Haiti Archives 1995-1996
03/01/96 HAITI-ECONOMY: Sluggish Aid Money Causes Friction By Dan Coughlin

Copyright 1995 InterPress Service, all rights reserved. Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

//ATT EDITORS: Please relate following item to: HAITI– Haitain Aid Flow Slow in Reaching the Ground moved at 1332GMT//

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan. 3 (IPS) – The scene at a road construction site last month told it all. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was addressing thousands of onlookers and, in his pastoral call and response style, asked whether the international community had helped Haitians rebuild the country.

‘’NO!’’ the crowd roared in reply.

‘’They said ‘no’, I say ‘very little’,’’ Aristide told reporters later. ‘’Because, yes, the international community helped us to clear arrears (on Haiti’s debt), that’s good. But the Haitian people don’t see the results (of international aid). They should see creation of jobs and then they would welcome it.’’

One year after international donors pledged a one billion dollar package of loans and grants to reconstruct an economy shattered by a bloody military dictatorship and international embargo, the small amount of aid that has crystallized on the ground is leading to disillusionment and political friction.

‘’I think it is understandable that people are asking where is paradise,” Lakhdar Brahimi, head of the United Nations in Haiti, told journalists recently. “The needs were so big and the expectations so high.’’

Back in August 1994, when Washington was preparing a 20,000- strong military force to oust Haiti’s three-year old bloody military dictatorship and restore the exiled president, international donors pledged about USD 800 million in grants and loans for Haiti’s economic recovery. At a January 1995 meeting in Paris, the donors promised 1.2 billion dollars for 1995 and 1996.

According to Haitian government figures, the more than two dozen banks and donor agencies active in Haiti pledged a total of USD 576 million for 1995 and USD 623 million for 1996. About 430 million dollars of this was in ‘’old commitments’’ – that is, pledges before the bloody coup that ousted President Aristide in September 1991.

Although donors and authjoriities say some 80 percent of the promised aid for 1995 has been disbursed, political observers say the huge dollar signs on paper aren’t translating into food, jobs, schools, potable water or sanitation.

For President Aristide, under tremendous popular pressure to ameliorate the high cost of living, he can’t, as his aides put it, ‘’continue feeding people with words.’’

In recent months, Aristide has dropped his usual listing of development projects that would benefit the Haitian people. Instead, he’s adopted a decidedly cool, and often bitter, approach to international development aid.

‘’(International aid) is very slow,’’ Aristide toldf reporters last month. ‘’Does that mean the (international) community doesn’t have materials or human resources? I don’t think so…The Haitian people would like to see the results and they don’t see it,’’ he said.

‘’It is incumbent upon the international community to demonstrate whether or not there is a will to help us to better prepare for a better tomorrow because we Haitians are ready.’’

Officials at international financial institutions and donor agencies dispute such assertions and point the finger at bureaucratic problems within the Haitian government, notably the lack of absorption capacity, as the cause of much of the problem.

‘’In the ministries, the people are trapped by administrative procedures, by certain habits, by a lack of delegation … and by a lack of decentralization,’’ said Phillipe Dewez, the head of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) here.

‘’All these elements put together mean that if a minister wants to sign a contract it takes months,’’ he said.

‘’In a way, I would say it’s our fault,’’ agreed Lesley Voltaire, a key aide to President Aristide. ‘’The Haitian government is not designed to provide services, it’s designed for repression.’’

While characterizing the problem between the Haitian government and the international community as one of ‘’disillusionment,’’ rather than conflict, Voltaire said that donor’s have not been flexible enough.

The perennial problem of the government’s absorption capacity, for instance, had long been discussed with donors and they had agreed to some flexibility in pushing through aid flows, Voltaire said. But donors’ requirements remain ‘’very rigid,’’ he said.

The Haitian government and financial institutions have taken a number of initiatives to stem the problem, notably created a special administrative section, the Central Administration Unit, to quickly contract out to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private companies the various projects, skipping almost entirely government ministries.

Another major problem lies in the kind of grants and loans that have been flowing to Haiti this past year, mostly ‘’invisible’’ aid like balance of payments or budgetary support. These made up at least 40 percent of the Haitian government’s budget last year— a budget that only covered operational costs and did not include any long-term capital investment.

In the one year since President Aristide returned to Haiti on Oct. 15, 1994, about USD 120 million from the largest banks and donors in Haiti – the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the European Union (EU) – went to balance of payments support alone, according to figures supplied by officials from the organizations.

During the same period, the four banks and donor agencies disbursed another USD 190 million in a wide range of sectors, including training of new Haitian police, labor intensive short- term work projects, and municipal, parliamentary and presidential elections this past year.

Little of this money has gone to long-term sustainable development programs, according to financial observers.

Additonally, another eight bi-lateral donors combined to provide USD 42 million to help repay Haiti’s USD 83 million debt arrears in late 1994. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) provided a USD 31 million stand-by arrangement early last year.

But for critics of international development agencies, such as some small NGOs, parliamentarians and the mayor of Port-au-Prince, the lack of impact is no surprise after years of failed development promises and billions of dollars of aid.

They say that the package of loans and grants are designed to further the foreign policies of donor governments or the IFIs ‘’neo-liberal’’ agenda and not the well-being of the Haitian people.

‘’I know they’re are a lot of great people working for non- governmental organizations (NGOs), conscientious people, but that sector is more dangerous than the soldiers were in the streets of Port-au-Prince,’’ Port-au-Prince Mayor Manno Charlemagne complained. ‘’and they’re using the people’s misery to make money.’’ (END/IPS/dc/mk96)

Origin: Rome/HAITI-ECONOMY/ ----

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