Fo­cus on lack of NGO over­sight in poor na­tions

Gulf News - - Europe / United Kingdom - PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI

Apros­ti­tu­tion scan­dal em­broil­ing Bri­tish char­ity Ox­fam has high­lighted the lack of over­sight with which aid or­gan­i­sa­tions of­ten op­er­ate in coun­tries like Haiti, where the gov­ern­ment is weak and lo­cals driven to des­per­a­tion by grind­ing poverty.

In this Car­ib­bean na­tion, the poor­est in the Amer­i­cas, aid groups are in­volved in is­sues from health care to ed­u­ca­tion to ur­ban plan­ning to water man­age­ment. Non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGOs) have been ac­tive in Haiti for decades, to the point that they some­times take over the role of the state.

“At one point there were 600 NGOs present in Haiti and there was an ex­tremely sig­nif­i­cant in­crease fol­low­ing the 2010 earth­quake,” said Haitian econ­o­mist Camille Chalmers, who be­lieves many NGOs are op­er­at­ing with­out hav­ing reg­is­tered with the au­thor­i­ties. “More and more bi­lat­eral and mul­ti­lat­eral aid flows through NGOs, and that makes them es­sen­tial play­ers in terms of pub­lic de­vel­op­ment,” he said.

One of those aid gi­ants, Ox­fam, now stands ac­cused of fail­ing to act af­ter its staff mem­bers were ac­cused of us­ing pros­ti­tutes in Haiti fol­low­ing the 2010 earth­quake.

Pres­i­dent Jovenel Moise spoke out about the scan­dal Tues­day, say­ing there was “noth­ing more undig­ni­fied and dis­hon­est” than hu­man­i­tar­ian aid work­ers ex­ploit­ing “needy peo­ple.”

The in­flu­ence of NGOs in Haiti is mag­ni­fied be­cause their fi­nan­cial aid comes in the form of US dol­lars, cre­at­ing a chasm be­tween their staffers and the lo­cal peo­ple. “Those with US dol­lar in­comes have huge priv­i­leges in Haitian so­ci­ety — the stan­dards of liv­ing are dif­fer­ent,” Chalmers said.

In com­par­i­son, nearly 60 per cent of Haitians live on the equiv­a­lent of less than two dol­lars a day. With the coun­try plagued by mass un­em­ploy­ment, they are forced to scrape by with in­for­mal work.

The dis­par­ity is in the spot­light be­cause the Ox­fam scan­dal has high­lighted an ap­par­ent sense of im­punity among some ac­tors in the aid com­mu­nity.

“NGOs have more money than the Haitian state so there is a fear. The po­lice are help­less,” Haitian lawyer Mario Joseph said.

“They come to sup­port the rights of women and chil­dren and it’s they them­selves who, through eco­nomic power, take ad­van­tage of the coun­try’s weak­nesses to com­mit abuse, rape, know­ing that there is this im­punity be­cause the state does not de­mand ac­count­abil­ity.”

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