the assessing progress in haiti
Almost five years after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the United States Congress is using the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act of 2014 to evaluate how U.S. funds are being used in reconstruction efforts in Haiti.

1. The legislation noted that conditions have not improved enough.

Although more than 90 percent of displaced people have been able to leave camps, around 171,974 people still remain in camps. On top of that, corruption is widespread, the business climate is not ideal, unemployment is high and the government is weak.

2. Aid has been slow to materialize.

The United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, has distributed only 31 percent of its reconstruction funds pledged to Haiti. The vision of thousands of new homes has not happened, which has forced earthquake victims to return to existing housing through a rental subsidy program. The June 2013 report by the GAO saw that goals were not being met and projects were very far behind.

3. The act gives Congress the power of monitoring assistance to Haiti.

The act allows Congress to supervise the $3.6 billion that has gone to Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act passed in the Senate 15 days earlier and it is awaiting President Obama’s signature to be signed into law.

4. The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act of 2014 entails the U.S. Secretary of State submitting an annual report to Congress.

The legislation requires the U.S. Secretary of State to submit an annual report on the condition of development projects and earthquake recovery in Haiti, no later than December 31 each year, through December 31, 2017.

5. The bill was sponsored by U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

Nelson, like many others, has expressed fear about the transparency in United States foreign aid, and the slow distribution of aid in Haiti. The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act received bipartisan support and the House passed it with no objection.

6. The legislation was applauded by several groups.

The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act has received support from many groups such as the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), which provides financial aid to grassroots organizations and agencies in Haiti.

7. The act states that certain promises are to be met by Haiti’s government.

The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act specifically addresses “transparency, a market economy, rule of law, and democracy.” The bill emphasizes that the situation in Haiti does not depict improved conditions and that the country is far behind in reconstruction.

“In the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, our government laudably committed a significant amount of aid to help Haiti rebuild, but a lack of transparency made it difficult to understand how U.S. government funds were being used and if recovery efforts were making progress and were being measured,” stated the president of American Jewish World Service, Ruth Messinger. She believes that the “legislation embodies a new commitment to transparency, accountability, and good governance.”

Read more facts about the Haiti Earthquake.

– Colleen Moore

Sources: The Sentinel, McClatchy DC News
Photo: Washington Memo

After a devastating earthquake shook poverty-ridden Haiti, the results were catastrophic. More than 230,000 Haitians were killed, another 300,000 were injured and 1.5 million lost their homes. As of June 2013, about 279,000 Haitians remained homeless due to the earthquake.

The American people saw this tragedy and decided that it would not sit idly while its neighbors suffered. The U.S. deemed that action was necessary, and that action took the form of $1.13 billion in emergency aid. Of that money, $651 million was set aside for USAID.

Unfortunately, the money provided did not have any clear guidelines or procedures for tracking its usage or its effectiveness. Worse still, it is unclear how much of the $1.13 billion has yet to be spent. The entire Haitian reconstruction effort in Haiti has been sorely lacking in oversight and transparency.

The General Accounting Office has reported that “Congress lacks information on the amounts of funds obligated and disbursed and program-by-program progress of U.S. reconstruction [in Haiti].”

The GAO went on to report that a wide variety of USAID projects in Haiti were behind schedule, over budget and unsustainable.

The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act (H.R. 3509) is the most obvious solution to this thoroughly preventable problem. The bill — supported across the aisle — aims to provide the requisite guidelines to accurately assess how aid money has been spent thus far and how to best spend it in the future.

The primary motivation behind the bill — and the reason for its bipartisan support — is the massive information gap that exists between recovery programs and oversight agencies. Information is not being reported in a timely or accurate manner, and as such, there is extensive deadweight loss.

If enacted as a law, the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act would demand constant progress reports, updated cost estimates and a vast increase in oversight. All of these changes would ensure that the reconstruction effort is on the right track.

The bill passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support, but it is has remained with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the past six months. After its swift passage in the House, the six months in the committee is cause for concern.

As Haiti continues to struggle with crippling poverty, which dominated the country well before the 2010 earthquake, the U.S. Senate continues to struggle with the tracking of its foreign aid spending.

The problem is not limited to Haiti, though it does represent one of the most disturbing cases. The problem of transparency persists in all 149 of the countries that receive foreign aid from the U.S.

The U.S. Senate now has the opportunity to trim that number to 148. The reconstruction effort in Haiti has hit a roadblock in the form of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but it is a roadblock that can be overcome.

— Sam Hillestad

Photo: Flickr