AP Investigation Finds Lack of Results and Transparency in Haiti’s Reconstruction
Martha Mendoza and Trenton Daniel of the Associated Press reported over the weekend on the state of U.S. reconstruction efforts in Haiti. The report is based largely on documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. Mendoza and Daniel write:
Until now, comprehensive details about who is receiving U.S. funds and how they are spending them have not been released. Contracts, budgets and a 300-item spreadsheet obtained by The Associated Press under a Freedom of Information Act request show:
Searching for evidence of success after more than two years and two billion dollars, the AP found lasting results hard to come by as “projects fundamental to Haiti's transformation out of poverty, such as permanent housing and electric plants in the heavily hit capital of Port-au-Prince have not taken off.” Attempting to preempt the AP article, Mark Feierstein, Assistant Administrator for Latin America and Thomas C. Adams, Haiti Special Coordinator at the U.S. Department of State wrote an article, “Progress in Haiti” to combat what they believe to be an unfair portrayal of U.S. reconstruction efforts.
Meanwhile, 390,000 people are still homeless. The U.S. promised to rebuild or replace thousands of destroyed homes, but so far has not built even one new permanent house. Auditors say land disputes, lack of USAID oversight and no clear plan have hampered the housing effort. USAID contested that critique.As we have previously pointed out, the provision of new shelter options cannot explain the majority of the decrease in the camp population, and many of those that have left the camps have found themselves in even more precarious living conditions, this time out of sight of the humanitarian community.
The article also reveals why it is so important to look beyond the headlines and press releases and try to truly assess what has been done. The largest program in the education sector, which began before the earthquake, was with the Washington, D.C.-based American Institutes for Research (AIR). After the quake, AIR was told they had to “start doing other things with that money." The AP continues:
In April 2011, USAID announced that a $12 million AIR project had "constructed or is in the process of constructing more than 600 semi-permanent classrooms serving over 60,000 students."Transparency
An issue that we have written about extensively is the lack of transparency in U.S. government relief and reconstruction programs. As the AP writes, “From interviews to records requests, efforts to track spending in Haiti by members of Congress, university researchers and news organizations have sometimes been met with resistance and even, in some cases, outright refusals.” Yet the U.S. government, in their preemptive response to the article, point out that:
The State Department and USAID regularly provide information to the public and consult with Congress. In the last nine months alone, we have held more than 50 briefings for Members of Congress and their staffers, submitted strategies and reports, and have made ourselves available to answer inquiries via letters, emails, phone calls and meetings. And, for U.S. development projects, USAID provides Congress with a progress report every two weeks.And yet, when USAID contracted a company to provide an independent assessment of the U.S.’s earthquake response, the authors of the review couldn’t determine the effectiveness or impact of aid because of a “disquieting lack of data.”
Though USAID often harps on the importance of transparency, AP’s investigation into where the money has gone was stymied by USAID:
In its own effort to follow the money, this year the AP began contacting firms that have received U.S. funding since the earthquake. A memo went out two weeks later.Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, presumably privy to at least some of the “more than 50 briefings for Members of Congress and their staffers”, comments:
"The lack of specific details in where the money has gone facilitates corruption and waste, creates a closed process that reduces competition and prevents us from assessing the efficacy of certain taxpayer-funded projects.”