Washington, D.C., July 20, 2015 (AMG) — Following a number of high-profile exposés of mismanagement of aid money to Haiti — most recently ProPublica’s sensational report on the American Red Cross — several members of the US Congress have called on the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to make more information available regarding its aid contracts.

Twelve members of the House of Representatives, including both the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, have signed an open letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, calling for more transparency in US aid contracts for Haiti. Among other requests, the signatories call for the disclosure of the country of origin of subcontractors, and for future reports to be made available in Haitian Creole in order to allow Haitians to review USAID’s activities in their country.

Separately, in a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing last week on US policy toward Haiti, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said “While there is no question that Haiti has improved in the last 5 years, recent reports that private and public aid has been mismanaged are incredibly disturbing.”

Background

US aid to Haiti since the devastating earthquake of January 2010 has been plagued by numerous failures, scandals and damning reports. A primary concern has been how little of the US government’s spending on Haiti actually made it to Haiti. A study by the Center for Economic Policy Research found that less than 1% of USAID’s post-earthquake aid contracts were given to Haitian companies or organisations, with the vast majority (roughly 75%) going to for-profit ‘Beltway’ contractors located in the greater Washington, DC area. One of the revelations of ProPublica’s investigation of the American Red Cross (which received several large USAID contracts) was a preference for allowing positions to remain unfilled rather than hiring Haitians to fill them.

More broadly, numerous reports have highlighted the way that international NGOs, aid agencies and contractors bungled the earthquake response through poor coordination, lack of local knowledge, outsider stereotypes about Haiti and back-room deals that cut out locals. Jonathan Katz’s The Big Truck That Went By contained perhaps the most comprehensive critical analysis of the international post-earthquake response.[pullquote]Given the rank of the signatories, it would be shocking if the State Department didn’t improve future reports.[/pullquote]

Partially in response to these failures, the US Congress passed the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act (APHA) of 2014. Among its stated aims were to “promote efforts that are led by and support the people and Government of Haiti at all levels so that Haitians lead the course of reconstruction and development of Haiti.” The Act mandated annual reports to Congress on the progress of the US government’s recovery and development efforts in Haiti.

Calls for further improvements

The open letter to Secretary Kerry, dated 6 July 2015, has several noteworthy signatories. They include Rep. Edward Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee;  Rep. Eliot Engel, Ranking Member of the committee; Reps. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) and Albio Sires (D-NJ), respectively the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere; and Rep. Federica Wilson (D-FL), whose district contains the country’s largest Haitian-American population.

Jake Johnston, a researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told AMG, “Given the rank of the signatories, it would be shocking if the State Department didn’t improve future reports based on their suggestions.”

The open letter calls for several improvements to the reporting system required by the APHA, namely the release of information related to the amount of aid awarded to and disbursed by subcontractors, as well as their country of origin; the provision of details on what each project has achieved to date, and how each projects relates to broader goals; and the translation of future reports in Haitian Creole.

Johnston says these proposals are important, but only one piece of the puzzle: “Improving reports on foreign aid will certainly increase transparency, but that is only the first step to actually addressing the problems on the ground. Transparency will help identify the problem, then it’s up to the institutions responsible to reform how they do business. That second part ends up being much more difficult.”

 Image Credit: International Federation of the Red Cross

Members of Congress call for more transparency in US aid to Haiti

David Kroeker Maus

David is a writer, researcher and consultant based in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He holds an MA in Environment & Development from King's College London.

Category: Politics