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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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USAID Contractor Suspended as Investigation into Faulty Houses in Haiti Continues Print

CEPR Research Associate and lead HRRW blogger, Jake Johnston, published the following piece on VICE news today:

After the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010, the US government responded with an ambitious plan to build 15,000 new houses in the country. But the ensuing program to put roofs over the heads of displaced Haitians has included a boondoggle of epic proportions at one $35 millionhousing development, where shoddy construction practices and faulty sewage systems are currently the subject of an ongoing investigation.

On February 3, the US-based company Thor Construction was suspended from receiving government contracts because of its work in Haiti. Another contractor with close ties to the Haitian president has so far escaped punishment.

As the relief effort's flagship housing project comes under increased scrutiny, interviews with involved parties and an analysis of contract documents, independent reports, and congressional testimony reveals that the problem is far from a simple case of contractor malfeasance. Rather, USAID, the government agency responsible for administering foreign civilian aid, simply failed to provide meaningful oversight of its contractors and ensure adequate results for US-taxpayer financed projects.

In April 2012, Thor received $18.4 million to build 750 houses at a site on Haiti's northern coast called Caracol-EKAM, part of the international community's high-profile reconstruction project at the Caracol Industrial Park. At a star-studded inauguration of the park in October 2012, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton toured the new buildings and spoke of "affordable homes with clean running water, flush toilets, and reliable electricity... built to resist hurricanes and earthquakes."

In June 2013, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the initial target of 15,000 total houses in Haiti had been reduced to just 2,600 while at the same time costs increased from $53 million to more than $90 million. USAID Assistant Administrator Beth Hogan explained to Congress that the high costs were "because of the requirements" that the contractor "meet international building codes, that it comply with federal building standards," and "that these materials would be disaster- and hurricane-proof." Hogan added that she was "very happy with the quality" of the houses.

But a year and a half later, Hogan's story is coming apart at the seams. In November, USAID awarded a $5 million no-bid contract to US-based Tetra Tech to provide remediation services for the Caracol houses. An independent assessment conducted in August 2014 "revealed numerous deficiencies," with the houses, including roofs not being fastened, use of "sub-specification" materials, and "other structural and drainage issues," according to a contract document. Given the location's susceptibility to hurricanes and other extreme weather events, the document noted repairs must be "carried out immediately in order to prevent possible harm to residents."

Read the rest here. For more background, see here, here and here.

 
Ban Ki-moon Explains to Congress Why the UN Won’t be Held Accountable for Cholera in Haiti Print

In December, Rep. John Conyers and 76 other members of congress wrote to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, urging the U.N. to provide a settlement mechanism for cholera victims and their families and lays out the reasons why the UN should be legally obliged to provide such a mechanism.  The members of Congress add that, “while we applaud the UN’s efforts to secure more funding for cholera treatment….we wish to respectfully remind you that these efforts do not absolve the UN of its obligation to receive legal claims from victims of the epidemic and provide remediation for the affected communities.” 2 months later, Ban Ki-moon has finally sent the members of Congress a lengthy response which the defenders of Haiti’s cholera victims have characterized as “untenable as a matter of law and logic.”

In a letter, dated February 19, 2015, Ban Ki-moon responds to the 76 members of congress. Most of the letter is dedicated to outlining all the work the U.N. has done to combat cholera in Haiti.  The U.N. has indeed issued calls for cholera funding, but the Haitian government’s 10-year cholera eradication plan remains woefully underfunded. Just 18 percent of the $2.2 billion required has thus far been pledged, with less than 13 percent actually disbursed, according to the most recent data [PDF]. A donor conference in October failed to secure significant additional pledges of support.

Only at the end of the letter does Ban actually respond to the members of Congress’ request for a settlement mechanism for the victims of cholera.  After initially rejecting the claims of the victims in a terse statement with little explanation, Ban provides perhaps the most thorough explanation to date for why the U.N. will not hear the claims:

Claimants invoked Section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations of 1946 (the "General Convention") and paragraph 55 of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Government of Haiti, which implements Section 29(a) of the General Convention in the agreement with Haiti.

Section 29(a) is limited by its terms to the consideration of private law claims.  In the practice of the Organization, disputes of a private law character have been understood to be disputes of the type that arise between private parties, such as, claims arising under contracts, claims relating to the use of private  property in peacekeeping contexts or claims arising from motor vehicle accidents. The Organization has regularly received and provided compensation for such claims arising out of acts attributable to its peacekeeping missions and personnel.

I wish to assure you that, in the present case, the claims were thoroughly and carefully considered. After a review of the claims and the history and implementation of Section 29(a) of the General Convention, the claimants were informed that the claims were not receivable pursuant to Section 29 of the General Convention. As the claims in question raised broad issues of policy that arose out of the functions of the United Nations as an international organization, they could not form the basis of a claim of a private law character and, consequently, the claims did not fall within the scope of Section 29(a) of the General Convention. For the same reason, it was determined that these claims were not of the type for which a claims commission is provided under the SOFA, since the relevant provision of the SOFA also relates to claims of a private law character.

To read Ban’s full response, click here. Unfortunately, while this may be the most words a U.N. official has said about the legal case, it leaves much to be desired. Bruce Rashkow, a former high-ranking official in the U.N.’s Office of Legal Affairs wrote last year that the U.N. stance that cholera claims were “not receivable” was unprecedented. “Indeed, as the head of the UN legal office that routinely handled claims against the Organization for some ten years, I did not recall any previous instance where such a formulation was utilized in regard to such claims,” Rashkow wrote.

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, which is representing Haitian cholera victims in their legal battle, provided the following response to Ban’s letter:

The Secretary-General’s assertion that the claims of Haiti’s cholera victims are an exception to the UN’s legal obligation to compensate people harmed by its negligence is untenable as a matter of law and of logic.  The Secretary-General fails to cite a single authority supporting the view that the cholera claims are not “disputes of a private law character.”  To the contrary, dozens of the world's leading experts in international law -- including many who have held positions in the UN -- have reviewed the cholera victims’ claims against the UN in conjunction with the UN's legal obligations. These experts agree that the cholera claims are private law claims, and that the UN had an obligation to settle them. The experts’ findings have been presented in a vast number of legal blogs, court briefs, and media articles, and are as applicable today as they were when the UN first dismissed the claims.

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On a Technicality, World Bank Rejects Complaint on Support for New Mining Law Print

A complaint from Haitian communities and supported by New York University’s Global Justice Clinic and Accountability Counsel has been rejected by the World Bank on technical grounds. The groups had asked for the Bank’s Inspection Panel to review whether assistance the Bank is providing to the Haitian government follows Bank guidelines relating to transparency and environmental safety.

Since 2013, the World Bank has provided technical assistance to the Haitian government in rewriting its mining laws, leading to a new mining law being drafted in 2014. Though Haiti has not seen large-scale commercial mining for decades, the government awarded multiple concessions in 2012 over opposition protests. In 2013, following a forum on mining sponsored by the World Bank, then Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe declared that to advance Haiti’s development, “we are counting heavily on the contribution of the mining sector.”

The Haitian communities’ complaint [PDF] states:

Complainants fear that, due to the government’s weak capacity and the law’s inadequacies, this increased investment in the mining sector will result in serious social and environmental harms, including contamination of vital waterways, impacts on the agriculture sector, and involuntary displacement of communities. Complainants are also concerned about the exclusion of Haitian people from the law reform process, particularly when contrasted with the reported regular participation of the private sector in drafting the new law. Further, Complainants fear that the government of Haiti lacks the capacity to regulate and monitor mining company activity.

In its response, the World Bank’s Inspection Panel says that it “has decided not to register the case.” The Panel acknowledged that the issues raised were “serious and legitimate,” and agreed that the new mining law could “have significant and considerable adverse environmental and social consequences.” However, because the World Bank support was provided through a technical assistance mechanism, “policies and procedures applicable to design, appraisal and implementation of a project, including the safeguard policies, were not applied to the Haiti Mining Dialogue.” The mechanism is not subject to the World Bank’s safeguard policies and therefore the Inspection Panel refused to hear the complaint.

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CEP Proposes Legislative Elections in July, Presidential in October Print

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, members of the CEP put forth their proposal for an electoral calendar leading up to presidential elections by the end of 2015. CEP president Pierre Louis Opont said they were considering holding legislative elections, including 20 of 30 Senate seats and the entire 99-member Chamber of Deputies, in July. The second round of the legislative elections would be held alongside Presidential elections on October 25, 2015 with the second round of the presidential race and local elections taking place sometime in January.

In a press release on February 9, the CEP said they had circulated a draft electoral decree to political parties for comment and would send it on to the executive by Friday, February 13 to be officially published (Laurette Backer posted a version of the draft electoral decree here).  Political parties, civil society and other stakeholders were given until 4 PM Wednesday to submit their comments to the CEP, however many political groupings have stated they were not consulted prior to the CEP’s announcement.  

Announcement Gets Mixed Reaction from Political Parties 

The Fusion political party, which supports the government, denounced the CEP’s announcement. “I think the CEP was misguided to take such a decision without consultation. It’s a clumsy move, which could plunge the country into more difficulties,” a Fusion representative told Alterpresse. Fusion stated they had sent a letter to the government about their concerns with the CEP’s actions and reiterated their proposal of holding a single election in 2015 for all positions. Rosemand Pradel of Fusion told Le Nouvelliste that “Political parties are important actors in the electoral process, the CEP cannot define an electoral calendar on its own.”

Sauveur Pierre-Etienne, coordinator of OPL, stated that the CEP had yet to make contact with political parties and that he saw “shenanigans” in the announcement from the CEP. “The proposed electoral calendar is completely absurd,” Pierre-Etienne told Le Nouvelliste, “How do you organize elections spread out over a six-month period?“ According to Le Nouvelliste, he suggested that this could be a strategy aimed at “ruining” the opposition defined by the CEP and those in power.

John Henry Ceant of Renmen Ayiti pointed to the political agreement signed January 11 at the Kinam hotel, which stated that the CEP would find consensus between the presidency and political parties around the formation of the electoral law and timetable. “The CEP has put the cart before the horse,” Ceant told Le Nouvelliste.

Responses were relatively muted from opposition groups. MOPOD coordinator Jean André Victor told Alterpresse, “No, we have not yet considered the issue. We remain, for the moment [focused on] demonstrations supporting the departure of Michel Martelly from power.” Fanmi Lavalas, which was prevented from participating in the previous election, said in a statement to Alterpresse that the executive committee was “studying the situation.” In comments to Le Nouvelliste, Dr. Maryse Narcisse of Fanmi Lavalas said the organization had yet to receive the draft electoral decree that the CEP said was sent to political parties last week. No political party can handle “the social and material costs of several elections in one year,” she added.  

Role of International Community

In January, President Martelly called for legislative elections to be held by May, according to Haiti Libre, noting that, “According to some experts…we should wait at least 5-6 months to have the elections, which brings us to July-August. When we think to two rounds, each time, we must wait for the results, challenges, that brings us to October. So I feel that at this point, those proposing elections in six months are talking about one turn.” Among those that have advocated for legislative elections in July is U.S. Ambassador Pamela White, who reportedly relayed this preference to some of the remaining 10 Senators still in office at a meeting last week. In private meetings in Washington D.C., U.S. officials have continually stated a preference for one single election to take place in 2015, given the problems with logistics and funding.

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A Look at the New Provisional Electoral Council Print

Haiti’s current Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), formed in late January, is the fourth incarnation of an electoral council since Martelly’s ascension to the presidency in 2011. With elections delayed over three years, parliament ceasing to function and the country run by a de facto government, the current CEP will have a large role in leading the country to elections and a restoration of constitutional rule. “Fair elections will require an impartial, independent and constitutional CEP to facilitate the free participation of all political parties,” wrote the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) last month.

While the formation of previous electoral councils did not follow Article 289 of the Haitian constitution (Martelly originally wanted to form a permanent electoral council that is subject to different provisions, for background on this, see here), the current one hews more closely to what is outlined there. Nine representatives from various sectors of civil society nominated representatives to the CEP, which were then ratified by the President. However, as IJDH points out, the process “deviated from the relevant constitutional provisions in several respects, including the participation of new civil society groups, and prohibiting the participation of government agents and political parties.” Further, the political accord outlining this new process never received parliamentary approval. Another aspect that differs from what is outlined in Article 289 is that Martelly requested each of the nine sectors to submit two names for the CEP. The executive branch would then be able to choose one of them for the post. While not called for in the constitution, this is a similar process as was used to form the previous CEP under Preval, which oversaw the flawed 2010 elections.

The electoral council is tasked with drafting the electoral law, which will govern the upcoming and as yet unscheduled elections. One of the key questions the CEP must address is whether one or two elections will be held in 2015. President Martelly has called for a first election in May, to elect a new legislature, followed by presidential elections toward the end of the year.  In a meeting Wednesday with some of the remaining 10 senators in Haiti’s parliament, U.S. Ambassador White reportedly stated her belief that partial elections could be held as early as July. There is also the question of inclusiveness; during the last election, political parties were arbitrarily excluded from the balloting and previous electoral councils under Martelly had been criticized for also blocking full participation in elections.

The international community will also play a key role in the functioning of the CEP, as foreign donors will be paying nearly the entire cost of elections. After a visit from the United Nations Security Council, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power briefed the Security Council, stating, “The provisional council is charged with developing a framework for the elections crucial to Haiti’s stability. We were impressed with the electoral council’s seriousness of purpose and commitment to independence, and we offered its members our full support.”

For the first time since the CEP’s formation two weeks ago, some news on its work emerged today from an exclusive interview from an anonymous member of the CEP with Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste. A press conference next Tuesday, February 10, is also expected, according to Le Nouvelliste (UPDATE: the CEP issued a press release today announcing a press conference for February 10. The release states that they will outline the electoral calendar among other announcements). The member told the paper that a draft electoral law was nearly complete and would soon be sent to Martelly for publication in Le Moniteur, the official gazette laws are published. Normally an electoral law would have to be passed by parliament, thus calling into question its legal viability. Since at least early November, the U.S. government has considered the expiration of parliamentarians’ terms to be a foregone conclusion; however they have consistently stated their belief that Martelly would only use his executive powers to hold an election and not to push through other, unpopular measures.

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