Who Owns Haiti’s Future?

haiti_rebuilding_0114Georgianne Nienaber writes about the ineffectiveness (among other adjectives) of the assistance programs to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. She highlights the views of Regine Barjon—of BioTek Haiti SA and the Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce of Florida—and her ideas for how Haiti can forge realistic plans for a sustainable future. Here are excerpts:

It has been three years since a devastating earthquake stopped clocks in Haiti at 4:53 PM. It seemed that Haiti was also stopped dead in her tracks, and for those who follow progress, or lack thereof in the tiny country, many questions remain about foreign aid that has translated into foreign control over Haiti’s destiny. [. . .]

The CEPR [Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), “Breaking Open the Black Box: Increasing Aid Transparency and Accountability in Haiti] report notes that very few audits of USAID’s programs in Haiti since the earthquake have been completed, and those that are available present a “troubling picture of the manner in which U.S. relief and reconstruction efforts have been conducted so far.” Contractors have hired far fewer Haitians than promised, Haitian businesses were largely excluded, goals were not met, there was inadequate supervision of grantees, and USAID had not conducted internal financial reviews of contractors. Of the $1.15 billion in contracts and grants awarded, more than half went to the top 10 recipients of global USAID awards. Only 0.7 percent of USAID money went to Haitian businesses.  [. . .] Last week in Miami, [Regine] Barjon as always was on target, determined, and full of positive ideas on how the Diaspora and Haitians can invest in themselves — if only the foreign influences and interests would just get out of the way. Barjon took the time to answer a battery of questions. Her answers are worth consideration.

How do you view the change in leadership at State now that John Kerry is at the helm?  The Haitian Diaspora is gratified that the Obama administration and Secretary Kerry have continued the open dialogue so imperative to the formulation of U.S. policies for Haiti. But more importantly, this dialogue is vital and opportune simply because no more can we allow others to define us through their own lenses. It is imperative that as Haitians and Haitian-Americans we define ourselves — and that we own it!

So, How does Haiti “own” her future?  The challenge is to implement policies and to fund programs and projects with direct and favorable impact on Haiti’s economy — projects which benefit the most people by taking into account Haiti’s existing assets. U.S. policies for Haiti must be adopted with this in mind.

The poor results of past policies have proven to be a total waste of U.S. taxpayers’ money through the financing of NGOs. Quite simply, if something does not work, we should not keep throwing good money at it. The U.S. government must actively look towards building a viable Haitian private sector that can contribute to the creation of jobs, and effective public/private partnerships with the Haitian State to better link and match infrastructure projects to production. In addition, judicial reform is also necessary to ensure a successful investment climate.

What about the controversial US/South Korean Carocal Project? Haiti Grassroots Watch warns that the industrial park project, built with over 200 million dollars in U.S. financing, will not only endanger the eco-system, but create sweatshop labor conditions. The Korean apparel manufacturer Sae-A is the anchor tenant.  Though the U.S. has opted to bypass Haiti’s breadbaskets in favor of tackling the Caracol Project, the U.S. should continue to fund programs of similar scale as that project in the agricultural and agro-industrial sectors. Large-scale agriculture and agro-industrial programs and projects would have an even greater impact in reaching more people than Caracol because agriculture, in spite of its marginalization and nearly no public support over the past 50 years, still represents 25 percent of GDP and employs 66 percent of the Haitian population. There is ample room for growth in this sector, and it would ensure food security for the 58 percent of Haiti’s people who are currently food insecure.

Greater focus and attention needs to be placed on sourcing, accessibility, and affordability of food that will allow local food producers to compete with the saturation of imported products.

So how do you address the obvious trade imbalances that are exacerbated by foreign aid? The Martelly government has a stated goal of reducing Haiti’s food imports by 25 percent over the next four years. This can only happen with the adoption and implementation of large-scale agro-industrial projects that have the capacity to work directly and indirectly with the thousands of small farms and farm associations. The example can be given with Haiti’s two sugar mills: one, the Citadelle des Cayes, which is currently completely moth-balled, and the other, the Darbonne Sugar Mill, which is operating at less than half its capacity.

The Darbonne Sugar Mill (Barjon’s project) at full operational capacity would increase jobs from the current 1,300 (direct and indirect) full and seasonal jobs to over 10,000 full-time direct and indirect positions. In addition, studies undertaken by BioTek Haiti SA, (Barjon’s business) have found that the mill can produce a minimum of 15 Megawatts of electricity year-round from sugar cane bagasse and other indigenous crops. The study also found that the mill can be a source of feedstock for multiple second-generation industrial applications, such as the production of biofuels (butanol and ethanol), particle boards, and bio-fertilizer. [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/georgianne-nienaber/progress-in-haiti_b_3138597.html

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