Rebuilding Haiti better
It seems Congress wants to throw more money at Haiti. In May, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Robert Corker (R-TN) introduced an act to supply $3.5 billion in additional recovery aid to follow-up on the January 12 earthquake. While the measure may stall — it triples the figure the Obama administration promised — a slightly ...
It seems Congress wants to throw more money at Haiti. In May, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Robert Corker (R-TN) introduced an act to supply $3.5 billion in additional recovery aid to follow-up on the January 12 earthquake. While the measure may stall -- it triples the figure the Obama administration promised -- a slightly reduced amount may survive in supplemental spending.
It seems Congress wants to throw more money at Haiti. In May, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Robert Corker (R-TN) introduced an act to supply $3.5 billion in additional recovery aid to follow-up on the January 12 earthquake. While the measure may stall — it triples the figure the Obama administration promised — a slightly reduced amount may survive in supplemental spending.
For good security and geopolitical reasons, it’s in America’s interest to help this close Caribbean neighbor. Yet, in lean times and with a hazy strategy as a guide, one might ask how more spending would do any good.
In fairness, Washington’s emergency response has managed to feed and house the displaced. And plans to rebuild damaged infrastructure in smarter ways seem generally well conceived. It’s the longer-term social and civic strategy that needs clarification.
U.S. policy (articulated mostly in speeches and press statements) and Haiti’s own National Recovery and Development Plan don’t say how further assistance will make Haiti any more self-sustaining than before the quake. Few details spell out how to lay a social foundation for prosperity and stability such as improving education and local governance in ways that might develop native talent and foster communitarian spirit.
We have been through this before. During the 1990s, the Clinton administration spent almost as much restoring ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. A former priest with no governing skills, he incited violence and intimidated opponents to run the streets but not the country. Money spent propping up his hapless government left no lasting imprint by the time President Clinton suspended direct assistance shortly before leaving office.
Things slid downhill from there. In 2004, Aristide fled the country after some of his own gangs turned on him, and Haiti was back to square one. With interim leadership and a new government elected in 2006, the country began to inch forward. Just as before, renewed foreign assistance concentrated on national-level priorities such as peacekeeping, rebuilding the central government, attracting industry to provide jobs, and building infrastructure — until the quake hit.
Not surprisingly, Haiti policy is now of special interest to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who has put the Department’s Counselor Cheryl Mills in charge. Presumably a wiser Bill Clinton co-chairs the 26-member Interim Haiti Recovery Commission with Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. The body is responsible for coordinating $5.3 billion in international aid, pledged during a U.N.-sponsored multinational donor’s conference in March.
Despite complaints by Senator Kerry’s staff that cash isn’t pouring into Haiti fast enough, the Obama administration has wisely supported the extra bureaucratic layer that the Commission creates. Not that bureaucracy is such a good thing, but in this case it acts as a filter to minimize overwhelming and corrupting Haiti’s fragile government with large amounts of money. And it should be able to coordinate programs among outside actors whose divergent methods and agendas have confounded progress in the past.
To date, U.S. emergency aid has reportedly fed three and a half million quake victims, sheltered some two and a half million, and vaccinated about 1 million against diseases like tetanus. Thanks to our efforts water distribution is better than it was before the quake. And rebuilding plans worked out with the Haitian government call for growth corridors fanning out from the capital of Port-au-Prince to other cities — an idea that should have been implemented years ago.
While these efforts seem impressive, they are still a demonstration of what outsiders can do for a nation clawing back from failed state status. In order to "build back better," as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put it, two long-term goals should be established to strengthen native capacity in a country where most of the labor force is unskilled, two-thirds of workers have no formal jobs, and 80 percent of the population lives under the poverty line.
Improving general education is one. Average Haitians should have exposure to ideas, knowledge, and expanded expectations of what they can do with their lives. Today, only half the adult population is literate and access to education is limited by cost. About 90 percent of schools are private, and few of those offer the kind of curricula that would prepare students to compete in business, national development, or public administration.
The Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank has pledged $250 million toward an eventual $2 billion education fund targeted at those weaknesses. Besides helping to rebuild some 4,000 schools damaged by the earthquake, it seeks to establish a tuition-free, publicly funded school system. With modern pedagogy and accountability controls, this project could help Haiti supply its needs for skilled labor from within and unlock individual creativity. The United States and other donors should support this concept.
Enhancing grassroots governance is the other goal. Municipal governments and neighborhood organizations are closest to citizen needs, and could be a valuable training ground for future leaders. The State Department’s Haiti Stabilization Initiative with communications programs, social activities, public works, and rule of law projects has helped reduce violence in the capital’s once dangerous Cité Soleil neighborhood. A similar hands-on approach to training citizens in local self-rule could help reduce over-reliance on national authorities for services.
It could also help instill a practical appreciation for democratic institutions. For example, parliamentary elections were to have taken place last February, until the quake intervened. Now lawmakers’ terms have expired leaving the president to rule by decree. Often elections have been derailed for lesser reasons such as electoral council squabbling. With people more actively involved in local government, perhaps a durable set of civic habits will emerge.
Promising a more modest $1.15 billion in U.S. aid last March, Secretary Clinton said the "leaders of Haiti must take responsibility for their country’s reconstruction." That’s only part of it. The rest is that Haiti’s 8 million citizens must take ownership too. The only way that will happen is if they have the education and civic capacity to do so. Otherwise peacekeepers and aid donors will still be running the show when Haiti’s National Recovery and Development Plan concludes, 20 years from now.
Stephen Johnson is a senior advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean at the International Republican Institute. He was the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs from 2007 to 2009.
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