April 5, 2013

Much Haitian aid went to U.S. firms, report says

The report finds just 1 percent of U.S. aid after Haiti's quake went directly to Haitian companies.

The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A new report on American aid to Haiti in the wake of that country's devastating earthquake finds that much of the money went to U.S.-based companies and organizations.

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People use a pedestrian bridge at the entrance to Haiti’s main courthouse, which was renovated by Chemonics International Inc., a for-profit firm based in Washington, D.C.

The Associated Press

The Center for Economic and Policy Research analyzed the $1.15 billion pledged after the January 2010 quake and found that the "vast majority" of the money it could follow went straight to U.S. companies or organizations, more than half in the Washington area alone. Just 1 percent went directly to Haitian companies.

The report's authors said that a lack of transparency makes it hard to track all the money.

"It is possible to track who the primary recipients of USAID funds are, yet on what are these NGOs and contractors spending the money?" authors Jake Johnston and Alexander Main wrote. "What percent goes to overhead, to staff, vehicles, housing, etc.? What percent has actually been spent on the ground in Haiti?"

The group has been a critic of U.S. foreign policy in the past, accusing the United States of a top-down approach to aid that does little to alleviate poverty in impoverished Haiti.

The report finds that the biggest recipient of U.S. aid after the earthquake was Chemonics International Inc., a for-profit international development firm based in Washington, D.C., that has more than 4,800 employees.

Aside from the World Bank and United Nations, Chemonics is the single largest recipient of USAID funds worldwide, having received more than $680 million in fiscal year 2012 alone. In Haiti, Chemonics has received more than the next three largest recipients since 2010, a total of $196 million, or 17 percent of the total amount.

In Haiti, Chemonics' mandate has involved setting up a temporary structure for parliament, renovation of public plazas and repair of the country's main courthouse, as well as organizing televised debates for the 2011 presidential election.

Typically, major players such as Chemonics subcontract project work to smaller firms, some of them local.

USAID has awarded $27.8 million of the $1.15 billion to Haitian and Haitian-American firms since the quake, according to the agency's website.

The report said subcontract information should be made available and called for increasing direct contracts for Haitian entities.

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