Q+A-Why it's hard to track donor aid in Haiti

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 26 January 2012 10:00 GMT

Just over half of the $5.5 billion pledged in international aid to Haiti after its 2010 earthquake has been disbursed

This article is part of an AlertNet special report on humanitarian aid: futureofaid.trust.org

By Anastasia Moloney    

BOGOTA (AlertNet) – Just over half of the $5.5 billion pledged in international aid to Haiti after its 2010 earthquake has been disbursed, but how is that money being used and tracked? 

The mandate of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), the main body in charge of coordinating and tracking donor aid, expired at the end of last year, making it even harder to monitor foreign aid and uncover corruption, experts say.

Haiti's public sector is seen as one of the world's most corrupt, ranking in the bottom 10 out of 182 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.

Marilyn Allien, head of the Haitian chapter of Transparency International, spoke to AlertNet about the extent of corruption in Haiti, what Haitians think about graft and why it is so difficult to keep tabs on where the money goes.    

Q: Has corruption in Haiti increased following the January 2010 earthquake?

A: We think corruption has increased since the earthquake. There is a massive influx of funds coming into Haiti and controlling those funds is difficult as government institutions, many of which were already weak, have been disrupted following the earthquake.

Big corruption is mostly tied to public procurement and to contracts and the bidding process. There are contracts that are smeared by conflicts of interest and insider information. That kind of corruption goes on widely. It has existed before the earthquake but now there are so many more contracts after the earthquake we think it has got worse.

We have found that corruption often involves the middle man, the local employees of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who are using their position as a way of enriching themselves and receiving kickbacks or other favours from those who need assistance.

Q: Are Haitians worried about corruption?

A: In 2002, when we opened our first office in Haiti, corruption was almost a taboo. Now the issue is on the table and it was talked about by the presidential candidates. Today people are less resigned about corruption than they were before.

We have lodged around 15 complaints on behalf of people who have phoned our hotline with the Haitian government involving what you would call petty corruption - aid resources, medicine and food - being sold in the market place.

Q: What are the obstacles in tracking how aid is being spent in Haiti?

A: We have had a long history of corruption in Haiti. Corruption crimes are rarely, rarely punished. The last time a public official was prosecuted for corruption was in 1975 when we had the counterfeit stamps trial.

There is not a culture in Haiti of denouncing and complaining. Perhaps that's to do with a history of dictatorships. People are wary or afraid of complaining.

NGOs are very slack in making detailed and explicit annual reports available to the public so it is difficult to prove whether what they say they are doing and spending aid on is actually happening.

The government agency that oversees NGOs has always been incapable in terms of capacity and resources to coordinate and monitor the work of NGOs. It has been a sort of free-for-all.

Q: Is Transparency International optimistic that the government of Michel Martelly can tackle corruption?

A: This is a new government. We would like them to succeed. Martelly came on a reform agenda and has made promises pertaining to accountability and transparency. We would like to give the government the benefit of the doubt.


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