By: Greg Higgins, Architect and Managing Director, HabiTek, LLC
The 750-unit Caracol EKAM housing development was the first foray by USAID into building houses in Haiti post-quake, and it may be their last. It appears USAID threw up their hands and arranged for the Inter-American Development Bank to take over the project. One year later, now just past the sixth anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake, I have yet to see new information on the scope of fixes to the project, or whether they achieved their goals.
This is an update for past and future readers of the Architectural Peer Review (APR) of Caracol EKAM found in Dispatch #1. Admittedly, it is belated. I delayed largely because I was hoping to report on the outcome of a reportedly ongoing investigation of the housing project by USAID’s Office of Inspector General. I first got wind of an investigation when I received a call from an OIG inspector in Port-au-Prince in August of 2014. The inspector, who would give only his first name, asked me how it was I knew so much about the project. I replied that, at the time, all I knew was what appeared in the original solicitation, which included construction documents. He also expressed gratitude for the APR, and said that it was helpful to the investigation. He repeatedly said that, since this is an ongoing investigation, he could not disclose anything. It is just conjecture, but it would appear OIG’s investigation has been squelched. I certainly hope I am proved wrong.
The APR described many deficiencies: in urban design, site planning, and construction detailing. It was written with the hope that it could impact developments for the better. Through Elise Young at Action Aid USA, I was able to get the document to a member of the Haitian Team inside the State Department. The reply was brief: “Thanks. I will share your review with my colleagues and superiors at the office.” This occurred 10 days after release of the APR, and around the time site work began at Caracol EKAM. Ever since, I have attempted to track EKAM’s progress. It has been just as painful to track progress over these years, as it was to write the APR with the expert help of others. No one, of course, can take any pleasure in the outcome. In doing your own research, don’t be misled by USAID puff pieces(aka press releases) that inevitably appear. The latest press release appeared last August. Note that USAID is still touting EKAM as “culturally appropriate,” and omits any mention of the problems outlined in the links below. This kind of misleading PR campaign begs the question: How are USAID’s other projects in Haiti doing?
- Thanks to the investigative work of the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), we learned that the two primary contractors involved in EKAM’s construction, CEEPCO and Thor Construction, were suspended. We have also learned that construction of Caracol EKAM was substandard based on a technical assessment prepared by the Army Corp of Engineers, in an important analysis of the EKAM fiasco.
- The Miami Herald’s in-depth report on EKAM, published in January of 2015, describes how costs tripled, and Tetra Tech, a very large inside the beltway contractor, was awarded $4.5 million, in a no-bid contract, to try to fix the problems created at Caracol EKAM.
- Accountability for the massive failures of this housing project goes way beyond the contractors involved. The mess began on USAID’s drawing board, and persisted through construction. In the future, USAID should undertake independent peer reviews on all projects of this nature.
The most succinct but comprehensive description of the EKAM saga was written by Jake Johnston, an investigative journalist at CEPR. Johnston refers to the APR as “downright prophetic”. While I appreciate the compliment, I’m certain we’d all rather be discussing real solutions to Haiti’s housing crisis, which is a major and ongoing humanitarian disaster. Tragically, thus far, I have yet to hear of any good news on the housing front that stands to make a dent in the massive need.
USAID must look beyond the beltway and their favored contractors for ideas on how to address Haiti’s crisis. And by outside, I would advocate for tapping the enormous talents and energy of Haitians themselves.