Monday, April 26, 2010

Haiti ... 3 months and accountability at near zero!

Dear Colleagues

It is now more than three months since the disastrous earthquake in Haiti. There has been a huge amount of effort expended to handle the rescue and the immediate relief ... and a huge amount of money and resources of various kinds mobilized.

But the accounting and the accountability is missing.

I understand that people working in the relief area are busy ... probably overworked and tired. However, I would argue that accountability is part of the job. There seems to be time for people to take photographs and collect "stories" but collecting enough data so that there can be some accounting for what has gone on does not seem to be taking place.

In my view this is a serious dereliction of duty. Most of the money being used has been raised by public donation ... mostly with an expectation that the money would be used to help with Haiti rescue and rebuilding. It is scandalous that most organizations are unable or unwilling to show ... other than in the most general terms ... what they have done with the money.

Many organizations are not doing bad things with the money ... but some are. With no accountability anywhere it is pretty clear that there is an opening for the bad organizations to raise funds and steal it! Within the big good organizations ... there are also opportunities for bad people to do bad things and not get caught. This is fundamentally wrong.

There is also the question of cost effectiveness. Some organizations are doing a lot with a little ... and other organizations are using a lot of money and not doing very much. With the lack of accounting and accountability it is very difficult to tell which organizations are cost effective and which are not.

A starting point for cost effectiveness is the remuneration structure of the various organizations ... those that pay nothing and those that pay quite high international salaries and benefits. Another cost is the overhead associated with these various staff grades ... their travel, their vehicles, their accommodations, their meals, their office support, etc. Some years ago the budget for a USAID staff person in the field was in excess of $200,000 a year. The UN staff were somewhat less ... but very high numbers compared to the per capital GDP of the country.

Which of course, brings us to the question of how to measure benefit and how to reduce cost. Benefit is all about what happens to the quality of life of the Haitian people. Cost is all about how money is used ... with least cost and most effective development getting derived from the work of Haitians themselves.

And then there is the question of profiteering. With no transparency ... no accountability ... some organizations are charging a lot for their services, and getting paid even though the prices are exorbitant. Profiteering in the face of humanitarian suffering is unconscionable, but I would not be at all surprised if it is not the norm both for many local contractors and for many international contractors.

If we had some accounting and accountability we might be able to see whether or not the leadership of the relief efforts have done anything at all to do things in a way that delivers the most and the least ... or whether it is merely "throwing" resources at the problem and hoping for the best.

I am absolutely appalled at the cavalier way in which accounting and accountability have been relegated to insignificance over the past few months. It is intolerable ... and, of course, with no accountability ... nobody is responsible.

Peter Burgess

1 comment:

  1. I am living and working in Haiti and I was here on the 12th Jan in Port au Prince. The only people who have profited from this earthquake are the new's agencies and the various NGO's that arrived after the fact. There is also a new phenonomen whereby rental price,s have increased by 300%. It is a sad fact that 90% of all aid donations will return to the country of origin as they will supply the labour and goods for the "Rebuilding Haiti Better" project.