Home Disaster Preparedness Nouveau mode operatoire en Haiti (English version)

Nouveau mode operatoire en Haiti (English version)

Working with Haitians:
Nhe Need for a New Operational Approach
Aldy Castor, M.D., Haitian Resource Development Foundation 
www.hrdf.org - Copyright 2009

Everyone was frustrated by the slowly-moving outbound customs line at Port-au-Prince International Airport.  Suddenly, there was a commotion caused by two quite well-built individuals, with ensuing pushes, cries, insultsa, even police intervention.  Three hours later, the same travelers, passing through Miami International’s long customs line, were behaving like angels.  A friend later explained to me this dichotomist Haitian behavior: “If somebody explains Haiti to you and you understand it, his explanation is inaccurate”.


I-A.  Uncertainty Causes Socio-organizational Instability

In Haiti, from the highly-polished halls of the National Palace to the plainly-plastered walls of the country’s one hundred thirty-three communes [townships], the element of uncertainty can always be found near the center of relations.  It is indeed a toxic element, directly accountable for Haiti’s instability and socio-organizational dysfunction n. 

To those who are familiar, Haitian life is starkly uncertain, even at its core.  For example, Haiti is prone to earthquakes.  The whole population lives atop the fault lines of three massive rock plates that have been moving across the ocean floor for eons of years, taking everyone and everything with them.  Haitians are never certain when these plates will snap or crunch and cause the next earthquakes, nor how bad they will be.  While the eventuality is certain, the when and where are secret held far beneath the surface.

In a similar vein, but man-made, the Haitian economy is not its own.  There is a paralyzing trade deficit.  The markets for and availability of goods are generally unpredictable and set by outside forces.  What comes into the country is often undesirable, unaffordable, unreliable, uncontrollable, unrepairable and/or undisposable.  Even for charitable shipments, there is great uncertainty whether, when and at what cost in bribes their donated food, clothing, medicine, vehicles and supplies will be received, passed through customs and completely delivered.

In the context of governance, uncertainty is defined as the space corresponding to what could be called numerous “regulatory fault-lines” that imperil the attainment of officially-stated objectives – policy making, programming, implementation, verification and enforcement – about everything from decentralization, to building codes, to banking and investment transactions, to universal public education, to energy and judicial reform.  In practice, uncertainty provides areas, even chasms, where functionaries can conceal selfish objectives that may oppose or subvert official intent.  In turn, this lessens the predictability of governance – due process, accurate records, informed transactions, etc.

I-B.  Uncertainty in the “Imaginary” Plane

How it began is itself uncertain, but by now uncertainty in Haiti is culturally-embedded.  It is a system of social organization and transformation typified by disorder, inconsistency, illegibility and misunderstanding, and endless repetitions and combinations of these.  It ensnares the whole cast of characters – government, citizens, businesses, organizations, churches, professions, peacekeepers, visiting humanitarians and development specialists – and then permits them to introduce, practice and prolong uncertainty for their own benefit.  Eventually, everyone plays.  Personal interests are concealed or revealed as needed, and operates on several planes.

In Haiti the most fundamental plane of uncertainty is a system rooted in what could be called “the imaginary.”  This imaginary strengthens the characters’ appreciation of their freedom when faced with the rationalities, constraints and routines generated by the modern world.

An example is the Constitutional mandate for decentralized governance.  At every opportunity, the central government advocates the principle of decentralization without itself being centralized.  Basically, the central government that many Haitians refer to as “The Republic of Port-au-Prince” does not have the interest or organizational structure and capability to run the country as the Constitution requires.  Yet leaders profess, and citizens are led to believe, that decentralization exists, or soon will.  This is a perfect example of uncertainty in the imaginary plane.

The imaginary is also found at the level of administrative jurisdictions and the precise but non-relational representation structure.  Geographically, within the whole country there are “departments” that roughly correspond to states or provinces.  Within them are “arrondisements” that roughly correspond to counties.  Within them are “communes” that roughly correspond to townships, and within them are the smallest jurisdictions, “communal sections,” that roughly correspond to villages.

Article 17 of the Constitution prescribes the layers of representative legislature.  There is a national two-house Parlement comprised of Deputies from eighty-three designated electoral districts, and Senators from the nine geographically-determined departments.  Then there are several subsidiary bodies:

  • At the level of communal sections, there is a) an Administrative Council (CASEC) and a Communal Assembly (ASEC).  Both have daily contact among citizens throughout the countryside.  The central Government, however, barely recognizes communal sections and cannot imagine decentralizing to that scale.  So looking downward, the dysfunctional illusion is perpetuated.  Looking upward, the CASEC and ASEC and citizenry are not fooled but nonetheless continue to accede to the fiction.  This is sad because, for a small country no bigger than Maryland or New Hampshire, the sum total of communal sections actually could give Haitians the substance and identity that promotes their development and differentiation.
  • To complete the representational structure, there is a body of delegates from the cities (“villes”) and one from the various municipal councils (“conseils”).

Communes have the authority to tax, but rarely and insufficiently exercise this prerogative.  The majority of citizens, not themselves paying much in taxes to the communes, habitually call upon them for public services year after year, but knowing full well that the councils have little or no fiscal or human resources at their command.  Nor do they have practical control over the physical territory within their bounds.  So functionally, the councils are also imaginary entities, “virtual government.”

I-C.  The Impact of Uncertainty on Individuals

To those who find themselves on the receiving end of uncertainty, the experience is disorienting.  Eventually, because “nothing good ever seems to happen,” the eventual realization is of a mortal threat to life and limb.  At that point, one can only fight or flee.  When this is embedded (already embedded) in Haitian culture, there can be serious, violent repercussions.  Historically, Haitians grow up to see the world through a syncretic lens – “marronnage” [the country’s escape from slavery], denial and placing blame elsewhere.  This is a complex perception resulting from three centuries of colonial servitude followed by almost two centuries of home-grown, paternalistic tyranny and repression.  Over time, this popularized governance by discretionary favoritism and negligence.  It also whittled down the concept of “citizens” to nothing more than disempowered individuals concerned only for maintaining their own status in the thick of things.  From both ends of the civic spectrum, the political system became one of “every man for himself.”

1-D  The Geographical Impact of Uncertainty

Because of the considerable element of uncertainty in how it operates, and the consequent inability to form and conduct policy, the Central State and even the communes expose their assets – people, landmarks, water, soil, coasts, interior, agricultural and forest products – to appropriation by third parties.  These parties include private businesses inside and outside the country, nongovernmental organizations, churches, banks and foreign aid donors.  For example:

  • Large foreign aid donors typically establish or even dictate the terms of reference for Central State actions.  The current Poverty Reduction Strategy is largely a workproduct of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund adopted almost verbatim by the Government of Haiti.  The emphasis on narrow-purpose groundwater wells all over the country rather than multi-purpose aboveground catchment lakes for irrigation and municipal water supply has come primarily from overseas actors, not from popular debate and decision by Haitian citizens.
  • At the local level, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and churches frequently and freely “adopt” a town or community as their principal aid focus, pouring labor, money and supplies into them while ignoring the similar needs and potentials of adjacent communities even along the same road or in the same watershed.  Between France and Haiti, the so-called decentralized cooperation system offers certain but not all localities technical reinforcement, and between the United States and Haiti, the Sister Cities relationship, for example, is typically between highly-selected citizens associations.  These are essentially forms of development favoritism that uncertain governance allows to flourish.  The result is lumpy development across the country, exacerbating rather than smoothing differences and privileges from community to community.
  • Further, once rooted in a locality, NGOs, missionaries and others seem to be tempted to extend their development blessings across the country in a kind of manifest destiny or path-of-least-resistance process, going first where the government presence and function is absent or uncertain at best.  This has been experienced in the far western parts of the northern and southern peninsulas, the north west being physically closer to Cuba than to Port-au-Prince and the southern tip being likewise closer to Jamaica.  It is not meant here to broadly condemn the presence of foreign assistance actors, but to show how the element of uncertainty in governance can lead to extremely unbalanced relations, with eventual detriment to the populace, its culture, natural resources and self-determination.

1-E  Haiti’s Diaspora

Lastly, many in the Haitian Diaspora are moved by and dedicated to addressing Haiti’s plight, but largely as individuals or as small groups such as hometown associations that are good at thinking small rather than large, and formulating tasks rather than strategies.  As a result, their initiatives are largely “band-aids” rather than cures; the sum of these parts will never be equal to the whole.  Granted, periodic conferences and congresses have called for unified action.  But they have not demonstrated the necessary organizing and fundraising acumen to influence or resolve national policy (e.g. dual citizenship, fast-track investment procedures and judicial reform), or fields of concern (e.g. reforestation, eradication of disease, full literacy and repatriation of migrant workers).  Thus their resolutions are, in a sense, “unfunded (and undirected) mandates.”  There is not so much an absence of critical thinking and desire for action but an absence of capability and direction.  In particular, while there may be an emerging “voice of the Diaspora,” there is not a commensurate “voice of the villages” so that projects match development needs and priorities.  As a result, “A lot of money gets spent in Haiti, but little of it gets spent on Haiti.”


In a democracy, the role of the State is to maintain a balance between interests and incentives, ethics and opportunities.  And it is the job of the political powers that run the State to use that balance to regulate society’s institutions and economy for everyone’s benefit, not just for a privileged class.  The result of balance and regulation is “quality of governance.”  Elements of certainty in government posture, policies and procedures improve the quality of governance, while elements of uncertainty degrade governance.  As described above, the pervasive presence and practice of uncertainty by members of the Haitian State have considerably degraded the quality of governance.  This needs to be faced, remedied and the balance restored.

For many reasons, it is recommended that Haitians begin to address this at the local levels – communes and communal sections.  The hypothesis is that the fewer uncertainties of governance that exist at the local territorial level and the more organized and widespread this certainty of governance become, the more the Central State will become obligated to certainty as a way to strengthen its sovereign powers.  In this strategy, therefore, a return to quality governance nationally rests in grassroots initiative.

II-A  The New Approach

II-A-1  New management prospects
  • First stage – Determine a representative sample of communes and communal sections to constitute a diversified panel from which other communes can be spun off, based on a modelling of practices. This model of developing innovation around “clusters of innovators,” refers back to Schumpeter’s theory of destruction and creation of value.  This might serve as a basis for the constant creation of freshly added-value.
  • Second stage – Conduct an audit within each commune to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses from the point of view of human resources and technical capability.
  • Third stage – From the conclusions of the audit, draw up an “institutional reinforcement plan.”  This stage is essential, since without such a plan there can be neither increase in skills nor the establishment of management procedures.

The institutional reinforcement plan will accordingly cover two aspects to be developed concomitantly. The first concerns the establishment of an “administrative temporality management.” The second deals with a training plan for the elected officials and the mayor office managerial staff.  Indeed, it is advisable to combine the training plan and the management procedures to avoid the protagonists getting out of step and possibly rejecting the arrangements being proposed.  The idea is to establish a “learning organization” approach within a virtuous circle.

As regards the “administrative temporality management” aspect, three dimensions must be kept in mind:

  • a)  Introducing memory management. The analogy is of a human suddenly struck with amnesia, losing their bearings and having great difficulty facing the future. The same is true of societies and civilisations that must be able to recover and organize their collective memory.  In Haiti, establishing an “archive management system” within the communes and communal sections is paramount.
  • b)  Introducing a process of management, decisions and deliberations so as to meet two criteria – motivation and the publication of proceedings.  As a side-effect, the democratic process will be noticeably strengthened.
  • c)  Introducing a project management system so that local officials and their staffs can look out several years, providing a view of future development.

Fourth stage – The local development plan.  It is critical that local authorities have (or regain) control of their future, with the ability to steer and coordinate the various players (NGOs, businesses, donors, etc.) operating in their territories (communes and communal sections).  The institutional reinforcement plan, described above, combines training for local officials in a new management setting.  Together, they make it possible to introduce and perfect a local development plan.  Remember, the problem is not the lack of initiative but the lack of coordination.

The development plan will cover all spheres of competence of a local government, such as welfare and education, local town planning, water, sewage, garbage collection, etc.  Forward-planning arrangements, say three successive five-year plans, might be devised. The development and implementation of the plans would need to be constantly reviewed and readjusted.  Plans made at the communal section and communal levels will point the way for departmental and whole-country planning.  Indeed, the combined goals and objectives of the local plans will be measured against and fitted into a  national plan prepared by the Central State.

II-B  The Implementing Operators

Development (and restoration) plans must eventually be implemented.  This requires willingness, know-how and resources, expressed through a contracting procedure.  Three categories of participants are imagined:

  • The first are the contracting local authorities, e.g. town councils, that will serve as contracting authorities.  As they are currently fragile (underfunded, understaffed, under-savvy), they could be supported by professional contracting deputies who will assist in preparing plans and specifications, issuing requests for proposals, evaluating bids, etc.  The International Cities Network for Haiti might be a good source of expertise for this.
  • The second are a certain number of prime contractors or project supervisors responsible for carrying out sets of projects according to the plans and specifications of communes and communal sections.
  • The third are the numerous potential subcontractors, Haitian and non-Haitian, who will compete for individual projects and work under the supervision of prime contractors.

The indispensable re-grading that must take place between the contracting authorities and the prime contractors means that they will be genuine practitioners, not theoreticians and management academics.

This paper is summarized from the December 10, 2009 presentation given to technical advisers of the United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti, former President Bill Clinton.  It was prepared by Aldy Castor, M.D., President of the Haitian Resource Development Foundation, by representatives of the City of Suresnes (France) including Deputy Mayor Jean-Louis Testud, and Territorial Administrator and Managing Director of Suresness Philippe François.

Background material for the theoretical framework of the document as presented:
  • Théorie de la forme (Theory of form) –
    Georg Simmel
  • Sociologie, étude des formes de la socialisation, P.U.F., 1999
  • (Sociology, study of forms of socialisation)
  • Sociologie des organisations (Sociology of organisations)
  • Théorie de l’acteur stratégique et système d’action concret (Theory of the strategic player) and (system of concrete action)
  • Michel Crozier et Erhard Friedberg
  • “L’Acteur et le système” (1972)
  • (The actor and the system)
  • Erhard Friedberg
  • Livre : “Le pouvoir et la règle” (1993)
  • (Book: The power and the rule)
  • 3er/ théorie de la régulation sociale (Theory of social regulation)
  • Jean-Daniel Reynaud, Les Règles du jeu : L’action collective et la régulation sociale, Armand Colin, Paris, 1997
  • (The rules of the game: Collective Action and Social regulation)

The Haitian Resource Development Foundation prioritizes programs that enable and empower various Haitian locales to further personal and collective independence. Engaging in a range of programs over 20 years, the HRDF continues a commitment to providing measurable results for program beneficiaries and program benefactors. Working with multiple international partners from North America and Europe, the HRDF is committed to fundamental improvements in Haitian villages to ensure greater economic vitality in the near future.