February 22, 2010
On his trip to earthquake-devastated Haiti last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised $12 million for the construction of a temporary base for the Haitian government. Most government buildings were destroyed or damaged in the January 12 earthquake, forcing President Rene Preval and his cabinet to run government operations from a small police station and hold press conferences in a tent under a mango tree.
This funding is a good idea. Canada should help get a roof over Haiti’s government and supply it with office equipment, internet technology, utilities, and sanitation.
As Lieutenant-Commander Geoff Everts, executive officer of the HMCS Athabaskan, whose sailors are helping rebuild the coastal city of Leogane, says, Canada needs to “help get people back on their feet, beyond the survival stage to a living stage.”
However, Canada should resist all calls by aid promoters such as Jeffrey Sachs and IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn to rebuild Haiti with a modern day, multi-billion dollar “Marshall Plan.”
Massive new aid spending under the status quo will not help Haitians. To understand why, read the 2006 report from the U.S. National Academy of Public Administration, aptly titled “Why Foreign Aid to Haiti Failed.”
Based on aid agency assessments of their own failures, the report warns that despite receiving “billions in foreign aid over three decades, and hundreds of millions specifically for governance and democratization programs, not to mention billions for other programs, Haiti remains politically dysfunctional and impoverished,” with “serious and legion” shortcomings in its judicial system.
According to the World Bank, even before the earthquake, Haiti had dysfunctional budgetary, financial, and procurement systems, making financial and aid management impossible. Not even parliament had access to or approved the budgets. Government contracts were awarded without competitive bidding or advertisement. Corruption and cronyism was rampant and 30 per cent of civil service employees were “phantom,” failing to show up for work and deliver government services.
All this has meant “the outcome of World Bank assistance programs is rated unsatisfactory (if not highly so), the institutional development impact, negligible, and the sustainability of the few benefits that have accrued, unlikely.”
Donors, without exception, agree, says the National Academy.
Suspicion of the Haitian government’s ability to manage aid funds has led to aid agencies taking charge themselves. So much so that 92 per cent of schools and 70 per cent of health care in the country is provided by an army of foreign non-governmental organizations. Haiti has become known as the “Republic of NGOs.”
If the money keeps coming, Haitian governments can leave the job to someone else, avoiding democratic reforms and skimming enough off the top to keep themselves and their cronies in power. And so, the cycle of what the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens calls the “toxic circle of dependence and misrule” [PDF] becomes the bane of Haiti.
The real failure of aid – and here Haiti is a textbook case – is that it liberates governments from financial dependence on their own people with devastating consequences.
If we do anything for Haiti, we should give its entrepreneurs access to our markets to spawn investment, jobs, and hope. We should also help Haitians establish representative government through taxation by planning for an orderly aid exit. Only then will Haitian citizens be truly empowered to hold their governments to account.
Patricia Adams is the Executive Director of Probe International.
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