget support. When former president Rene Preval in 2008 asked Susan Rice, the US representative to the United Nations at the time, for budget support, Ms. Rice responded according to a leaked statement that “The US government is reluctant to engage in direct budget support. Any change in this policy would take time for the new administration to work through”. Ten years later, Haiti’s foreign donors still refuse to deploy foreign aid through budget support, and the question is why? When Hillary Clinton addressed the donor conference in New York in 2010, she alluded to budget support and making the Haitian government a true partner which never materialized.
Studies have shown that given foreign aid money directly to governments work better as local government can better coordinate projects matching their priorities. For example, studies have shown that when donor countries gave the money directly to African countries, such as Zambia (health system), Mali and Tunisia (education system) more long-term benefits accrued. In the case of Zambia, reduced infant and maternal mortality, in the case of Mali and Tunisia, more children are enrolled in school. Budget support allows the government to set up priorities, build capacity and deliver services to its people. Local government has the knowledge and cultural know-how that is unmatched by any foreign NGO.
Without direct budget support to Haiti, foreign aid is just a racket that benefits only the donor country. Between 2010 and 2016, Haiti’s principal donor allocated over 10 billion dollars as aid to Haiti, but nearly all of that money in the case of the United States is administered through USAID, which pays over 90% of the fund to preferred vendors, mostly US firms, and American NGOs. When an NGO received funding for a project, nearly 90% of that money is paid to consultants and vendors, very little of it is ever spent in Haiti. So, foreign aid becomes a tool of propaganda for the donors rather effective assistance to the recipient. For example, in 2009, the United States Congressional Research Service concluded only 1.7% of allocated foreign aid in the billions was deployed as budget support to the Haitian government.
Foreign donors often complain about corruption, but the way to fight corruption is to develop institutions. Without direct budget support, it is hard to develop institutions. Currently operating in Haiti are over a hundred health-related NGOs, from “Doctors Without Borders” to “Pharmacist Without Orders”, to “Partners in Health” receiving billions of dollars in aid just to maintain the status quo. Imagine if all that money were given directly to the Haitian Ministers of Health and Education who could set priorities for Haiti and its people, developing institutions capable of administering a system of health and education with long-term benefits? That would be effective help that would negate the need for NGOs.
Haiti imports nearly 80% of the food it consumes – this state of affairs represents a real challenge to Haiti’s food security. Direct budget support to the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture could help in the development of a reforestation program and local investment in agriculture design to increase the country’s capacity for food production. A program to encourage farmers to retain their lands, such as an agriculture loan program that assists farmers would solve Haiti food security problem within a decade.
WHAT THE HAITIAN DIASPORA CAN DO
The United States has a sizable Haitian American population enough to turn a presidential election one way or the other. In 2016, it is estimated that over 10,000 Haitian Americans in Florida voted for Donald Trump, enough to place Florida in Trump’s winning column. Each year, the World Bank estimated that Haitian living overseas, send over 2.1 billion dollars (remittances) to their families in Haiti. That sum represents 25% of Haiti’s GDP. The Diaspora has tremendous political and economic power, if only it knew how to exercise it.
The Haitian Diaspora must come together as a politically engaging force in all states that have a sizable number of Haitian American voters to push for reform in American foreign aid – such reform must include direct budget support to the Haitian government and its many ministries. Presently, Congress still frowns upon direct budget support as a way of deploying foreign aid to countries like Haiti. But the data shows that deploying foreign aid through NGOs makes the recipient’s situation worse. Haitian Americans should lobby Congress to change the policy. On May 17, 2018, the HOPE ACT II (which allows Haiti to export duty-free garments made in Haiti to the US) will expire. Congress will undoubtedly consider similar legislation. This would be the appropriate time to lobby for change.
This should be an issue that every Haitian American can agree on regardless of political affiliation. As someone who has many friends in the Jewish community, it is a community that rarely agrees on anything, but there is one thing all Jews agree on, and that is the survival of the state of Israel. The Haitian Diaspora is Haiti’s only hope if it must come out of the spiral of poverty and corruption.