Haiti Reconstruction: Two cheers (and one big boo) for Paul Collier’s plan

Oxford economics professor Paul Collier is the policy entrepreneur’s policy entrepreneur. The Paul Colierman who coined the phrase ‘bottom billion’ has an unparalleled ability to reach decision makers with cogent, timely and well written arguments. Paul has a long-standing connection with Haiti – he was previously Ban Ki-Moon’s special adviser on the country, (read his January 2009 paper for the UN Secretary General here), so unlike some other commentators he didn’t have to find it on a map when the earthquake hit. On Monday, he set out his stall on Haitian reconstruction in the Financial Times, calling for ‘three essentials – a realistic economic strategy, sufficient money, and effective and dedicated management’. The first two make a lot of sense, but I find the third very worrying indeed.

The two cheers are that Haiti presented a comprehensive cooperation strategy to aid donors in April 2009 (French original here), much of which still makes sense. The UN’s ad hoc advisory group on Haiti produced its own proposals in June 2009. Collier stresses that starting from those, rather than going back to the drawing board, would save months, ensure the plans are properly thought through and recognize the hard work of the many Haitians who helped draw them up. Secondly, find the money – several billion dollars – for both the strategy and the cost of reconstruction. (and make sure there is money for both – far too much of the funds in an emergency are tied to spending in the first months or couple of years, leaving future reconstruction starved of cash).

But his ‘third essential’ worries me and is worth quoting in full:

‘Effective and dedicated management is the most difficult. In the past within Haiti the interests of corruption have postured as the protection of sovereignty, while internationally, every actor has offered to co-ordinate, yet none has wanted to be co-ordinated. What is needed is to pool money into a single “Haiti Fund” that can be used for development. Both the Haitian government and the international community need temporarily to vest authority, both for spending money and for the swift construction of housing, hospitals, ports and power stations, in a single entity, probably co-led by a respected Haitian and a world figure.’

This strikes me as a dangerously technocratic vision, which runs the risk of equating development with management, politics with corruption, and benign leadership with outsiders. It is not a neutral suggestion – it is intrinsically a political project. If you create a parallel authority, it will acquire its own staff, budgets, contractors and identity. Inevitably, it will resist being wound down and power being handed back to the Haitian state. As with Paul’s blueprint for Independent Service Authorities, which he proposed for Haiti in his January 2009 paper, the lack of a clear exit strategy is truly alarming. Worst case is that you set up something you don’t know how to get rid of, and talent, funds and power is drained from the Haitian state indefinitely. Yet we know that development requires an effective and accountable state – technocratic short cuts invariably go sour.

Rebuild the institutions (the buildings can wait)
Rebuild the institutions (the buildings can wait)

Not only that, but parts of the Haitian state are actually intact and already working well – the ministry in charge of water is effectively coordinating the response on water and sanitation (where Oxfam’s response is concentrated), convening meetings, allocating tasks etc, prompting one Oxfam staffer to describe it as the best-organised effort he has ever witnessed in an emergency. Rather than bypass the government, why not do a needs assessment, ministry by ministry, and provide cash and French-speaking secondments (Canada and France surely have some spare civil servants!) for rebuilding the capacity of each, preferably well beyond pre-earthquake levels?

Secondly, one source of organization and power that has already proved its worth in the relief effort, Haitian civil society, is largely absent from this scheme (and from Paul’s January 2009 paper). Haiti needs to rebuild society from the ruins and take the opportunity to “build back better”, addressing Haiti’s historic injustices. Many grassroots Haitian organizations are hard at work doing just that, and have been for years – they need to be at the heart of the reconstruction effort.

The Economist last week picked up Collier’s idea: ‘Given the local vacuum of power, this is the best idea around. The authority should be set up under the auspices of the UN or of an ad hoc group (the United States, Canada, the European Union and Brazil, for example). It should be led by a suitable outsider (Bill Clinton, who is the UN’s special envoy for Haiti, would be ideal, perhaps to be followed by Brazil’s Lula after he steps down as president in a year’s time) and a prominent Haitian, such as the prime minister. To provide services, it should work with aid groups.’ Again, no politics, no exit strategy, no voice for Haitian civil society. This is not Bosnia or Afghanistan—Haiti suffered a major disaster but it is not a country at war. This isn’t a conflicted nation where people can’t find sufficient consensus to lead their nation forward. And there are thousands of Haitians with the talent, experience and education to manage the task of reconstruction. Why would they need Bill Clinton to run the show?

Such proposals are often a sincere effort to respond to the urgency and suffering in Haiti, but the ‘just do something’ mentality can lead to big mistakes which we will rue in years to come. The effort to rebuild a Haitian state that is both more effective and accountable than its predecessors has to be led by Haitians themselves. It will be messy, slow, political and difficult, but bypassing the state altogether is not the answer.

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Comments

9 Responses to “Haiti Reconstruction: Two cheers (and one big boo) for Paul Collier’s plan”
  1. Tom Grey

    Effective management is needed — and should be rewarded immediately when it appears.
    Those donors with cash should be evaluating all local organizations for their aims, and the immediate post disaster progress towards their own aims.
    Those orgs which have done the most so far, should get the most cash now as emergency grants, and possibly more.
    Fast weekly and monthly rewards for actual performance, would most quickly translate into better performance fast.

    Great two cheers, and right on with the boo against the Central Coordinator (to whom all must bow).

  2. Why is a reasonable economic plan immediately labelled “right wing”? Is that because left wing plans are invariable created without consulting any economists on the viability of the plan? Is that why so many left wing plans end up bankrupt?

    Any why does the Shock Doctrin only apply to right wing economic reforms? Wouldn’t it also apply to left wing economic reforms such as are being carried out in America (when the unions get bailed out … THAT is a left wing economic reform.)

  3. Duncan

    Hang on a minute Russell, no-one’s used the term ‘right wing’ and I don’t think it is either a useful or accurate description of Collier’s work. Not sure crude left/right distinctions are terribly helpful on this one, but you seem to be the only one making them!

  4. Sheila

    This was an interesting article. I have been working in Haiti for approx. 10 years much between one of PAP “slums” and a small village about fifty miles north. Agree that the “effective management” can be interpreted many ways. Have witnessed the political corruption/obstruction that has kept the status quo going but also very much agree that you cannot rebuild Haiti withou Haitian leaders. It will be messy but those who truly want to see progress for the Haitian people must be ready for this and not shrink from honest and frank discussion between all invested groups.

  5. Lopp

    It is interesting to me to see how foreigners see Haiti. It is clear that they want to help, and would like to see the country out of its terrible misery. But, the fact is they do not seem to have a bit of idea how corrupt government workers are over there. They need to forget everything that they heard, read or witnessed anywhere else; and whatever they may be, they need to multiply them by 100 to come close to the corruption level in Haiti. In order for any effort to be made, the international community needs to understand this, NO MONEY ASSOCIATED WITH THE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE COUNTRY SHOULD BE CHANNELED TO GOVERNMENT WORKERS OF ANY LEVEL. It is understandable that The Haitian government’s participation is important; but, only their ideas. Any money or anything of monetary value would go right in their pockets. That is guaranteed one hundred percent. Corruption is the norm; no one can last a week as a government worker without embracing the status quo. I know, because I have had family and friends that worked at pretty much all government organizations. They are all the same. While I have family members in Haiti, I do not speak with those that worked for the government, therefore, are not allowed to step foot in my home in Florida. I am begging, please help me on this, the people of Haiti deserve better. I was born and raised in Haiti; I left the country in 1994 to Florida. I have no intention to return to Haiti to live. But, I would like to see the country change to a better place for its people, and the only way that can happen is with little or no involvement of its government.

    It will take several generations of good governance in Haiti, under the international community, before power can be handed to the locals. Bill Clinton is vital for the Haiti’s future. In fact, he is Haiti’s only post recovery hope. Please, no money to the Haitian government.

  6. Chris L

    I work for an international organization on Liberia. There are some useful lessons here for Haiti.

    The multi-donor GEMAP project (Governance and Economic Management Project) that started in 2005 and is due to wind up in June 2010 aimed to strengthen about 10 key institutions (Treasury, Central Bank, Port, Oil Company etc)with a combination of technical assistance/ institution building and a resident advisor that advised on policy (with no executive authority) and in most cases had counter-signing authority on expenditure. Not a policy role but a check to ensure that basic financial procedures and rules are followed.
    The arrangements were tailored for each institution according to its circumstances, with a clear exit strategy defined at the outset.
    This arrangement won’t work unless the recipient country buys into it, but in the case of Liberia it mostly did work, and mostly it was strongly supported as a necessary step to getting a handle on governance issues.

  7. I am equally skeptic about “big plans” needing outside management.

    The whole public view of Haiti up to know is extremely one sided Haitians are or victims, helped by our heroes, or savages ready to attack and plunder to get some food.
    Next to nothing on the work Haitians have been doing from day one.
    In this context, I can understand the political pressure to establish a semi-permanent external authority. I have doubts however, whether it is the right way to go.

  8. Rob Fuller

    In fact, there already was a technocratic UN-appointed government running Haiti, from 2004 to 2006. That government didn’t exactly distinguish itself with achievement: infrastructure continued to deteriorate, and the national elections it organised were delayed by more than a year. The UN mission MINUSTAH was universally known at the time as “TOURISTAH”. But perhaps with all the international attention, technical support and funding which the earthquake has generated, things would be different this time.

    The current Haitian government is, if not popular, at least democratically-elected and can be held accountable to its people. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, it did appear that the government was struggling to cope – or even to react at all. If the government has since been able to retake the reigns and has the capacity at least to coordinate the aid and reconstruction effort over the coming years, then I suspect most outsiders would agree that’s for the best.

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