Audits as Usual?


By Scott Freeman, Visiting Scholar

A GAO report on the activities of USAID Haiti was released last week, and those who are engaged in the topics of aid in Haiti are undoubtedly already aware of the report and for many, the report is not surprising. Commissioned through requests made by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the report points out that only 31% of funding allocated to  aid targeted to Haiti has been disbursed, and that the projected number of houses to be built has dropped from 15,000 to 2,649.

These issues of housing and aid disbursement have been previously raised by journalists and academics alike (notably Mark Schuller, and Deborah Sontag on aid, and the USAID Caracol project). The GAO report adds perhaps a slightly different light to these criticisms, but continues in a critical glance at the aid apparatus in Haiti.

But the GAO report does add something different- though perhaps not most notably in content. While the context it reveals is disconcerting, it is far from shocking. Aid in Haiti has long been tied to foreign interests and has been notorious as a republic of 10,000 NGOs, often with scarce results. But the GAO report’s significance lies not in that it “uncovers” the often already evident foibles of USAID, but rather that members of the US government (and US taxpayers) are becoming aware of the problematic nature of aid.

But let’s not get carried away- while aid accountability is an important step, ultimately this accountability is directed financially. That is, the donors (in this case the US government and taxpayers) are seen as the ultimate authority for the aid that will go to the Haitian people. Given the ways that this affects aid design, implementation, and reporting, the Haitian population has less of a say in the works that mold their countryside than do the American people.

The GAO report is necessary- it shows that USAID will not be let off the hook for squandering US taxpayer funds. The question that remains is how much sway the US taxpayer can have in mobilizing representatives towards drastically reforming the current aid apparatus. The United States has held the strong hand of policy in Haiti throughout the 20th century- often to the detriment of the majority of Haitians. Does the GAO report suggest that the constituents of US legislators could change this? Or is it just “audits as usual”?