The problem of NGO credibility is especially onerous in Haiti. Sometimes called the “Republic of NGOs” (United States Institute of Peace 2008), with the single exception of India, Haiti is said to have more NGOs and charities per capita than any country on the planet (Clinton 2009).
NGOs first began arriving in Haiti after WWII but their presence significantly increased three decades later, in 1981, when USAID began bypassing what U.S. officials defined as an extremely corrupt Haitian government. Aid dollars were subsequently delivered directly to international NGOs. The principal European donors—Germany, Britain, and France—followed suit and, in the words of Robert Lawless (1992:), “Haiti soon became everybody's favorite basket case.”
But while individual NGOs have educated children, drilled wells, planted trees, and saved tens of thousands of lives through vaccination and clinic programs, they have accomplished little detectable change in the country as a whole. Haiti remains the most underdeveloped nation in the Western hemisphere and over the past three decades, precisely when NGO activity flourished, it has sunk further into abysmal poverty.
One reason for this failure is arguably the lack of transparency, feedback, accountability, and coordination discussed in the Part 1 of this blog. The NGO sector in Haiti is best described as an uncoordinated mass of organizations de facto unaccountable to any governing or regulatory institution, i.e. no accountants, no auditors, no reviews, and no publication of poor or dishonest performance.
It is not because no one ever tried to impose order on what Robert Maguire (1981:14) calls, "a wave of development madness." In 1981, the same year the U.S. decided to redirect aid to the NGO sector, USAID financed the creation of an NGO umbrella organization called HAVA (Haitian Association of Voluntary Agencies). But instead of helping, HAVA itself is a prime example of the need for accountability.
The HAVA story begins in 1981 with its charted raison d'etre, “an organism of coordination to sustain and reinforce the activities of NGOs working in Haiti” (see Mathurin 2008).
With a 24 year old French director at the helm, it’s first task was to create a data base of NGOs working in Haiti.
In 1985-- after a full five years of effort, and financing-- the only thing HAVA had to show for itself was being 'on the verge' of inscribing on microfiche the data for 100 member NGOs (Fass 1990).
In that same year, 1985, the organization won its first Inter-American Foundation (IAF) contract. But it was a contract, not to 'coordinate, sustain and reinforce the activities of NGOs working in Haiti,' but rather for the provision of training, microcredit and legal services to the poor.
Over the next 10 years HAVA was given at least $1,149,353 of IAF funds. and perhaps money from other sources as well--no one really knows because, bolstering the point of this article, there is no place to find out.
Meanwhile, in 1989, a point in time when most estimates of NGOs in Haiti there in the 1,000’s, HAVA still had less than 100 members on its list of NGOs.
In year 2000, an IAF investigator reported to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that HAVA “only existed on paper”--no word on what happened to the microfiche.[i]
The story does not end there.
In 2004, with HAVA still listed on the internet as a viable entity, a new United Nations funded NGO umbrella organization was chartered. Le Cadre de Liaison Inter-ONG. CLIO, as it is called, was created to act as "an organism of coordination to sustain and reinforce the activities of NGOs working in Haiti." With the same charter as HAVA, it also had for its president the same French national, now 47 years old, as its director (Mathurin 2008:13).
Perhaps not a surprise, CLIO has done little to nothing to make the NGO sector more accountable. After five years its membership has declined. Out of the thousands of NGOs in Haiti, it currently has 26 members. In 2008 Concern Worldwide gave CLIO the money to conduct a study to try to figure out why. What it discovered was that most NGO directors did not even know that CLIO exists.[ii]
The failure of both HAVA and CLIO can be attributed to a lack of accountability on two fronts. First, HAVA itself was never held accountable for not following up on the creation of an NGO data base. The failure in this regard was such that 28 years after HAVA was charted and 5 years after CLIO was founded, the same director/president was still at the helm of both organizations. Second, similar to overall failing of NGO accountability initiatives seen in the previous section, HAVA and CLIO forsook “short-term functional accountability,” focused instead on “long-term strategic accountability” and, in the process, the organization depended on the third ingredient for failure: the disposition of NGOs to self-regualte and self-evaluate. (Mathurin 2008).
Today, despite the claims cited earlier, the fact is that no one really knows how many NGOs and charities are in Haiti, much less how many are honest and efficiently engaged in helping the poor. Depending on the source, there could be 3,000 (United States Institute of Peace 2008) or there could be as many as 20,000 CIIR (2004).
Indeed, the entire issue of how many NGOs are in Haiti highlights the confusion over what NGOs are really up to and the lack of accountability. Bill Clinton (2009), for example, cited the World Bank for a figure of 10,000 NGOs in Haiti. At about the same time, Jean-Max Bellerive, Haitian Minister of Planning, reported that that only 400 NGO’s are registered with the government but estimated that there are as many as 3,000; CIIR (2004) claims there are from 10-20,0000.[iii]
In short, how many NGOs are operating in Haiti?
How many of these NGOs are credible and how efficient are they?
An even greater mystery.
My own research on this matter suggests that at least 90% are rife with corruption, functionally inert, or give money intended for the poor to people who do not need it (Schwartz 2008).
But the point is not that corruption and inefficiency exist. The point is that the responsible NGO community can do something about it. But as of yet, no one has taken the first step, focused on “functional accountability,” and simply counted the NGOs in Haiti, verified those that do indeed exist in the field as well as in the contribution box, and rated and accredited them on basic parameters of transparency and efficiency. We can do better than that.
To quote Jean-Max Bellerive, Haiti's Prime Minister and acting Minister of Planning,
“Surely we need money, but we need better money….We don't have any problems with the NGOs, but I've always said we need to know what they are doing and with what money and where.''
[i] The full excerpt from the IAF report (2000) follows,
In response to my request to meet with past Inter-American Foundation grantees to access the sustainability of their projects in the absence of Foundation funding, a meeting with Philippe Becoulet was arranged. Mr. Becoulet is a former board member of the Haitian Association of Voluntary Agencies (HAVA) and is currently Director of the Intermediate Technology Group of Haiti.
HAVA, which was an umbrella organization of Haitian non-government organizations, carried out a variety of projects for the Inter-American Foundation, including the provision of legal
services for poor Haitians, the operation of a credit fund, and the management of a training program. HAVA received at least $1,149,353 from the Inter-American Foundation between 1985 and
Rather than discuss HAVA's past and current programs, Mr. Becoulet told me why he thought the Inter-American Foundation and funding agencies like it are important, and lamented various problems currently confronting the Foundation.
According to the Inter-American Foundation representative in Haiti, HAVA only exists on paper and it is not carrying out any projects. HAVA is an example of an unsustainable program supported by the Inter-American Foundation, that, after
receiving an enormous amount of money (by both Haitian and Inter-American Foundation standards), ceased to exist once Inter-American Foundation funding ended.
[ii] Another coordinating agency organization, HACC, came into being under the U.S./U.N. occupation forces of 1994: “HACC’s purpose, as part of the larger CMOC, was to act as a liaison with the international organizations, such as the UN Deputy for Peacekeeping Operations, USAID, OFDA, as well as the NGO community. Working along with the HACC, the OFDA/DART. (see
[iii] Their source, the World Bank (1998), gives a significantly different summation of the numbers: specifically, "FAO reports that the most reliable estimates concerning the number of NGOs in Haiti put them at 800. Some advance the figure of 2000. The number of NGOs registered with the Ministry of Planning is 170 (FAO, Vol. 1, 1995).”