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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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Poll: Majority of Haitians Say Country “Headed in the Wrong Direction” Print

A new opinion poll, reported on Wednesday by Jacqueline Charles of The Miami Herald, reveals that while Haitian President Michel Martelly’s personal approval rating remains high, more than 50 percent of respondents thought the country was “headed in the wrong direction.” The Herald reports:

Martelly, who will begin the final year of his five-year term in May, got a 57 percent job approval rating. But it’s an open question whether his popularity will give his choice of presidential candidate the win. Martelly is barred from running again, and Haitians are waiting to see which candidate gets his support.

More than half of Haitians believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, while nearly 70 percent do not believe things are going well today.

Eduardo Gamarra, a professor at Florida International University who conducted the poll (PDF), told the Herald that “members of the private sector” funded the poll and had contracted him to do a number of polls over the past few years. Gamarra was also an advisor to the Government of Haiti, contracted by the Ministry of Planning, until August 2014.

Given Gamarra’s previous relationship with the government, and the contradictions in the poll (such as Martelly having high approval, despite a majority believing the country is moving in the wrong direction and that their personal situations are worse than a year ago), questions have arisen about the methodology of the survey. Further, some 60 percent of respondents reported having voted in the last presidential election, though the official turnout was only about 20 percent. Either the sample was not representative, or a significant portion of the respondents were not completely honest.

In a conversation with HRRW however, Gamarra defended the survey and noted that the only reason it had been published was because the most pro-government findings had previously been leaked.

While Gamarra acknowledged that using cell phone numbers to obtain the survey sample could introduce a bias to the results, he noted that largely as a result of Digicel’s presence, market penetration of cell phones has reached unprecedented levels and that the results are consistent with prior face-to-face polling he had done in Haiti.

“A lot of people are surprised by the contradictions,” Gamarra said, but “this is typical in Haiti.” Haitians, he said, are not generally critical of the government, despite that the majority feel their situation is getting worse.

Earlier this week, Haiti’s electoral authority published the final list of 166 political parties that have successfully registered for planned elections later this year. With elections delayed for over three years and such a large number of parties participating, the election is seen as wide open.

While the headline number looks good for Martelly, Gamarra urged caution, pointing to the results in the important west department, home to nearly 30 percent of Haiti’s population and a key base of support for Martelly earlier in his term. “The government faces its greatest opposition in the west….as a result, I believe that the elections are wide-open,” he added. Indeed, the poll shows Martelly faring worse on almost every indicator in the department. Whereas his national approval rating is 57 percent, in the west department, it is just 38 percent, some 15 percentage points lower than in any other department.

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Second USAID Contractor Suspended Following Caracol Housing Debacle Print

Caracol Flood houses
Image from internal USAID document, caption reads: “Site flooding due to improper drainage”

On March 25, 2015, USAID suspended CEEPCO Contracting – which had been working on shelter programs in Haiti –from receiving further government contracts, pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation. CEEPCO joins Thor Construction, which was suspended in early February. The investigation concerns faulty construction practices related to 750 houses built in Caracol, Haiti by USAID. CEPR Research Associate Jake Johnston reported in February for VICE News:

CEEPCO's CEO is Harold Charles, a Haitian-American who was formerly one of the Haitian government's representatives to the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC), run by Bill Clinton and meant to be in charge of the $10 billion in earthquake relief. The IHRC had initially approved the USAID shelter program back in December 2010.

Charles also enjoys a close, personal relationship with Haitian President Michel Martelly. In an interview in 2013, Charles said, "I do know and have very close friends up through the highest ranks of government," adding, "Martelly is a childhood friend of mine." One former government official in Haiti said in an interview, "this was seen as a deal that would please Martelly."

Despite the initial assessment in August, 2014 that revealed the construction problems, USAID extended CEEPCO's contract for work at other shelter sites in Haiti this past January. CEEPCO’s contract for the Caracol site was awarded without competition. A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the justification document is ongoing. A FOIA request for the initial assessment documenting the problems with the houses was recently responded to, but USAID withheld the entire document that was sought, citing the ongoing legal investigation.

Though the investigation continues, many thousands of Haitians continue to live in the poorly constructed houses. A contracting document from November, 2014, stated that repairs must be “carried out immediately in order to prevent possible harm to residents.” But it is unclear if meaningful remediation efforts have taken place.  An internal document reveals that many of the identified problems would require serious structural work to the houses.

In November, Tetra Tech, another U.S.-based firm, received a $5 million contract to oversee the repair efforts. The firm has been performing structural evaluations of the houses in anticipation of a future legal suit. One draft document, prepared by Tetra Tech and obtained by HRRW, details 29 instances “of material substitutions, field design changes, lack of quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) and lack of quality workmanship.”

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CEP Proposes Electoral Calendar During Meeting with Political Parties Print

During a meeting yesterday at the Hotel Karibe Convention Center, the CEP presented a draft electoral calendar to political parties present. The proposal would have the first round of legislative elections on August 9, the second round of legislative elections and first round of presidential elections on October 25 and finally the second round of presidential elections and local elections on December 27. The electoral decree, which provides the legal basis for the election, was approved by the president on March 2.

A key date in the electoral process will be March 23, when the CEP will publish the list of registered political parties. Registration will open on March 16 and parties will have 5 days to register. This will be looked at as a key indicator of the inclusiveness of elections, as in past elections key political parties have been excluded from participation.  Some opposition political movements were not present at yesterday’s meeting, including MOPOD, RDNP and Petit Dessalines, according to Alterpresse. For his part former Senator Moise Jean Charles of Petit Dessaline explained they would not attend, “…because conditions have not been met. The electoral environment is part of the context of the crisis.”

INITE, which joined the Martelly government as part of a political deal in January, was supportive of the proposed calendar. Paul Denis expressed his party’s support for the holding of three elections, while adding that some continue to not want elections at all. “No one should come with pretexts for not organizing elections so as to generate trouble in the country,” he said. In an interview with Le Nouvelliste, former INITE Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive indicated his intention to run, at some level, in the elections.

Fanmi Lavalas and Fusion both expressed concern with the calendar, preferring to have the election in two-rounds as opposed to three. Le Nouvelliste reported that according to Dr. Louis Gérald Gilles of Lavalas, “neither political parties nor the country will have the necessary economic resources to participate in an electoral process that stretches from March 16 to December 27 2015.” Lavalas was excluded from participating in the 2010 elections. In an interview earlier this week with the Haiti Press Network, Prime Minister Evans Paul stated that, “an important sum will be made available to the various political organizations to run in the presidential elections.”

While there are concerns over the proposed timetable, the bigger issue appears to be in the formation of the Bureaux electoraux départementaux (BED) and Bureaux electoraux communaux (BEC). These institutions play a key oversight role as their members are responsible for communal and departmental dispute resolution. According to Le Nouvelliste, “Most political parties considered that the CEP should have first resolved the issue of the members of the BEC and BED before focusing on the electoral calendar.”  Gilles of Lavalas added that, “the BED and BEC constitute the basis for credible elections in the country.”

In response to the questions raised about the BED and BEC, Nehemy Joseph, a member of the CEP, stated they lacked control over financial resources and were unable to travel the country and ensure that the local institutions are being formed properly. In an interview with Le Nouvelliste, the head of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Sophie de Caen, announced that the electoral fund had over $38 million at its disposal. But, while the Haitian government is the largest single contributor, control of those funds rest with the international community and the UNDP in particular. Le Nouvelliste reported that, “certain political party leaders have roundly denounced the fact that the UNDP controls more than $38 million for the country’s elections, while the relevant body for the organization of elections, the CEP, functions with very limited economic resources.”

A final decision on the electoral calendar will be made in the coming days. 

 
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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