An Open Letter to Haiti’s President Martelly
Dear Mr. President,
I watched your speech at the United Nations General Assembly last week. It was frank, a rarity in UN speeches, and frustrated, which is a byword for UN diplomacy.
You were provocatively blunt about the failures of the international donor community and the development industry. The world came rushing to Haiti’s aid after the earthquake, and then almost as quickly, they wandered away. Over 18 months later, only 43% of the promised aid has been disbursed, and that money is largely invisible. The refugee camps are still full, half of Haitian women are still giving birth with no medical care, and cholera is still rampant.
In your speech you said that Haitians feel left behind and left out. The donor money that does flow, flows into the hands of expats and international agencies. There are too few new schools, but the streets are crowded with white SUVs, the international symbol of “aid” from Kabul to Kigali.
Haiti’s experience is not unique. Again and again, the international community responds to war, tsunami, and earthquake the same way. Billions are pledged. Less is disbursed. And almost none enters the hands of the local community.
In PDT’s peer-reviewed research, we have documented that on average only 5% of UN budgets enter the local economy. In larger missions, like Afghanistan, the broader donor community does not much better, spending only 37% of its money locally. But when you subtract salaries to local staff, local spending by international staff and direct budget support, the actual amount of donor money that focuses on contracts to local businesses can be as low as 1%. In other words, what is happening to Haiti is the norm: Aid is spent on the countries it is meant to help, but not in those countries.
As you noted yourself, “it is nice to talk about human dignity, human rights, stability, and peace. But a hungry stomach has no ears. It is through the creation of decent jobs, fair pay…that justice begins.” If Haiti is to have a future, it must first have jobs. And those jobs cannot be given to high-priced “capacity building consultants” or “private sector development advisors”. Those jobs must be for Haitians. Donors have never created employment with “economic growth log frames”. These merely generate consulting fees for expats. Only entrepreneurs create jobs.
Something can be done to put Haiti first. In Afghanistan, faced with the same paradox of billions in donor promises, but almost nothing in the hands of Afghan entrepreneurs, the US government under the leadership of Gen. Karl Eikenberry, implemented an “Afghan First” policy which called for the Afghanization of foreign assistance. The Afghan First movement, designed to “ensure that Afghans lead, not follow, in their path to a secure and economically viable Afghanistan.” Was soon adopted by other donors such as the British, and by NATO and UNAMA. Its impact was extraordinary, leading to billions in new local spending, and the creation of over a 100,000 jobs.
As President, you should call upon the donors to adopt a “Haiti First” policy. Ask them to spend their development dollar twice. Instead of merely building a $1m hospital, ask them to use Haitian construction companies in order to also leave behind $1m in wages, profits, and taxes. The key donors, such as the US and the UN have already proven they can do this. If they did it in Kabul, then can do it Port au Prince.
Like you were in New York last week, be frank. Demand that the aid money spent on Haiti is actually spent in Haiti. Demand “Haiti First”.
Peace Dividend Trust
Tags Afghanistan, Aid Effectiveness, aid reform, aid spending, buy local, donors, Economic Impact of Peacekeeping, entrepreneurship, Haiti, impact, local economic impact, marketplace, new ideas, NGOs, Procurement, United Nations, waste