Using the “Haiti-first” Policy could make the sacks fill-up and stand on their own
Like the stacked slabs of broken concrete that are in Haiti, the sacks from an abandoned sugarcane processing factory demonstrate a cycle of development that must change. These empty sacks represent the deflated dreams of hundreds of thousands of those desperate for a better life.
A Haitian proverb states: sak vide pa kanpe— “an empty sack cannot stand”.
When I read between the lines of this Haitian statement I visualize unused sacks that wait for someone to fill them and bring them back into productivity. It is sad when perfectly capable sacks are ignored in favor of another option.
But such is the case when Haitian’s are passed over when it comes time to rebuild their country and when reconstruction contracts find their way to the well-connected from across the sea.
This past week witnessed the release of the UN’s Special Envoys report on Haiti. The sad news is that very little is filling the Haitian sacks and a great deal is filling the pockets of the well connected.
“And we have learned that in order to make progress in these two areas we need to directly invest in Haitian people and their public and private institutions,” wrote Dr. Paul Farmer in this report. The two areas mentioned include jobs and basic services.
Then Dr. Farmer continued, “We have heard from the Haitian people time and again that creating jobs and supporting the government to ensure access to basic services are essential to restoring dignity.”
To revitalize Haitian institutions, create jobs and improve the basic services, we must channel money through Haiti’s people. If others have their sacks filled from the money that is flowing from around the world then how do the Haitian people ever stand on their own?
The report continued by suggesting that we fill the sacks of the Haitians with the flow of financial aid for redevelopment and with a policy focusing on Haiti-first. It suggested, “perhaps most important, it will create jobs and build skills for the Haitian people.”
By this April, just 2.5 percent of the redevelopment money had gone to Haitian firms, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. The rest of the funds filled other pockets.
What would be the economic impact of a Haiti-first policy, by which donors and international non-state service providers give equal consideration to Haitian companies in the procurement processes?
Could we test this procurement system on the foundation of the rebuilding effort, the concrete supply chain? The policy could state that all concrete be produced to a certain level of quality and that all contracts for production go to Haitian concrete suppliers. Additional funding would proved Haitian business people the appropriate training and tools needed to meet the specifications of these contracts. This effort would restrict international and local builders from allowing teams of well-meaning workers from using shovels to mix on the ground and produce bad results.
This would allow the international development community to obtain evidence of the economic impact of local procurement on economic growth in Haiti, as well as understanding the capacities in this key portion of the redevelopment process.
Such evidence may provide strong rationale for providing increased aid through alternative channels like business funding in the concrete construction sector. This Haiti-first policy for the concrete supply chain would enhance the working skills of Haiti’s concrete workers and fill many sacks that are currently sitting idle.