Tuesday, February 02, 2010

More on Haiti

This past Sunday evening a group from my church met at our home. Late in the meeting the subject of Haiti came up. Four of us had been to Haiti, two of us twice, but none had gone together. The common opinion of us all was that Haitian culture was intractably corrupt and the Haitian mode of education and governance would not change regardless of what the "rescuing" countries did.

One of the men mentioned a conversation he'd had with a young man who'd spent 18 months in Haiti with the Peace Corps. This fellow was totally disillusioned after his stint there, and he believed that the country had little hope to become even a second world country. Americans who work in Haiti are involved, generally, in tiny projects that improve the lives of people in the countryside by providing clean water, for example. There seems to be no government interest in or capability to perform major projects that would restructure the country.

I keep hearing diplomats and other high ranking people drone on about giving the Haitians control over the rebuilding projects, but they are mistaken. There are far fewer qualified Haitians than there are projects to manage, and I'd guess that many of those Haitians are well-schooled in the art of corruption. My view is that outsiders should, with Haitian consultation, manage all the projects and employ as many Haitians as possible in responsible positions at good pay. Good training should be given to as many Haitians as possible. However, if a Haitian employee gets involved in corruption on a project, they should be fired.

If and when competent Haitian managers emerge, they should be given more responsibility. It would be wonderful to see a Haitian professional class emerge. But, until that happens, I feel the governmental and non-governmental relief and rebuilding organizations should stay in firm control of where their money goes and how things are done. Otherwise, they are likely to be pouring their resources down the drain.


Dave K said...

I work in a similar climate here in Cambodia. Years of training in a patron-client system, tons of money poured in by foreign humanitarian groups, governments, and investors, a culture of impunity, and lack of infrastructure (let alone laws) is the perfect environment for corruption to thrive. It's definitely a long-term struggle, too.... And so frustrating!

But I wonder if 'control' is maybe the wrong way to phrase the issue here (who should control the project?). Perhaps 'input' would be better? If my involvement in development work is common (?), it will be essential for Haitians to provide input into the rebuilding process. From time to time we see 'experts' from outside do incredible relief projects in Cambodia - projects that are efficient and impressive - and irrelevant. It is easier than one would think to design a project that no one will actually use or benefit from.

I'd also like to affirm your point that the rebuilding process can be an opportunity for Haitians to learn new skills and gain competence in organizational development, without corruption. The best relief groups do just that. :)

Thomas said...

This is a side issue, but: the US has roughly 10,000 troops in Haiti, and Obama said we're going to send more.

I don't think you put that many troops in such a tiny plot of land unless you're planning to keep it.

Lifehiker said...

Dave, it's good to see you back! I agree that Haitians should have input to what is done; we would be fools to build what they don't like or can't use. Infrastructure, though, is common everywhere.

Thomas, ever suspicious about our government: not to worry. Nobody wants to keep Haiti because there is nothing of value there. There is nothing but trouble.

In my view, American troops are in Haiti because there's a good possibility that relief workers and supplies will be attacked regularly by the thousands of gang members and other undesirables.

If relief workers were killed or injured,and supplies pillaged, the Port au Prince area would begin to look like a chaotic war zone. What would the countries now providing aid do then? Send more troops, or just leave the Haitians to their fate?

Am I raising unjustified fears? Todays headline was "Food Convoy Attacked as Haiti Turns Volatile". Need I say more?

Ron Davison said...

I believe this. I've heard this before. The question is, how does an entire country's culture tip into honest or corrupt? Trusting or deceitful? Because once it is in a place like Haiti, it seems almost impossible to break out.

Lifehiker said...

Many people in Haiti are desperate. I still cringe at some of the things I saw there; people should not have to bathe in filthy drainage ditches or pull heavy carts through potholed streets in their bare feet!

When things are this bad, some people start to believe that the only thing that counts is their own survival - "survival of the fittest" takes over. Corruption is a great survival mechanism.

thimscool said...

Hmmm. I think perhaps Dave meant that the Haitians should input their labor, as you suggested.

Set up a project to build a road, and include funding for wages for many Haitian laborers, for feeding them two meals a day, for proper work clothes, and for a sanitary place to wash up after work. Promote the clever ones. Cost of the project will double or triple, but it would achieve the real goal, which is to develop Haitian resources, rather than the superficial goal of making a road that doesn't dissolve in the next hurricane.

I think you are on the right track. When do you start? I'll donate.

Lifehiker said...

Well, for awhile all that will be done is food and water relief,clearing the streets, and distributing tents in the tent cities. It's going to be pretty ugly for awhile.

After that's over, it will be time to begin work on infrastructure. My guess is that whatever Haitian authorities are around will be working hard to profit from the construction in whatever way they can.

The alternative is for them to clear the decks and remove all impediments for other governments, NGO's, and Haitian construction companies to get started and do the infrastructure jobs at a fair cost.

Stay tuned. We'll know by summertime which way they go.