This post is written by Daniel Altman
Who will determine Haiti’s future? Probably not the Haitians. With aid groups enlarging their presence on the ground and foreign governments exercising control through their wallets, Haiti’s future may be out of the hands of the Haitians for years to come.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the recently convened Interim Committee for the Reconstruction of Haiti (CIRH), which will set the nation’s priorities during an 18-month state of emergency. The committee has more seats for foreigners than for Haitians, and voting power is determined in part by amounts of aid money committed. Donors offering more than $100 million have their own votes; those offering less must share one vote. Non-governmental organizations operating in Haiti share one seat on the committee but don’t have any voting power.
The World Bank will dole out the donors’ money at the instruction of the CIRH, but it is not alone in holding the purse strings. Haiti has also accepted a loan of over $100 million from the International Monetary Fund, which includes lengthy conditions and benchmarks for Haiti’s economic policy. Meanwhile, the United Nations Development Program is poised to become the country’s biggest employer through its Cash-for-Work project, and UNICEF is moving forward with a long-term plan to build a national education system.
How did this happen? After the earthquake, with its people in desperate need, Haiti’s government was ripe for coercion. Donors could set their own terms, and the government was not in a position to negotiate, even if it wanted to. Three months later, this continues to be true. Haiti’s president, René Preval, can in theory veto the CIRH’s decisions, but doing so might mean the freezing or loss of hundreds of millions of dollars. And now his backers in the Haitian senate want to extend the 18-month state of emergency – and thus the CIRH’s mandate – to solidify their own grip on what’s left of political power.
“I believe everybody agrees this conference is a unique occasion to try to rebuild the Haitian economy,” said Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, at the international donors conference for Haiti last month. You could be forgiven for thinking that Strauss-Kahn considered the earthquake a blessing. Yet he may have been echoing the views of many people in the aid community; finally, he seemed to say, we can go into this country with a free hand and do the things that we’ve wanted to do for a long, long time.
Daniel Altman is president of North Yard Economics, a not-for-profit consulting firm serving developing countries. He is the author of three books, most recently Power in Numbers: UNITAID, Innovative Financing, and the Quest for Massive Good (with Philippe Douste-Blazy), and teaches as an adjunct at the Stern School of Business.