Saturday, January 05, 2013

Haiti In Fantino's Crosshairs

Julian Fantino -- who proclaimed before Christmas that Canada's foreign aid would be linked to Canadian corporate opportunities  -- announced this week that Canada was suspending aid to Haiti, that God-forsaken half of the island of Hispaniola:

“If I can put it to you bluntly, we will not be signing any more blank cheques,” Fantino said. “There will be expectations and accountability associated with future aid.”

The former head of the Ontario Provincial Police likes to be blunt. The problem is that, as he showed on the national defense file, he's clueless. If you want to know what's going on in Haiti, ask former Governor General -- and Haitian native -- Michaelle Jean, now the United Nations special envoy to the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere:

Jean defended the slow pace of recovery in Haiti, noting that problems like corruption can be found everywhere, including in Canada. She also said that international donors could do a better job supporting the Haitian government’s own plans to build an economy fuelled by more than global charity.

Still trying to recover from the earthquake, Haiti was ravaged by a hurricane. The nation has endured the modern equivalent of the trials of Job. And before the earthquake and the hurricane, the island was despoiled as a French colony and by American companies paying starvation wages for the manufacture of plush animals which sold for premium prices elsewhere.

Thirty-five years ago, my wife and I visited a clinic, situated on the hills of Porte-au-Prince. It was surrounded by hovels, all of which lacked indoor plumbing. A toilet was a bucket. The contents were dumped on the path leading down to the street. While we were visiting, there was a sudden cloudburst. The refuse slopped down to the gutter, where a woman was bathing in a slough, formed in the aftermath of the storm.

And Mr. Fantino talks about accountability? He needs to take a Haitian bath.


Anonymous said...

Fantino, and Harper, must be getting frustrated, by the amount of time being wasted, not reopening the sweatshops. They are jobs, aren't they?.

Owen Gray said...

They are exactly the kind of jobs they favour, Anon. The cost of labour, they say, is too high.

Lorne said...

You have created an indelible image in the brief description of your Haitian visit. I hope you will write more about what you encountered during that time, as I suspect little has changed since you were there, Owen.

Owen Gray said...

Not much seems to change in Haiti, Lorne. Haitians are, indeed, the people Frantz Fanon used to call "the wretched of the earth."

thwap said...

Fantino, like Rob Ford, thinks on a very primal level. He responds based on gut instincts. He is probably genuinely appalled at the corruption and disorder in Haiti. The only problem is his total ignorance about the root causes of it. His short attention span means that he'll never be able to sit down and inform himself about these facts. He can't even be bothered to follow protocol and inform the necessary partners about his visceral responses.

Owen Gray said...

All kinds of people -- like Fantino -- are appalled by conditions in the Third World, thwap.

What they don't understand is that those conditions are linked to an economic system which favours the First World.

And people like Fantino are dedicated to keeping it that way. What's worse, they believe that some Third World economic policies would be good for the folks at home.

Anonymous said...

I have a business that is going to be doing some reconstruction work in Haiti this year. The biggest problem that I have seen is that within a few weeks of the original earthquake, the aid organisations had head hunted virtually all the trained staff from Haitian organisations. There is no way the Haitian Government can compete for staff when people are being offered six figure salaries by, say, the Red Cross. Evaluating, and planning for reconstruction has been made almost impossible. It is simplistic to say the least to accuse Haitians of mis-management, when all thier actual trained managers have been poached away!

ThinkingManNeil said...

A dirty cop who wants to promote the ongoing corporatist rape of the Third World; why am I not surprised?

Owen Gray said...

Your comment is very interesting, Anon. Applying free market principles in disaster areas benefits the upper echelons, but not the people on the ground.

Naomi Wolfe documented how that process worked in Iraq after the American invasion.

It sounds like the same thing has happened in Haiti.

Owen Gray said...

Fantino is used to not having his orders questioned, Neil. Hence, I suspect, he thought there was no need to inform the Canadian ambassador that the government had decided to turn off the taps.

In Harperland, you give orders and expect them to be followed.

Anonymous said...

@owen: I do not think that free market principles have much to do with Aid organisations trashing the public sector employment market in a disaster zone. We are talking about really huge NGO's, and government employees primarily. Don't see any market based organisations in that mix.
The problem comes where 'first world' beaurocracies start applying sophisticated checks and balances in a locale that barely functioned, and where nobody has the slightest clue how to deal with them. I can say that the World Bank, and IADA are funding the work that we will be doing. The model they are utilising is where the Haitian Gvt. established reconstruction priorities, then third parties actually let, and administer the contracts on behalf of the Haitians, and the Donor organisations. It was hard for me to prepare honest proposals, because, for example, there is NO building code in Haiti, and there is NO land registry anymore. Yes, I was able to come up with a design model that allowed us to be totally confident that we were building quake, and hurricane proof buildings, but I would way prefer if there were some competent authority, rather than making up some kind of reasonable design criteria myself. If I were a crook, I could have made it all up and coined money. I bet that 9 out of 10 foreign vendors in Haiti are in fact making out like bandits, so the stink of corruption is not confined to Haitians by a long stretch.

Owen Gray said...

Given that human nature is corruptible, Anon, and lots of people -- Haitians and non-Haitians -- will push the envelope if they can, what's to be done in a place where there are no established codes?

Could the United Nations -- or some agency of the UN -- act as a competent authority in disaster situations?

Or -- because one size does not fit all -- is it futile to hope that "competent authorities" can be established?

Anonymous said...

And that is the conundrum. From what general knowledge I have, I believe that this is a common problem in a disaster zone that garners big attention on the world stage. Lots of BIG donors hiring all available local talent to the detriment of local authorities. Maybe the UN should institute a `disaster secretariat` that fulfils a co-ordinating role? Problem there is that the UN is a political organisation, and politics is mostly about who gets the $$. I suspect that the UN would be steering disaster relief funds to favoured recipients, with little attention to the needs of disaster victims. It seems that altruism is pretty thorny when it gets down to practicalities.
As far as a Haitian building code goes, Haiti is not alone. There are NO locally developed codes in the Carribbean. The international building code can apply, but you still need to collect and analyse local climatic conditions, such as seismic reactions, wind velocity and force expectations, rain loads, temperature data etc, all of which require many years of patient data collection and treatment. Then you have to train local building inspectors to apply the code.... Again, in the first world, life is valuable, and we spend billions on measures like code development to avoid Haitian scale disasters. In Haiti, the decision is between providing insufficient resources for hand to mouth subsistence, or engaging in luxury pursuits like having a building code. One thing is for sure, prioritising reconstruction is a devilish task, but the skills to do it exist. They just are not being applied effectively.

Owen Gray said...

As you suggest, Anon, in the First World life is valuable.

In the Third World, it disappears far too quickly -- and that is the problem.