Lince Semerzier - Nos voix Magazine Contributor
For the past thirty years, Haiti has been portrayed by the international community and the main stream media as “the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere,” crippled by years of political instability, insecurity and the 2010 earthquake (followed by a cholera epidemic). But through it all, faith, hope and resiliency are the daily surviving tools that the people have on their side while watching the country becoming a financial boom for the international nongovernmental organization (NGO) industry and the top 1% wealthy continue to blossom faster than ever.
As we have been viewing with the Occupied Wall Street movement how people campaigned all over major financial hubs around the U.S. living in tents , demanding accountability, fair share and equality from those large corporations and banks. For decades, our Haitian brothers and sisters in Haiti and the Diaspora shared the same sentiment and have been tirelessly advocating for the same things.
Last week allegations of misappropriated use of funds of Wyclef Jean’s charity Yele Haiti by the New York Post, marked another disappointment for many Haitian-Americans who view him as a positive role model and trusted figure in the community. Yele raised $16 million in 2010 to help earthquake victims, however only $5.1 million went to emergency relief efforts including food and water, according to records obtained by the New York Post. More than $1 million went to Amisphere Farm Labor Inc. a company that technically does not exist. Another company called P&A Construction owned by Jean’s brother in law Warnel Pierre received $353,983 according to the same report. While no major project plans have been made public by the organization regarding the remaining $10 million, Jean remains convinced and proud of his foundation’s work. As a 2015 Haiti Presidential contender, how will he be able to manage the country if he cannot even manage his own foundation!
The Wyclef allegation is not only damaging to his organization and reputation but also the Haitian community as a whole. It will be harder than ever for other grassroots Haitian-American foundations and organizations to continue gaining the trust of the Haitian Diaspora and other international foundations. Nevertheless, all the other international NGO’s serving in Haiti should all be held with the same standard and be exposed as well. According to the latest financial report by the American Red Cross, the agency received $484 million for the Haiti earthquake relief donation; however they only $331 million was spent on relief and recovery efforts. $153 million is still unaccounted for and no information has been given on how the agency plans to spend it or whatever happened to it. Let us not get blindsided by the Wyclef flavor of the week story while no one is pointing fingers at the Red Cross or the other International NGO’s collecting millions in the name of Haiti.
The Clinton Bush Foundation received $54 million in donations as of October 18, 2011. They continue to receive donations from generous Americans who want to help Haiti get on a sustainable path to recovery. About $35 million has been given toward job creation and development projects toward the recovery effort according to the agency documents. No details have been given regarding the remaining $19 million.
Last year right after the earthquake, NGO workers who were in Haiti prior to the quake received an average of $12,000 each to cover their losses, while their Haitian counterparts and colleagues received just $2,000. The average minimum annual salary of a white NGO worker working in Haiti is about $37,000 plus benefits, meanwhile qualified Haitian-Americans are not given a fair opportunity to interview for these positions nor offered the opportunity to work and help their homeland and their people. In Boston, Massachusetts, organizations such as Partners In Health that are seeing by many individuals who are not familiar with Haiti or other local Haitian organizations as the trusted “savior or the great white hope’’ of Haiti because of Paul Famer. As a result, they have been given a free pass by the main stream local media regarding accountability of the millions they received last year for earthquake relief victims. All across the Partners Health Care (the affiliate parent organization of Partners In Health) network hospital facilities, qualified Haitian-American nurses and other medical professionals have not been given fair volunteering opportunities to go to Haiti in comparison to their less qualified white colleagues who knows nothing about the country, culture, language.
We can all agree that Haiti is the Caribbean capital headquarters of the NGO industry. With more than $1billion of aid money annually, every international nonprofit organization is fighting for territory and their piece of the pie. While the intent is to help the people who are in desperate needs; it is only fair to say that most of these NGO’s are motivated by the financial opportunity because they do not have to be accountable to the Haitian people due to the Haitian government inefficient regulatory measure to control these NGOs. In the eyes of the international community, the Haitian government has been viewed as corrupted and incompetent. As a result, these NGOs have been given multimillion dollar contracts to do humanitarian work with no accountability attached which leads to the development of this industry.
If the Haitian government was really doing its job, Haiti would never become the “financial fat cow” it has become today for these NGOs and the Haitian Diaspora would not need to be the financial backbone of the country. In his first visit to the U.S Diaspora community (Miami) last week the Minister of Diaspora, Daniel Supplice said “the Haitian government is proud of you, we thank you for sending money to Haiti to help children go to school, pay mortgage, buy food, medication, the government thanks you for all your support to Haitian people but we want more from you, more of your experience and commitment to help developing Haiti”. While the Diaspora only have limited part of the political voting process, the Haitian government depends on the $3billion they send to Haiti annually.
That’s why within weeks after taking office, the Martelly Administration decided to impose an illegal Diaspora tax for his newly created National Fund for Education (FNE) on the back of the hard working men and woman who send money to their love ones and purchase phone cards on a daily basis to call them. Some may agree with this strategic proposal as a way to pay for his free school for all campaign promised. However, majority of people in the Diaspora receive it as a great insult.
Pressured by some influential members of the Haitian and non Martelly’s supporters, the Haitian legislatives are currently investigating the $26 million that went missing from the National Fund for Education, the Bank of the Republic of Haiti (BRH) reported only $2 million in the fund’s account with no withdrawals on its record, according to the article published by the Le Matin News paper. The money for the FNE comes from a $1.50 tax levied on money transfers to Haiti and an additional $0.05 per minute on all calls made to, within and out of Haiti. No explanation can yet be given by the administration as of what happens with this money while we in the Diaspora not only continue to serve as a social bank of the government to financially support its citizens.
With the continuation of financial promise by the international community to help assist Haiti catch up with the rest of the world. I applaud the effort of President Martelly with his aggressive plan to create 500,000 jobs for the next three years and former President Bill Clinton reaching out to the international business community to bring investment to Haiti. As a result, the Haitian government organized two-day forum on investment in Haiti, which was attended by hundreds of foreign businessmen and potential investors to Haiti last month. The estimated cost of the event was $500,000 to carrying out the forum the money was provided by South Korea.
Because of that meeting, the World Bank approved a $225 million package plan for Haiti. The money will go toward housing 22,500 people, many of whom have been living in the hundreds of tent camps that sprang up after the quake. It will also help spruce up parks and repair roads in neighborhoods that are home for 75,000 people, pay for school tuition for 100,000, train 8,000 teachers and provide hot meals five days a week for 75,000 youngsters according to Defend Haiti.
In addition, The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) last week pledged to provide $1 billion to Haiti over the next five years. Following a September meeting between President Martelly and Vice President of the World Bank, Pamela Cox Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean, Axel van Trotsenburg Vice President of Finance, Dealers and Global Partnerships made the announcement that the World Bank committed $500 million to be disbursed over the next three years in areas of disaster response, education, boosting agricultural production, distribution of electricity and budget support for the Haitian government.
Given the lack of accountability history on the part of the Haitian government, community leaders and the international nongovernmental organization and businesses, it is time that we have a strong independent regulatory oversight agency that will consist of members of the diaspora and other individuals from grassroots groups guiding by the Haitian constitution to create a regulatory guidelines and mandates to help hold individuals, government, businesses and nonprofit organization accountable for their actions in Haiti. There is nothing wrong with having Haiti as a “fat financial cow” as long as there is enough milk and meat to feed the whole country and NOT just the 1% or those NGOs.
Change does not come by only talking about the problem, the real change requires courage and action. Character is your passport and integrity is your visa. Your talent, position, money, connections can take you anywhere; however you will always be judged by your integrity and character. Accountability and transparency is a universal language, whether you are an individual, business, organization, government, it is time to start adding it in our vocabulary when it comes to Haiti.
Lince Semerzier -Nosvoix Magazine Contributor