US aid for Haiti falls short of promises


USAid criticised in ‘alarming’ report that finds delays, poor leadership and mismanagement after Haiti earthquake

By Rashmee Roshan Lall in Port au Prince

Some of the key US-funded projects to help Haiti recover from the 2010 earthquake have been disappointingly delayed and drastically scaled down, a US government watchdog has found.

US development agency USAid is spending millions of dollars to build just a small fraction of the 15,000 homes it promised – 2,649 – according to a report by the government accountability office, which tracks US federal government spending.

USAid has not even started construction of the port planned two years ago as a crucial part of its strategy for Haiti’s economic growth.

The report, published this month, is embarrassing for USAid, which was allocated $651m (£425m) in 2010, or roughly half of all the money earmarked by the US government to help rebuild Haiti, the poorest country in theAmericas.

The report found mismanagement of a crucial housing project, originally meant for up to 90,000 people. USAid has now reduced the number of those to benefit from new housing to about 3,200 to 15,900, from 75,000-90,000, at nearly double the original cost of $59m. The cost per house has soared nearly threefold from $8,000 per unit.

The shortfall in houses is partly because of the difficulties in acquiring land titles in Haiti and the Haitian government’s request for larger units with flush toilets.

But the largest chunk of USAid funding, $170.3m, went to a project that is yet to properly get off the ground – a port and a power plant to support an industrial park in Caracol, in the north. The power plant was completed under budget and ahead of schedule, but the port, which is crucial to the success of the industrial park and was to be finished by 2015, has not been started. The delay is caused by USAid’s inability to find a port engineer – in two years, it tried just once to recruit a suitable person, said the report.

The report, which acknowledges that the sustainability of the park, power plant and port are “interdependent; each must be completed and remain viable for the others to succeed”, casts doubt on whether the port will ever be built because of a funding gap that could double its total cost.

Jean-Baptiste Bien-Aime, the senator who represents Haiti’s North-East department, the location of the proposed port and park, said the news will be a disappointment for the region, which is one of the country’s poorest. The project had promised thousands of jobs.

“When President [Michel] Martelly visited here with former US ambassador Kenneth Merten, he told the people of Fort Liberté, where the port was meant to be built, that $170m was available and construction would start soon,” Bien-Aime said. “The inhabitants were very happy because they thought that the construction work would create jobs as there is a big need in the area.”

Caracol’s former mayor, Landry Colas, said: “The industrial park works, but until now, many people in the area have not found a job.”

However, sources familiar with infrastructure projects pointed out that planning and designing a port takes up to five years, according to the US army Corps of Engineers, and it may be possible to get the project back on track.

But Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the US congresswoman who requested the investigation into relief efforts in Haiti, said the report was “alarming” and revealed an “unacceptable” level of performance by USAid. “Much of the assistance that the US has provided Haiti for reconstruction efforts has suffered from ineffective stewardship on the part of USAid … the people of Haiti deserve better,” she said.

Beth Hogan, USAid’s senior deputy assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, said the report was “a snapshot of progress to date, and that work in housing, energy, port construction and other areas is ongoing”.

The report came just days after radio and television stations in Haiti started airing advertisements for an anti-corruption hotline for USAid projects. The adverts, in French and Haitian Creole, were issued by USAid Haiti’s office of the inspector-general to encourage people to share their stories of graft. Observers said the invitation ran the risk of building a troubling picture of the US humanitarian agency.