Transparency International targets graft in Haiti aid and beyond

by Katherine Baldwin | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 6 July 2010 14:24 GMT

LONDON (TrustLaw) - Global anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) is working on setting up an aid monitoring project for Haiti to prevent corruption in the massive relief and reconstruction effort following January’s devastating earthquake.

The project, which will focus on monitoring the implementation of aid programmes on the ground to prevent resources being diverted, could be up and running in the last quarter of 2010, provided TI secures funding, the organisation said.

"Just as in the (Asian) tsunami, there's a huge amount of resources going in and it's really important that someone is keeping an eye on it," said Roslyn Hees, a senior TI adviser.

TI feels such a project is vital given Haiti’s history of graft, the desperate state of its population after the Jan. 12 earthquake and the logistical problems of the relief and reconstruction effort. Although the government had taken some measures to combat corruption prior to the disaster, the post-earthquake situation considerably increases the risks of corruption.

"It's what I'd call a ‘perfect storm’ for high corruption risk: you have a seriously damaged institutional infrastructure, a country with endemic corruption, a fragile state in the best of circumstances and sudden influxes of huge amounts of resources to a highly vulnerable population," Hees told AlertNet from Geneva. 

The 7.0 quake killed up to 300,000 people in the Caribbean country, government officials say, and some 1.5 million Haitians are still living in makeshift tent cities, exposed to the Atlantic hurricane season.

In April, countries, multilateral institutions and non-governmental organisations from around the world pledged nearly $10 billion for Haiti's reconstruction effort for the next three years and beyond, of which $5.3 billion was promised for the next two years alone.

TI has been offered a small grant from ECHO to start up the project but is still seeking match funding in order to be able to launch. Given that many donors have yet to deliver on the aid they pledged and the full reconstruction project will take several years, Hees believes the project will be useful even if it does not get underway until later in the year.

The project would complement financial tracking that is already planned by the donor community and would work alongside the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, Hees said. The commission was recently launched and is jointly headed by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.

“We would not be investigating reported cases of corruption but endeavouring to detect patterns of corruption risk in order to recommend policies and practices that could prevent corrupt diversion occurring,” Hees added.

"Obviously we're not going to monitor the entire aid effort. We'd have to be working with the major donors to do sampling," she said.

Last year, TI ranked Haiti 168th out of 180 nations in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index and Haitians have already expressed concern about aid not reaching the people who really need it.

PRACTICAL TOOL

TI believes lessons can and should be learnt from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, when huge amounts of money were raised for the affected countries but not all the funds reached those in need or were put to good effect.

Prompted by the tsunami experience, TI earlier this year published a handbook to help aid agencies combat practices that stop help from reaching the needy.

Hees co-authored the handbook, called "Preventing Corruption in Humanitarian Operations".

"The objective is to give aid agencies a very practical, hands-on tool," Marie-Luise Ahlendorf, formerly of TI and co-author of the handbook, told AlertNet. "It's a compilation of good practices and tools to help agency staff both at headquarters and field level prevent corruption in their operations."

Hees acknowledged that anti-corruption practices may not be the first priority in the immediate aftermath of a disaster the scale of Haiti when lives are genuinely at stake, but that they are vital in later stages.

"Once you move from that immediate stage of extreme danger into what I would call the recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction stages, it's worth taking the time to set robust systems up and implement them properly," she added.

Corruption in the humanitarian sector can cost lives or worsen the living conditions of the very people the aid is designed to help if vital supplies fail to reach victims on time or in the necessary quantity.

Sometimes money raised is not spent on relief but goes into the pockets of local officials, community leaders or armed groups. Other times, goods and services are correctly procured and taken to the relevant sites but then they are given to the wrong people, said Hees.

Aid can also be misused, as was seen amongst West African refugees in 2001, who were forced to give sexual favours in return for relief - one of the case studies in the handbook.

In Aceh, following the 2004 tsunami, thousands of families were left without homes after contractors employed by Save The Children built houses without foundations.

The discovery prompted Save The Children to overhaul its construction policy and to root out corruption, the handbook said.

The handbook was compiled with the help of seven humanitarian organisations as well as researchers and took some four years to put together.

Despite all the research that went into it, however, TI has no way of knowing how endemic corruption is in the global relief effort, Hees said. It will also be difficult, therefore, to know how successful the handbook has been in preventing it.

But TI hopes aid agencies can use the handbook to strengthen their own existing anti-corruption structures and that they will also add to it as new information arises.

 Here are some of key recommendations in the handbook:

 * Bring the discussion of corruption into the open, break the taboo around it that inhibits people from taking action such as whistle-blowing.

 * Understand what corruption is in different cultural contexts.

 * Note that corruption is not only confined to financial mismanagement and fraud. Nepotism, cronyism, sexual exploitation and the diversion of aid resources to non-target groups are also corrupt practices.

* Integrate the identification of corruption risks into emergency preparedness. Build it into inductions and staff training.

* Ensure there is group decision-making and careful vetting when selecting humanitarian staff, partners and suppliers.

* Use civil society organisations such as TI national chapters to help with independent monitoring and evaluation.

* Share information among humanitarian organisations on anti-corruption practices systematically and address the problem jointly.

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