PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, backed by the United States government and co-chaired by former President Bill Clinton, was supposed to be Haiti's chance to "build back better" after its cataclysmic Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake.
But a decade after the commission's formation in the wake of the disaster and its eventual dissolution under Haitian President Michel Martelly, Haiti is no better off, its multibillion-dollar recovery effort a dismal failure, according to critics. They say blame lies with the Haitian government, which missed an opportunity, foreign donors who didn't make good on their billion dollar pledges - and Clinton.
"The (commission) was a full-time job. For Clinton to have done a good job he would have needed to do it full time," said Jean-Marie Bourjolly, who added that Clinton, who also had served as United Nations Special Envoy for Haiti, delegated too much to his staff. "It's a job that demanded he man up and go fight with the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, France, Canada and everyone else who pledged money ... to force them to turn over the money."
Bourjolly, one of 12 Haitians appointed to the panel alongside the donors who had committed $100 million or more to Haiti's reconstruction, has written a book, "Haiti : un pays a desenvelopper " - "Haiti: A country to disentangle" - about the commission's failure.
Bourjolly said both the commission and its two co-chairs - the other was Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive - failed because they did not fulfill their core mission: to plan and coordinate the recovery after the quake left 316,000 dead, 1.5 million homeless and an equal number injured.
"There were so many problems that you needed to have a priority," he said, adding that the government failed to define the needs and donors continued to push their own projects. "Nine months after the earthquake, the rubble still had not been removed. You can't rebuild if you still have rubble. There wasn't even money for rubble removal."
Eventually the rubble was removed. And in one little-known incident, the usually calm Clinton lost his cool early on as he went head to head with the World Bank in a closed-door meeting in the Dominican Republic after Haitian officials complained that the Washington-based financial institution was charging too high a fee to manage the Haiti Reconstruction Fund. The fund was a special account where donors reluctantly pooled $411.40 million that eventually was used to help pay for projects like rubble removal.
The recovery commission and Clinton did not escape other criticism. Though the commission's projects were approved unanimously, the Haitian members, including Bourjolly, complained in a public letter that they were being marginalized, and some groups in Haitian society asked for the panel to be dissolved before the end of its 18-month mandate. The commission remained in place until the end of the 18 months, but Haiti did not renew it.
Other criticism centered around accusations that Clinton and his wife, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, were running a pay-to-play operation in Haiti, which the Clintons have long denied. Neither the State Department, which Hillary Clinton oversaw, or the Clinton Foundation that Bill Clinton headed, gave favorable treatment to foundation supporters in Haiti, they have said.
"The bulk of the blame" belongs to Haitians, said Leslie Voltaire, an architect and former special envoy of the Haitian government to the United Nations Secretary-General. "We had an opportunity to do good things."
Voltaire was involved with the recovery early on and said despite what many people think, many of the after-quake contracts that were anticipated never came through. The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission's tenure was too short to be considered a failure, Voltaire said.
"For an agency like that you need like 5, 10 years to establish yourself and deliver," he said, referring to the commission, which eventually was supposed to morph into an agency. The commission could not persuade Martelly to renew its mandate when it expired in late 2011, he added. "Maybe if Martelly had accepted it, we would not have wasted all of that money that Martelly wasted."
Along with the $13.3 billion donors pledged for Haiti's recovery, Venezuela also provided Haiti with debt relief. Since the quake, Haiti has racked up about $2 billion in loans with Venezuela from its PetroCaribe oil program. The amount owed has become the subject of a Haitian government corruption audit, which accused government officials of embezzling the money, and has been a lightning rod in recent anti-government protests.
Jake Johnston, who tracked earthquake aid efforts with his Relief and Reconstruction Watch blog, said the reconstruction was supposed to be the answer to finally address past failures of foreign assistance, by ensuring projects were in line with the government's priorities. It did not happen.
"This was supposed to be an opportunity to finally arrest the damaging cycle whereby foreign assistance erodes Haitians' own power over their lives and ensures that the aid spigot is never turned off," said Johnston, a senior research assistant at the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.
(This project was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.)
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