Corruption takes many forms, and if the United States seems like it has less of it than many developing countries, this is partly because we have legalized so much of it. Election campaign contributions are only the most costly and debilitating form, a legalized bribery that, for example, gives the pharmaceutical and insurance companies a veto over health care policy and generally hollows out our limited form of democracy.
This legalization of corruption reached a new milestone last December when one Lewis Lucke, a long-time U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) official turned influence peddler, sued a consortium of firms operating in Haiti for $492,000, for breach of contract. As Lucke would have it (sorry!), he was promised $30,000 a month, plus incentives, to use his influence to secure contracts for these nice fellas. He got them $20 million dollars worth of contracts, but they cut him off after two months. The defendants in the case are Ashbritt, a U.S. contractor with a questionable track record, and the GB Group, one of the largest Haitian conglomerates. Together they formed the Haiti Recovery Group, which they incorporated in the Cayman Islands, to bid on reconstruction contracts.
Lucke was well positioned for the job, having formerly been in charge of the multi-billion dollar reconstruction effort in Haiti for the U.S. government. (He was also previously the USAID Iraq Mission Director – we know how that reconstruction turned out.) His lawsuit states that when he worked for USAID "He met with Haitian officials, former United States Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the State Department, World Bank, and other participants . . .”. He was then hired by Ashbritt to, among other things, make “strategic introductions to key stakeholders, organizers, and brokers of Haitian recovery efforts…” Bill Clinton and George W. Bush established the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund to help Haiti “build back better,” and Clinton is co-chair of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), which has met about six times since the earthquake, and has been widely criticized for its lack of Haitian representation in decision-making.
And then there’s the World Bank, which has spent many years complaining about corruption in developing countries, often using it as a convenient excuse for its decades of failed policies. Lucke scored big with the Bank, landing a $10 million contract for his clients. (The ingrates!) The other $10 million contract was with the Haitian government.
Politicians here are quick to blame the Haitians for the lack of progress since the earthquake, and corruption is often assumed to be exclusively a Haitian problem. But it is clear that some of it comes from outside. Maybe a lot.