Rebuilding Haiti: The dependency, the hurdles and the pitfalls

During his visit here in March Haitian President and sitting Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Chairman Michel Martelly provided confirmation of what we already knew …that more than three years after a devastating earthquake that claimed thousands of lives and wreaked monumental physical damage, the country still faces a long and arduous journey on the road to recovery.  It is likely that Mr. Martelly’s entire presidential term will be spent seeking material around the world for his country’s rebuilding process.

During his stay in Georgetown the Haitian President made an appeal for local and regional private sector investment in his country, pointing out that this was one way in which the CARICOM countries could support his country’s rebuilding effort. What Haiti needs, Martelly was quoted by the Government Information Agency (GINA) as saying, are “investments that can bring jobs to Haitians. Instead of having Haitians come here looking for jobs, why don’t entrepreneurs from here go to Haiti and create these jobs and both countries can benefit?”

Not surprisingly, there has been no real response from the private sector here in Guyana to the Haitian President’s call for investment. While, conceivably, there might be niches in the construction and some service sectors, local businesses are unlikely to be queuing up to invest in Haiti. Their apprehension would have to do, chiefly, with a lack of any real familiarity with the Haitian business culture.

In November 2011 the Inter-American Development Bank hosted a major investment seminar in Port-au-Prince where the Caribbean was represented. There has been no feedback from which the extent of CARICOM interest in investing in Haiti can be reliably gauged. That same year regional private sector umbrella bodies and business entities met separately to discuss possible roles that CARICOM countries could make in helping to rebuild Haiti. At that time it was envisaged that entities in the construction, agriculture, agro-business and food distribution sectors, among others, might secure contracts funded by bilateral and multilateral donor sources that would enable them not only to support the restoration effort in Haiti but also to consolidate their own portfolios by being able to work alongside major international firms operating in Haiti.

Not a great deal has been heard subsequently about what at the time was being touted as a coordinated effort by CARICOM countries to throw themselves into the Haiti rebuilding effort. One might have expected that there would have been a robust region-wide effort – possibly coordinated by the CARICOM Secretariat to mount an initiative aimed at ensuring a strong regional contingent as part of the private sector firms from various parts of the world that would have found their way to Haiti in the wake of the earthquake.

The other circumstance that appeared to militate against the likelihood of CARICOM private sector entities making any significant imprint on the rebuilding effort was the  bureaucratic complexities associated with securing contracts for jobs in Haiti, given what we are told are the procedures and protocols associated with being able to work on projects funded by bilateral aid to Haiti.

In the wake of President Martelly’s visit here the Washington-based think tank Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) has published a report that paints a picture of troubling anomalies in the disbursement of US funds for the restoration of Haiti. CEPR’s primary focus appears to be on alleged inefficiencies associated with audits and evaluations. According to the report of the US$1.5 billion in US contracts awarded so far more than 50 per cent of these went to “the top 10 recipients of global USAID awards.”

CPER also makes the point that contrary to the expectations of the Haitian government and people Haitian contractors have benefitted from just over US$28 million in contracts while foreign contractors who have received the lion’s share of the contracts have hired far fewer Haitians than promised. More than that the report asserts that goals associated with the execution of projects have gone unmet, grantees have received inadequate supervision, and USAID had not conducted internal financial reviews of contractors. It names the giant American company  Chemonics International as being the major beneficiary of US rebuilding contracts in Haiti.

What, according to the CEPR report is also missing from those rebuilding projects in       Haiti financed by the US is  the practice that has now become commonplace in aid-related situations of increasing local procurement and working closely with host countries. Apparently, foreign contractors are also the beneficiaries of most of the procurement associated with projects even in cases where local contractors can meet the requirements.

Beyond the physical damage, the February 2010 earthquake has caused Haiti to slip even deeper into a quagmire of dependency associated with the need to reach out to countries and organizations in order to bring an end to the misery of the people there in the shortest possible time. Three years on the rebuilding process grinds on, ponderously, impeded by myriad hurdles and hindrances that render the Martelly administration powerless to do much more than watch the process unfold.

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