USAID-Funded Parliament Building Still Vacant 4 Months After “Inauguration”

March 19, 2012

Jacob Kushner and Jean Pharés Jérôme of Global Post report today on the high-profile USAID project to build a temporary building for Haiti’s parliament. Although the $1.9 million building was “inaugurated” in November 2011, Kushner and Jérôme report that:

But more than four months later, that location remains vacant. The building is scattered with woodwork trimmings and debris from a costly ongoing renovation paid for by the Haitian treasury because legislators say the United States never finished the job. And critics in Haiti charge that the unfinished work and empty building stand as a powerful metaphor for much of what is wrong with USAID’s approach to development in Haiti: that it lacks coordination with and input from the Haitians themselves about how best to undertake reconstruction projects.

The building remains nothing more than a “shell” and the Haitian government has already spent $770,000 in renovations and will have to spend much more before it is actually usable. Cholzer Chancy of Haiti’s Chamber of Deputies told Global Post, “It may cost more for us to renovate it than for them to build it in the first place.”

U.S. Embassy spokesman Jon Piechowski defended the project, saying:

“We explained to them what could be done, we consulted with them on that, and they approved the project,” he said. “We answer to the American people and we need to be good stewards of their tax money, and I think we’ve done that in this case.”

The authors continue:

But to the half a million Haitians who remain displaced to tents and shacks since the earthquake, the $2 million US aid dollars spent on an empty building and the hundreds of thousands more taken from the Haitian Treasury to renovate it seem inexcusable.

“All the time, I hear on the radio that American money is going here or there,” said Acelus Saint Louis, a 45-year-old who lives in a tent with his wife and two children. “But I don’t see it. This could lift us up, but instead it’s just wasted.”

The contract to build the temporary parliament building is part of an indefinite quantity contract with Chemonics International. The for-profit development company has received two contracts through USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) since the earthquake totaling $73 million. Chemonics has also received over $80 million for the USAID WINNER program. They are the largest single recipient of USAID funds since the earthquake. HRRW has reportedpreviously on Chemonics, and in November did a three-part series looking at USAID’s reliance on contractors, the lack of oversight of Chemonics and other contractors and their previous poor performance in Afghanistan and Haiti.

Between Chemonics and Development Alternatives Inc., USAID/OTI has appropriated over $115 million for Haiti-related work to the two for-profit firms. The latest USAID/OTI quarterly report lists expenditures of $83 million. Although some of the remaining $32 million may still be in the coffers, a portion of it will be taken off the top and returned to Washington DC, through what is known as the “indirect cost rate”. This allows a portion of all funds allocated to go towards costs not related to the actual program, in other words, back to their headquarters inside the Beltway. Both Chemonics and USAID declined to provide HRRW with the Indirect Cost Rate stipulated in their contract. The info has been redacted in the contract obtained by HRRW.

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