Monday, April 5, 2010

Haiti: Rewired

The donor conference is over and the figures are in: Nearly 50 countries have pledged $9.9 billion to Haiti for the rebuilding effort. As Secretary Clinton has said, "that is an impressive sum by any standard." Indeed, this is an impressive sum, and it far exceeds the $3.9 billion the Haitian government had sought. Not all of it will be disbursed immediately, but nearly $5 billion will be made available to Haiti in the next 18 months. Problem solved?

Most experts in development circles recognize that such vast sums of money--if not properly managed--can create more problems than it solves for a country like Haiti. Corruption permeates much of Haitian society, and it would be a simple matter indeed for this money to get lost in the abyss. How are we to manage the process so that the money goes to its intended beneficiaries--Haiti's poor and neglected masses? There appears nearly uniform agreement that the Haitian government cannot manage the effort on its own. Based on its past track record, there is simply no reason to believe that it would properly manage the funds. But so far, the international community is not articulating a clear process for all stakeholders to have an input. In particular, the voices of Haitians themselves are absent. Without buy-in from Haitians who feel they have an ultimate stake in the outcome, there is no way for this process to be successful. It is time for us to learn from past mistakes. Haitians do not want to be passive observers in their own story. It is time for us to listen to their voices.

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