Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch

Haiti Election News Roundup - June 22

June 24, 2015 - 12:51

The following is cross-posted from the Haiti Elections Blog, which was created to help promote the free access to information and accountability within the electoral process. The blog is co-managed by several non-governmental organizations who work with and within Haiti. 

The Organization of American States (OAS) signed an accord with the Haitian government to send international observers to monitor elections in 2015. In 2010, the OAS election observation mission was considered highly controversial due to its role in certifying the presidential elections. Haitian Foreign Minister Lener Renauld believes this accord “reaffirms the determination of President Martelly . . . to support the electoral calendar,” and indicates the commitment of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to administer elections on schedule. Nevertheless, there has been considerable speculation and doubt over whether elections will be administered on time.

Presidential candidates Jacky Lumarque and Francois Levelt were disqualified by the CEP over the weekend. Lumarque, running under the VERITE party of former President René Préval, was disqualified for failing to have a décharge. Levelt, running under the Party for the Haitian Diaspora for Haiti, was disqualified after prior felony convictions came to light. Earlier in the week, a coalition of 17 political parties sent an open letter to the CEP urging for Lumarque’s disqualification due to his failure to secure a décharge, and calling on the CEP not to engage in double standards. Although CEP President Pierre Louis Opont previously stated that the presidential candidate list was final, he later said the CEP would continue to review the eligibility of presidential candidates.


The CEP put out an informational video on enhancing women’s political participation in the upcoming local elections. The one-minute video, currently broadcast on local television and radio, calls on political parties to include more female candidates and party representatives. The Haitian constitution and Electoral decree both mandate a 30% quota for women in public office, though the current rate of female representation is around 5%.


Former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe criticized the CEP for the unjustified exclusion of political candidates. On Wednesday, June 17, Lamothe issued a strongly worded statement alleging that the electoral process has been “forever tainted” by the CEP’s arbitrary exclusion of candidates. Although Lamothe was disqualified for the same reason as many other candidates, he has nevertheless called on the international community to “understand the kind of elections that will transpire in Haiti if nothing is done to restore my candidacy. It has allowed and even seemingly encouraged this process to unfold; it now should also play a role in redirecting the course before once again Haiti faces major political turmoil.”


USAID Says it Built Houses in Caracol to Earthquake Safety Standards. It Didn’t.

June 19, 2015 - 11:51

In February, USAID suspended Thor Construction, one of two contractors responsible for designing and building 750 houses in Haiti’s north, in Caracol. In March, the second contractor, CEEPCO, was also suspended. As previous HRRW reporting revealed, the houses were found to be of poor quality, with numerous structural deficiencies including the use of substandard concrete. USAID is currently investigating and putting together a potential legal case against the contractors; however, they continue to downplay the problems and their own role in them.

HRRW has obtained an internal assessment of the Caracol-EKAM housing development, performed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers last year. The report directly contradicts USAID’s public comments on the housing development.

On its website, USAID has a “fact sheet” on the project, explaining: “To address natural disaster concerns, the 750 houses are designed to International Building Code earthquake and hurricane safety standards, and constructed with reinforced concrete masonry.” The webpage says it was updated in February 2015, nearly a year after USAID first began investigating. There is no mention of any problems with the houses in the “fact sheet.”

Turning to the Army Corp of Engineers report, it makes clear that from the very beginning, International Building Codes were ignored. The report “found no evidence that a formal internal or external review” of the housing design was conducted and further, that “the project was designed with inconsistent application of code and latest design criteria,” despite the contract mandating compliance with the International Building Code. The lack of any oversight provided at this crucial early stage is a clear indictment of USAID’s own role in the project’s failure.


Summary of Findings from US Army Corp of Engineers Technical Assessment

USAID also maintains that the houses are built with “reinforced concrete masonry” and are built to hurricane and earthquake safety standards. Not so fast, says the Army Corp of Engineers: “The project was constructed with significant variances from the contract plans and specifications. These variances could result in major damage from a hurricane or seismic event and excessive maintenance requirements if left uncorrected.”

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Haiti Election News Round-Up

June 15, 2015 - 14:09

The following is cross-posted from the Haiti Elections Blog, which was created to help promote the free access to information and accountability within the electoral process. The blog is co-managed by several non-governmental organizations who work with and within Haiti. 

On Friday, the CEP published the final list of approved presidential candidates for the upcoming election scheduled to take place October 25, 2015. Of an initial 70 candidates, the CEP accepted 58. Among those excluded from the race was former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe as well as former government ministers Thierry Mayard Paul and Josefina Gauthier. Among the 12 excluded candidates, 9 were excluded for lacking the proper discharge certificate. Radio Kiskeya provides a brief biographical description of each of the 58 candidates, while Le Nouvelliste provides a description of what they describe as the 12 leading candidates. Both Le National and Le Nouvelliste discuss the potential for political alliances in the run-up to elections. Le National points out that the “Lavalas movement is well represented” by a number of candidates but risks splitting the vote if they do not reach some sort of alliance. 

The “Core Group” released a statement on Friday welcoming the CEP’s publication of the list of presidential candidates. The statement reads in part: “The publication of the list of presidential candidates constitutes an important step in the implementation of the electoral process. The ‘Core Group’ reiterates its full support to the work of the Council and the ongoing organization of elections. The Group invites all stakeholders to continue to participate constructively in the 2015 electoral process. The ‘Core Group’ salutes the efforts of the Government of the Republic towards the continued strengthening of democracy in Haiti. The members of the Core Group emphasize the importance of building on the current momentum and supporting the CEP, the Government and people of Haiti, including the political parties, in the conduct of fair, transparent and inclusive elections in a climate of serenity.”

Many political parties are still questioning the electoral schedule provided by the CEP, reports Alterpresse. Legislative elections scheduled for August 9, despite assurances from the CEP that they will be held on time, are being questioned by leaders of Fusion, OPL and MOPOD among others. Secretary General of Fusion, Ramon Pradel, told Alterpresse that, “we do not believe that the elections will take place on that date," due to logistical questions that have yet to be worked out. Fusion and OPL have 97 and 93 candidates in the legislative race respectively, while MOPOD has 23. A key issue has been a significant funding shortfall in the electoral budget, but U.S. Haiti Special Coordinator Tom Adams stated over the weekend that the U.S. would increase their financial contribution. Adams has previously publically expressed his opinion that the August election should be delayed and incorporated into the October 25 presidential election as a way to save money, a position which is supported by many political parties in Haiti.  

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USAID Failing to Ensure Sustainability of Programs in Haiti, Says GAO Report

June 4, 2015 - 13:15


Image of flooding at Caracol EKAM Shelter site from internal USAID document. Caption reads: “Site flooding due to improper drainage”

Despite USAID allocating some $1.7 billion for the reconstruction effort in Haiti, its projects have exhibited varying levels of success and face serious sustainability challenges, according to a report [PDF] released yesterday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO analyzed 23 USAID projects across all eight sectors of USAID’s portfolio. Each program was allocated at least $10 million. The GAO report found that because of delays, USAID has extended its Haiti strategy for three more years, through 2018.

According to USAID officials, the factors leading to cost overruns, delays and poor results were a “lack of staff with relevant expertise, unrealistic initial plans, challenges encountered with some implementing partners, and delayed or revised decisions from the Haitian government.”

The Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles reports:

The release of the report by the GAO, which works for Congress, came a day ahead of a visit to Haiti by U.S. congressional staffers from the House Foreign Affairs committee. Led by Eddy Acevedo, senior policy advisor to U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the delegation plans to visit some of the projects, including empty housing plots, where work stalled because the agencies that were supposed to build the homes on behalf of USAID pulled out.

The GAO report found that five of USAID’s six major infrastructure projects had to reduce planned outcomes and “encountered delays in 4 of these activities.” Non-infrastructure activities also faced delays and reduced outcomes, but to a lesser extent. The various delays have led USAID to extend its time frame for Haiti work by three years, through 2018.

Though results varied across sectors, the GAO report revealed that in the 17 non-infrastructure projects analyzed, not a single one met or exceeded all of its performance indicators. In the case of infrastructure projects, the results were even worse. The auditors report that during a site visit to the Caracol EKAM shelter program:

we observed unresolved concerns such as blocked drainage pipes and ditches that led to flooding in the settlement after heavy rains, and blocked and crushed sewage pipes. We also observed open water catchment tanks adjacent to some houses that had become breeding areas for mosquitoes.

The report notes that the original plan was to prepare 15,000 lots and build 4,000 homes, but that “The mission had reduced the planned number of plots to 2,013, or by 87 percent, with 906 of the houses to be built by USAID, a reduction of 77 percent.” Meanwhile, costs per house increased, for an original plan of $8,000, on average, to over $24,000 by September 2014. Unmentioned in the GAO report, however, is that the two contractors responsible for the program have been suspended from receiving further government contracts and are under a legal investigation for using shoddy materials and disregarding contractual obligations.

But above and beyond the missed timelines and reduced outcomes, perhaps the most damning part of the GAO report focuses on USAID policies around the sustainability of its projects.

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ProPublica and NPR Release Damning Exposé on Red Cross Projects in Haiti

June 3, 2015 - 08:12

(Updated June 4, 2015, 11:34 a.m. to include references to NPR's report.)

ProPublica’s Justin Elliott and NPR’s Laura Sullivan have published damning new exposés on the American Red Cross’ work in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake (ProPublica's here; NPR's here). The reporting not only validates much of the criticism previously leveled at the ARC for its questionable priorities, slow pace of spending and short list of accomplishments; it offers some stunning new revelations – some of them coming from internal ARC communications.

One of the clearest failures is embodied in the ProPublica article’s headline. While the ARC itself says that it spent 35 percent of its funds raised for Haiti on shelter, and that it “has helped 132,000 Haitians to live in safer conditions—ranging from providing temporary homes and rental subsidies to repaired and new homes,” it has, ProPublica and NPR report, delivered only six new, permanent houses.

The article begins:

In late 2011, the Red Cross launched a multimillion-dollar project to transform the desperately poor [neighborhood of Campeche], which was hit hard by the earthquake that struck Haiti the year before. The main focus of the program — called LAMIKA, an acronym in Creole for “A Better Life in My Neighborhood” — was building hundreds of permanent homes.

Today, not one home has been built. Many residents live in shacks made of rusty sheet metal, without access to drinkable water, electricity or basic sanitation. When it rains, their homes flood and residents bail out mud and water.

The Red Cross received an outpouring of donations after the quake, nearly half a billion dollars.

The group has publicly celebrated its work. But in fact, the Red Cross has repeatedly failed on the ground in Haiti. Confidential memos, emails from worried top officers, and accounts of a dozen frustrated and disappointed insiders show the charity has broken promises, squandered donations, and made dubious claims of success.

The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people. But the actual number of permanent homes the group has built in all of Haiti: six.

After the earthquake, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern unveiled ambitious plans to “develop brand-new communities.” None has ever been built.

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Differing Opinions on Changes to the Electoral Schedule

May 28, 2015 - 09:46

Last week, in a conversation with Haitian journalists in Washington, D.C., Thomas Adams, the Haiti special coordinator at the State Department, said the U.S. would be in favor of Haiti holding two elections this year instead of the planned three. The electoral timetable announced in March by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) called for the first round of legislative elections to be held August 9, followed by a first-round presidential election and second round of legislative elections on October 25. Finally, the second round of the presidential election and local elections would be held in late December.

In an interview this past weekend with Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald, Adams explained:

there’s some discussion about going to two rounds of elections instead of three. The pros and cons of that, I think they’ll decide fairly soon whether they want to do that. That would give a little more time to the CEP and it would also save some money if they want to go that route. That is an option.

Moving the first round of the legislative election to the same day as the presidential election would save an estimated $30 million, according to Adams. But while the proposed changes have some support from political parties in Haiti, the CEP has remained steadfast that it is determined to follow the electoral calendar that was announced.

According to Alterpresse, Alix Richard, the vice president of the FUSION party commented that the party had “always sought the election in two stages,” and recommended a discussion between the executive, the CEP and political parties to reach a decision. Both the Patriotic Movement of the Democratic Opposition (MOPOD) – the party of former presidential candidate Mirlande Manigat – and the Organization of People in Struggle (OPL) refused to comment directly on the proposal, saying that they were ready for elections at any time. However Pierre Étienne Saveur, director of OPL, criticized the manner in which Adam’s comments were received. He said that his recommendations would have been better served going through diplomatic channels as opposed to a public statement to the press.

Moise Jean Charles, of the opposition platform Pitit Dessalines, came out in favor of the reduction to two elections. Charles also noted that the change would save the CEP millions of dollars – the electoral body is currently facing a funding shortfall to the tune of over $20 million. Donor countries, including the U.S., have stated that they are ready to provide additional financing, but are waiting for steps to be taken by the Haitian government and electoral council before any disbursements are made.

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UN Points to MINUSTAH as “Model of Accountability” for Sexual Abuse Cases

May 27, 2015 - 06:26

The New York Times reported Monday on the lack of accountability for sexual abuse on the part of U.N. peacekeepers around the world, focusing on recent allegations that French soldiers “forced boys to perform oral sex on them” in the Central African Republic. The article notes that the U.N. “does not have the legal authority to prosecute or punish a country’s soldiers,” and cites a recent internal audit that found that despite the organization’s “zero-tolerance” policy for sexual abuse, its enforcement “is hindered by a complex architecture, prolonged delays, unknown and varying outcomes and severely deficient assistance.”

The Times reports that U.N. officials responded by pointing to the U.N.’s response to a case in Haiti, in which Pakistani troops were accused of abusing an underage boy, as a “model of accountability.” HRRW reported on the case in 2012, pointing out a likely cover-up, and in January journalist Kathie Klarreich expanded:

Take the case of the Pakistani contingent of MINUSTAH. In January 2012, several Pakistani soldiers reported to their commanding officer that contingent members were sexually abusing a mentally handicapped 13-year old boy in the town of Gonaives, some 50 miles north of the Port-au-Prince, since he was eight years old, passing his name from contingent to contingent for five years. Following the chain of command, the Pakistani commander should have reported the abuse to MINUSTAH, but he decided to handle it himself, hoping it seems, that it would disappear, since he was also abusing the boy.

UN police quickly ascertained that the Pakistani military had hired two local boys to take the victim away from the town without his mother’s knowledge or permission. They found the boy unharmed: one of the kidnappers escaped but the second, Alexandre Vladimir, was arrested and jailed. Vladimir admitted that the MINUSTAH commander from Pakistan had asked him to remove the boy from the area, and that the Pakistanis had come to his home bearing gifts for his mother: $12 and a sack of rice.

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CEP Releases Final List of Candidates for Legislative Elections

May 19, 2015 - 07:54

Early Friday morning, Haiti’s electoral authority posted online the final list (PDF) of approved candidates for legislative elections scheduled to be held in August. Over 2,000 candidates registered, representing some 98 different political parties. The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) rejected 522 candidates – 76 for the Senate and 446 for the lower house – leaving 1,515 candidates to compete for 138 open seats.

The CEP, in announcing the rejection of over one-quarter of registered candidates, provided no rationale for individual cases. CEP member Lucie Marie Carmelle Paul Austin told Le Nouvelliste that the list is final: “The CEP did its work in a completely equitable manner and in compliance with the law.” She added that in many cases candidates were rejected because they did not have proper paper work proving their Haitian nationality.

All the leading parties saw a significant number of candidates rejected, with Martelly’s Pati Hatien Tet Kale (PHTK) having the most rejected: 31. Still, PHTK had registered the most candidates, and other parties had a higher percentage of their candidates rejected, such as Platfòm Pitit Dessalines and Renmen Ayiti. After the CEP’s rejections, VERITE, the new party created by former president René Préval and former prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive, has the most candidates in the upcoming election, with 97 followed by PHTK with 94.

Although the CEP has said the decisions are final, political parties have expressed their frustration with the lack of transparency in the process. The coordinator of Fanmi Lavalas, Dr. Maryse Narcisse, told the press that the party had requested an explanation from the CEP, adding, “I think the right of all has to be respected and if there are people who have been unfairly rejected, we will present ourselves to the CEP, we will begin a legal process so that they do justice to those they unjustly rejected,” according to Haiti Libre.

After the publication of the list by the CEP on Friday, the Haiti Press Network reported that some candidates led protests against the decisions. Supporters of German Fils Alexandre, a candidate for deputy in Petit Goâve under the VERITE ticket, blocked National Highway #2, while in the Central department PHTK Senate candidate Willot Joseph threatened to block elections from happening unless the CEP decision was reversed.

The rejection of First Lady and PHTK Senate candidate Sophia Martelly had already been announced, but with seven other candidates for Senate rejected, PHTK can no longer field a candidate in every department. The only political party that is fielding senate candidates in all 10 departments is Fanmi Lavalas, which has been excluded from participating in past elections. In response to the CEP’s decision, the PHTK party released a statement “strongly challenging” the rejection of their candidates and calling on supporters to remain calm.

Nevertheless, some of the rejections could hardly come as a surprise. These included former Senator Rudolph Boulos, of the PHTK party. He had previously been forced from his post after it was determined that he held a U.S. passport, making him ineligible to hold office in Haiti.

While rejections made the headlines, some interesting names did make the cut. Jacqueline Charles reports for the Miami Herald:

Among those who will be vying for one of those empty Senate seats is Guy Philippe, a former Haitian police officer who led the 2004 coup that toppled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Over the years, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents have tried — and failed — on at least three occasions to arrest Philippe, who has been wanted in the United States since 2005. This will be Philippe’s third try at elected office in Haiti.

The registration period for presidential elections is ongoing.

UPDATE 5/26: On Sunday, May 24, the CEP released a list of candidates who had originally been rejected but have been reinstated. No rationale was provided. Overall, the CEP allowed an additional 47 candidates for the Senate to participate and 294 candidates for Deputy. There are now a total of 233 candidates for the Senate and 1,624 for Deputy. After the CEP's decision, VERITE still has more candidates than any other party, with 115. PHTK has 110. With the reinstatements, PHTK and Fanmi Lavalas had the highest percentage of their candidates rejected with 12% and 10.8%, respectively. This compares to an overall rejection percent of 8.9. 

Chemonics Responds to VICE on HBO Segment on Haiti Reconstruction Aid

April 29, 2015 - 14:20

On Friday, April 24, VICE on HBO aired a segment entitled “The Haitian Money Pit,” which focuses on the impact of aid to Haiti, now over five years after the earthquake. The episode takes a critical look at the billions in relief and reconstruction pledged to Haiti, finding that much of it went to U.S.-based contractors with little reaching those most in need.

In the episode, VICE on HBO correspondent Vikram Gandhi travels to Caracol, in the north of Haiti, home to the international community’s flagship reconstruction project, the Caracol Industrial Park. Gandhi visits a police station, which cost over $2 million as well as soccer field and cultural center. As Gandhi states, “when we looked at the costs of many other projects, we noticed the same contractor kept coming up.” Chemonics.

In an interview aired during the episode, I explain that Chemonics was the largest recipient of post-quake U.S. disaster relief and in fact, is one of the largest aid contractors in the world. A topic that we have covered on this blog for years.  In a response to the episode, Chemonics claims the “segment does not provide a complete or accurate picture of Chemonics’ work in Haiti over the past five years.”

Chemonics continues:

As part of our USAID-funded Haiti Recovery Initiative, which ended in 2013, both the soccer field and the cultural center were designed to build a greater sense of community in the north of Haiti. Taken separately, these community projects may seem random. However, they were part of a larger strategy to stimulate growth in the region.

While this may be true, it does not address the main issue which VICE raises: that so much post-quake aid went to a community that wasn’t impacted by the quake. Further, the priority for Chemonics in implementing a USAID program was to provide support to the industrial park. Chemonics also funded the public relations firm for the inauguration of the park, paid for billboards that dot the area declaring it “open for business,” as well as other efforts aimed at promoting the park. This very well may be what Chemonics was asked to do by USAID, but it doesn’t mean it was a good use of aid dollars.

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Vice on HBO Follows the Money in Haiti

April 25, 2015 - 09:41

Vikram Gandhi, VICE on HBO correspondent travelled to Haiti to see just what happened with the $10 billion in aid pledged after the earthquake that occurred more than five years ago. The episode aired at 11 PM EST 4/24/15.

In a sneak peek, Gandhi goes to the site of a housing expo held in 2011. Organized by the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission led by Bill Clinton, the expo was meant to showcase model homes that could be built across the country. With more than a million made homeless, and hundreds of thousands of homes damaged or destroyed, providing new housing was seen as key to “building back better.”

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VICE on HBO Follows the Money in Haiti

April 24, 2015 - 07:48

Tonight, Vikram Gandhi, VICE on HBO correspondent travels to Haiti to see just what happened with the $10 billion in aid pledged after the earthquake that occurred more than five years ago. The episode airs at 11 PM EST.

In a sneak peek posted yesterday, Gandhi goes to the site of a housing expo held in 2011. Organized by the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission led by Bill Clinton, the expo was meant to showcase model homes that could be built across the country. With more than a million made homeless, and hundreds of thousands of homes damaged or destroyed, providing new housing was seen as key to “building back better.”

“If we do this housing properly, it will lead to whole new industries being started in Haiti, creating thousands and thousands of new jobs and permanent housing,” Clinton stated after the earthquake.

But, as Gandhi shows, the expo never had the intended impact. Instead, the homes were abandoned and left to decay. Now, years later, the model houses have been occupied by residents, creating a new community in the rubble of the international community’s broken promises.

Gandhi speaks with CEPR Research Associate Jake Johnston, who explains how the U.S.’ premier aid agency, USAID, had an ambitious plan to build some 15,000 houses. But while costs nearly doubled to over $90 million, currently only 2,600 are planned and only 900 have been built thus far. USAID is no longer involved in new housing construction.

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Poll: Majority of Haitians Say Country “Headed in the Wrong Direction”

April 3, 2015 - 07:24

A new opinion poll, reported on Wednesday by Jacqueline Charles of The Miami Herald, reveals that while Haitian President Michel Martelly’s personal approval rating remains high, more than 50 percent of respondents thought the country was “headed in the wrong direction.” The Herald reports:

Martelly, who will begin the final year of his five-year term in May, got a 57 percent job approval rating. But it’s an open question whether his popularity will give his choice of presidential candidate the win. Martelly is barred from running again, and Haitians are waiting to see which candidate gets his support.

More than half of Haitians believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, while nearly 70 percent do not believe things are going well today.

Eduardo Gamarra, a professor at Florida International University who conducted the poll (PDF), told the Herald that “members of the private sector” funded the poll and had contracted him to do a number of polls over the past few years. Gamarra was also an advisor to the Government of Haiti, contracted by the Ministry of Planning, until August 2014.

Given Gamarra’s previous relationship with the government, and the contradictions in the poll (such as Martelly having high approval, despite a majority believing the country is moving in the wrong direction and that their personal situations are worse than a year ago), questions have arisen about the methodology of the survey. Further, some 60 percent of respondents reported having voted in the last presidential election, though the official turnout was only about 20 percent. Either the sample was not representative, or a significant portion of the respondents were not completely honest.

In a conversation with HRRW however, Gamarra defended the survey and noted that the only reason it had been published was because the most pro-government findings had previously been leaked.

While Gamarra acknowledged that using cell phone numbers to obtain the survey sample could introduce a bias to the results, he noted that largely as a result of Digicel’s presence, market penetration of cell phones has reached unprecedented levels and that the results are consistent with prior face-to-face polling he had done in Haiti.

“A lot of people are surprised by the contradictions,” Gamarra said, but “this is typical in Haiti.” Haitians, he said, are not generally critical of the government, despite that the majority feel their situation is getting worse.

Earlier this week, Haiti’s electoral authority published the final list of 166 political parties that have successfully registered for planned elections later this year. With elections delayed for over three years and such a large number of parties participating, the election is seen as wide open.

While the headline number looks good for Martelly, Gamarra urged caution, pointing to the results in the important west department, home to nearly 30 percent of Haiti’s population and a key base of support for Martelly earlier in his term. “The government faces its greatest opposition in the west….as a result, I believe that the elections are wide-open,” he added. Indeed, the poll shows Martelly faring worse on almost every indicator in the department. Whereas his national approval rating is 57 percent, in the west department, it is just 38 percent, some 15 percentage points lower than in any other department.

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Poll: Majority of Haitians Say Country “Headed in the Wrong Direction”

April 3, 2015 - 07:24

A new opinion poll, reported on Wednesday by Jacqueline Charles of The Miami Herald, reveals that while Haitian President Michel Martelly’s personal approval rating remains high, more than 50 percent of respondents thought the country was “headed in the wrong direction.” The Herald reports:

Martelly, who will begin the final year of his five-year term in May, got a 57 percent job approval rating. But it’s an open question whether his popularity will give his choice of presidential candidate the win. Martelly is barred from running again, and Haitians are waiting to see which candidate gets his support.

More than half of Haitians believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, while nearly 70 percent do not believe things are going well today.

Eduardo Gamarra, a professor at Florida International University who conducted the poll (PDF), told the Herald that “members of the private sector” funded the poll and had contracted him to do a number of polls over the past few years. Gamarra was also an advisor to the Government of Haiti, contracted by the Ministry of Planning, until August 2014.

Given Gamarra’s previous relationship with the government, and the contradictions in the poll (such as Martelly having high approval, despite a majority believing the country is moving in the wrong direction and that their personal situations are worse than a year ago), questions have arisen about the methodology of the survey. Further, some 60 percent of respondents reported having voted in the last presidential election, though the official turnout was only about 20 percent. Either the sample was not representative, or a significant portion of the respondents were not completely honest.

In a conversation with HRRW however, Gamarra defended the survey and noted that the only reason it had been published was because the most pro-government findings had previously been leaked.

While Gamarra acknowledged that using cell phone numbers to obtain the survey sample could introduce a bias to the results, he noted that largely as a result of Digicel’s presence, market penetration of cell phones has reached unprecedented levels and that the results are consistent with prior face-to-face polling he had done in Haiti.

“A lot of people are surprised by the contradictions,” Gamarra said, but “this is typical in Haiti.” Haitians, he said, are not generally critical of the government, despite that the majority feel their situation is getting worse.

Earlier this week, Haiti’s electoral authority published the final list of 166 political parties that have successfully registered for planned elections later this year. With elections delayed for over three years and such a large number of parties participating, the election is seen as wide open.

While the headline number looks good for Martelly, Gamarra urged caution, pointing to the results in the important west department, home to nearly 30 percent of Haiti’s population and a key base of support for Martelly earlier in his term. “The government faces its greatest opposition in the west….as a result, I believe that the elections are wide-open,” he added. Indeed, the poll shows Martelly faring worse on almost every indicator in the department. Whereas his national approval rating is 57 percent, in the west department, it is just 38 percent, some 15 percentage points lower than in any other department.

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Second USAID Contractor Suspended Following Caracol Housing Debacle

March 30, 2015 - 14:49


Image from internal USAID document, caption reads: “Site flooding due to improper drainage”

On March 25, 2015, USAID suspended CEEPCO Contracting – which had been working on shelter programs in Haiti –from receiving further government contracts, pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation. CEEPCO joins Thor Construction, which was suspended in early February. The investigation concerns faulty construction practices related to 750 houses built in Caracol, Haiti by USAID. CEPR Research Associate Jake Johnston reported in February for VICE News:

CEEPCO's CEO is Harold Charles, a Haitian-American who was formerly one of the Haitian government's representatives to the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC), run by Bill Clinton and meant to be in charge of the $10 billion in earthquake relief. The IHRC had initially approved the USAID shelter program back in December 2010.

Charles also enjoys a close, personal relationship with Haitian President Michel Martelly. In an interview in 2013, Charles said, "I do know and have very close friends up through the highest ranks of government," adding, "Martelly is a childhood friend of mine." One former government official in Haiti said in an interview, "this was seen as a deal that would please Martelly."

Despite the initial assessment in August, 2014 that revealed the construction problems, USAID extended CEEPCO's contract for work at other shelter sites in Haiti this past January. CEEPCO’s contract for the Caracol site was awarded without competition. A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the justification document is ongoing. A FOIA request for the initial assessment documenting the problems with the houses was recently responded to, but USAID withheld the entire document that was sought, citing the ongoing legal investigation.

Though the investigation continues, many thousands of Haitians continue to live in the poorly constructed houses. A contracting document from November, 2014, stated that repairs must be “carried out immediately in order to prevent possible harm to residents.” But it is unclear if meaningful remediation efforts have taken place.  An internal document reveals that many of the identified problems would require serious structural work to the houses.

In November, Tetra Tech, another U.S.-based firm, received a $5 million contract to oversee the repair efforts. The firm has been performing structural evaluations of the houses in anticipation of a future legal suit. One draft document, prepared by Tetra Tech and obtained by HRRW, details 29 instances “of material substitutions, field design changes, lack of quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) and lack of quality workmanship.”

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Second USAID Contractor Suspended Following Caracol Housing Debacle

March 30, 2015 - 14:49


Image from internal USAID document, caption reads: “Site flooding due to improper drainage”

On March 25, 2015, USAID suspended CEEPCO Contracting – which had been working on shelter programs in Haiti –from receiving further government contracts, pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation. CEEPCO joins Thor Construction, which was suspended in early February. The investigation concerns faulty construction practices related to 750 houses built in Caracol, Haiti by USAID. CEPR Research Associate Jake Johnston reported in February for VICE News:

CEEPCO's CEO is Harold Charles, a Haitian-American who was formerly one of the Haitian government's representatives to the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC), run by Bill Clinton and meant to be in charge of the $10 billion in earthquake relief. The IHRC had initially approved the USAID shelter program back in December 2010.

Charles also enjoys a close, personal relationship with Haitian President Michel Martelly. In an interview in 2013, Charles said, "I do know and have very close friends up through the highest ranks of government," adding, "Martelly is a childhood friend of mine." One former government official in Haiti said in an interview, "this was seen as a deal that would please Martelly."

Despite the initial assessment in August, 2014 that revealed the construction problems, USAID extended CEEPCO's contract for work at other shelter sites in Haiti this past January. CEEPCO’s contract for the Caracol site was awarded without competition. A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the justification document is ongoing. A FOIA request for the initial assessment documenting the problems with the houses was recently responded to, but USAID withheld the entire document that was sought, citing the ongoing legal investigation.

Though the investigation continues, many thousands of Haitians continue to live in the poorly constructed houses. A contracting document from November, 2014, stated that repairs must be “carried out immediately in order to prevent possible harm to residents.” But it is unclear if meaningful remediation efforts have taken place.  An internal document reveals that many of the identified problems would require serious structural work to the houses.

In November, Tetra Tech, another U.S.-based firm, received a $5 million contract to oversee the repair efforts. The firm has been performing structural evaluations of the houses in anticipation of a future legal suit. One draft document, prepared by Tetra Tech and obtained by HRRW, details 29 instances “of material substitutions, field design changes, lack of quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) and lack of quality workmanship.”

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