January 09, 2012
This is a joint post with Julie Walz.Two years ago, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, plunging an already poor and unstable country into complete and utter chaos. In the days and weeks that followed, international responses and donations were overwhelming. Yet almost all of the assistance provided to Haiti has bypassed its government, leaving it even less capable than before. Humanitarian agencies, NGOs, private contractors, and other non-state service providers have received 99 percent of relief aid—less than 1 percent of aid in the immediate aftermath of the quake went to public institutions or to the government. And only 23 percent of the longer-term recovery funding was channeled through the Haitian government. Figure 1 shows the breakdown of relief aid from all donors to Haiti, by recipient.Haiti is often called the “Republic of NGOs.” Because of the limited capacity of the Haitian government and weak national institutions, NGOs have risen to play a very prominent role, one equivalent to a quasi-privatization of the state. One study found that even before the January 2010 earthquake, NGOs provided 70 percent of healthcare, and private schools (mostly NGO-run) accounted for 85 percent of national education. Charities and NGOs have become the main thoroughfare for foreign assistance as a result of the immense volatility in Haitian politics and U.S. reluctance to give aid directly to the Haitian government. NGOs are seen as more stable and can be held more accountable to international donors than the government. International nonprofit organizations also bring much-needed expertise and a stable stream of funding to the country.
Yet this situation is a Catch-22. The dominance of international NGOs has created a parallel state more powerful than the government itself. NGOs in Haiti have built an alternative infrastructure for the provision of social services, creating little incentive for the government to build its capacity to deliver services. A “brain drain” from the public sector to the private, nonprofit sector is also observable, pulling talent away from government offices and resulting in the Haitian concept of the “klas ONG” (NGO class). Even quantifying the number of NGOs operating in Haiti is a hurdle: the number is estimated to be anywhere from 343 to 20,000.In a forthcoming paper, we discuss some of the options for improving the relationship between NGOs and the Government of Haiti, with a view to building public institutions and government capacity. We recommend that NGOs working in Haiti be asked to sign the equivalent of the Paris Declaration for aid donors—one that would require registration, coordination, and cooperation with the government. Mary Kay Gugerty, an expert on voluntary regulation and accountability programs in the NGO community, presents three solutions that African countries have used to manage NGOs. These may be relevant to Haiti:
Related Blog Post
- National guilds that set national mandatory membership requirements for NGO registration. An NGO code of conduct might also be developed on the basis of aspirational goals rather than strict guidelines. Penalties can vary from a fine to a suspension or de-listing for organization found to be in violation of the code.
- NGO-led clubs with high standards for membership, similar to certification or accreditation. Membership acts as a signal of quality, often providing member organizations access to donor funding or other services. The code itself may be a mix of cardinal values and specific practices such as providing annual reports or audited financial statements.
- Industry codes, which are the most common form of voluntary self-regulation. Similar to guild requirements, these standards usually reflect broad values and goals that are set at an industry level, typically through an industry association or other third party. Although they would apply to all NGOs, monitoring and enforcement may be weak.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.