US Congressman: Results of Aid to Haiti “Aren’t Impressive”

Above: Congressman Ed Royce

By the Caribbean Journal staff

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars appropriated for Haiti, the results of United States aid to the country “aren’t impressive,” according to US Congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Royce convened a hearing, “Haiti: Assessing US Aid Effectiveness” in Washington on Wednesday to examine United States aid to Haiti, particularly through USAID, which has seen an appropriation of $651 million since 2010.

The hearing came following a June report from the Government Accountability Office which found “mixed results” from US aid to the Caribbean country.

That was the latest in a long line of reports finding significant issues in the distribution and effectiveness of aid to Haiti, both from the US government and international donors.

“Now, over three years later, the results aren’t impressive,” Royce said. “Of the two millions impacted by the earthquake, an estimated 320,000 remain in squalid displacement camps. Efforts to provide permanent housing have been undermined by weak property rights. Unemployment is high. Corruption is rampant. The business climate is very poor.”

According to the Government Accountability Office, USAID had obligated $336 million and disbursed $229.5 million in funding for earthquake reconstruction through June 30, 2013.

That was out of a total of $651 million in funding for Haiti earthquake reconstruction from the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2010.

But that aid has not been met with success, Royce said, questioning USAID’s strategy — from lacking an engineer for the proposed port at the Caracol Industrial Park to setting expectations for “massive permanent housing projects in a country where the overwhelming majority of people do not have secure property rights.”

Royce said he believed the “Haitian people deserve better.”

“I know American taxpayers deserve better,” he said. “If aid is to continue, we need a viable partner in development and democracy.”

Responding to questions from lawmakers, Elizabeth Hogan, Acting Assistant Administrator at USAID’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, pointed to what she saw as successful work by the agency — for example, that the first phase of the power plant for the Caracol park had been completed “on time and with less funding than allocated.”

But the construction of the port project will begin more than two years later than originally planned, the GAO said, in part because of what it called a “lack of expertise in port planning at the Haiti mission.”

While Hogan said USAID was committed to long-term assistance in Haiti, she said “the sustainability of our programmes ultimately depends on the capacity of the government of Haiti to maintain the improvements made through US government-funded programming and meet the needs of their citizens.”

Thomas Adams, Haiti Special Coordinator at the US State Department, said that while Haitians and Americans both “hoped we would be farther along by now,” there were “overlooked” signs of progress in Haiti.

He also acknowledged “the point from which Haiti started,” referring to what he said was a “very limited capacity in its governmental and civic institutions” even before the earthquake, and a “brain drain” that led to 80 percent of Haitians with a college education “using their talents and energy outside the country.”

“Under the circumstances,” he said, “Haiti has perhaps made about as much progress in its recovery as history might lead one to expect.”

But there are steps that can be taken to improve the situation, he said, something he said the State Department discusses “candidly” with Haiti’s leadership.

“But there are no shortcuts to this process; progress is more often incremental, and there is no magic wand,” Adams said. “We have learned that the only sustainable path to better conditions for the people of Haiti is one that reflects Haitian priorities and is Haitian led.”

To watch the full hearing, see below: