Responding to crisis
After Haiti was struck by an earthquake on 12 January 2010, the international community pledged generously to support its reconstruction. Haiti’s challenges did not stop when the tremors subsided. Haitians have lived through one of the longest and wettest rainy seasons and winters in living memory, weathered the winds and rains of Hurricane Thomas in October and a persistent cholera epidemic. According to the Haitian Health Ministry, the cholera death toll is 3,300 people. The political instability, following elections at the end of 2010, has not helped.
Although providing basic services is the foremost priority in humanitarian efforts, corruption always stalks rebuilding efforts. In Haiti, the problem is particularly acute as for years the country has languished at the bottom of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
After the earthquake the risks were even higher: basic necessities were desperately needed for victims and survivors. In the rush to provide them there was no time to establish anti-corruption safeguards. This step can no longer be overlooked.
Transparency and humanitarian responses
The current corruption risks include diversion of funds because of fraud and theft, and the misallocation of budgets and resources because of conflicts of interest. These leave genuine victims without rebuilt homes or basic services restored.
Today over 800,000 people still live in tents or tarpaulins in more than a thousand temporary camps in and around the capital Port-au-Prince. Although NGOs and the government are trying to provide basic services, people feel that normal life is still a long way off.
In April 2010 the multi-stakeholder (government and donors) Haiti Interim Recovery Commission (IHRC) was established to coordinate, approve and oversee the post-earthquake aid in accordance with an agreed Post-Earthquake Recovery Plan. To date, it has approved 74 reconstruction projects ranging from the rebuilding of homes and schools and basic infrastructure.
The Haiti Reconstruction Fund (HRF) was set up by the World Bank and donor countries to manage reconstruction aid by smaller donors who do not have sufficient presence on the ground to prepare and supervise projects. By September, only $134 million of the $11billion that had been pledged during the multi-donor conference in March had been made available to the HRF. Most of the aid still flows through traditional multilateral, bilateral and international NGO channels.
Aid is being disbursed slowly because of political uncertainty, lack of qualified Haitian staff, uncoordinated NGO and donor responses, mistrust of government competency, and fears about corruption in the implementation of the aid programmes.
Every incidence of corruption damages trust in government, essential for the success of the recovery. The IHRC has planned for a Performance and Anti-Corruption (PAC) office to monitor its projects, but it will not be operational until mid-February at the earliest. The PAC will aim to ensure transparency and accountability in the selection and management of projects approved by the IHRC, receive and investigate complaints, and assess the impact of the projects. Once operational, the PAC may be able to decrease the risks of corruption within the IHRC operations and projects.
But responsibility does not end with governments: International NGOs have collected US$1.3 billion for Haiti since the earthquake. Most of their initiatives are not part of the IHRC strategic framework because the government’s NGO Coordination Unit lacks resources and staff.
This puts the onus for transparency on the aid organisations themselves: they need to disclose their funding collected and projects implemented in detail, publish reports and work with monitoring bodies.
According to a recent report by the Disaster Accountability Project, only 17 per cent or 34 of the nearly 200 US NGOs active in post-earthquake Haiti responded to a survey on the details of their projects. Almost all of the largest international aid organisations either responded partially or did not respond to the survey at all, even though they are committed to greater transparency under the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). Without detailed baseline information from project implementers, effective monitoring of the post-earthquake aid is impossible.
TI's aid monitoring project
Transparency International’s local partner in Haiti, La Fondation Heritage pour Haiti (LFHH), has been working with the Haitian government to raise awareness of the corruption problem and to support grass roots transparency efforts. It provides anti-corruption training to a coalition of local civil society organisations and grass roots groups in the camps.
LFHH has established three hotlines for citizens' complaints about corruption in assistance and reconstruction initiatives. The complaints will be lodged with the Haitian Ombudsman (Office du Protecteur du Citoyen), the government anti-corruption agency (Unité de Lutte Contre la Corruption - ULCC) and the IHRC/PAC, once operational. LFHH also has an Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre, which has already received four complaints from citizens who said they saw aid, in the form of food and medicine, being sold at public markets.
Accountability and transparency has to be brought about by the participation of Haitians themselves. TI’s new Haiti Aid Monitoring project will be launched later this month to empower affected communities to monitor aid provision, engage the government and NGOs (be they local or international) and identify corruption risks so as to tackle them. The European Commission Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) is the main donor for this eight month project.
The Haiti Aid Monitoring project will build on TI’s Handbook of Good Practices for Preventing Corruption in Humanitarian Operations , which is now available in French on request and in a pocket size for ease of use in field operations. This takes the field experience of TI, as well as that of several aid organisations, to develop tools and guidelines for transparency that international aid organisations can use to keep their operations corruption-free.
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