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Thursday, June 1, 2023

GAO: USAID and State Could Improve Infrastructure Reconstruction and Police Development in Haiti

GAO’s review also found that the Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs activities to develop the Haitian National Police have so far achieved mixed results.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided nearly $2.3 billion to support reconstruction and development in Haiti during FYs 2010-2020. But a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report says most infrastructure projects were delayed, cost more than planned, or had to be scaled back. 

A catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in January 2010 caused physical, social, and economic devastation. The earthquake is estimated to have killed more than 220,000 people, injured more than 300,000, and displaced about 2 million from their homes. Haiti then suffered from one of the largest cholera outbreaks in history, which lasted from 2010 to 2019 and caused nearly 10,000 deaths. Haiti continues to experience political and social unrest and natural disasters, including hurricanes, drought, and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck the country in August 2021. That earthquake is estimated to have caused more than 2,200 deaths and 12,200 injuries, and damaged or destroyed approximately 130,000 homes. It also had an impact on USAID reconstruction efforts in response to the 2010 earthquake.

GAO reviewed USAID’s post-earthquake infrastructure activities from 2010 onwards and found that four of the eight projects have been completed. Key results included constructing a power plant, building 906 homes, and improving 24 health and public facilities. Two activities are ongoing, including upgrading a port and two health facilities. Two other activities were canceled because costs were higher than initially anticipated. 

For example, USAID/Haiti initially planned to build a new port in the north of Haiti, but a 2012 USAID-funded feasibility study found the new port construction plan was not viable for a variety of technical, environmental, and economic reasons. The study also projected the costs would range from $109 to $183 million—far exceeding the intended budget of $67.5 million. On the basis of these projections, and a lack of private sector support for the activity, USAID/Haiti determined its plans to build a new port were not practical and it canceled the activity after spending $4.2 million on the feasibility study.

GAO found that USAID’s completed infrastructure activities supported Haiti’s recovery by providing shelter, reliable electricity, and improved access to health services. However, due in part to what GAO calls “unrealistic initial plans”, most infrastructure activities experienced delays, budget increases, and scope reductions. GAO also found gaps in strategic planning and tracking and assessing the results of these activities, affecting management and oversight.

GAO reviewed 29 evaluations, each of which discussed multiple results for USAID development activities. GAO found that across key sectors—economic and food security, governance, and health—at least half of the results were successful and at least one-third were unsuccessful. For example, under governance, evaluations indicated that an activity improved property tax systems and another activity fell short in strengthening judicial oversight.

Political and social unrest is a major cause for concern in Haiti. In February 2022, the United Nations reported that kidnappings and homicides had increased by 180 percent and 17 percent, respectively, compared with 2020. GAO’s review found that the Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs activities to develop the Haitian National Police (HNP) have so far achieved mixed results. These activities seek to strengthen Haiti’s law enforcement capacity through advisory support, training, equipment provision, technical assistance, and enlargement of the HNP force. The results that implementers reported for these activities usually focused on outputs, such as the amount of training provided. However, GAO noted that State has not evaluated the outcomes of these activities, such as improvements to investigative capacity, limiting information about their overall effectiveness.

GAO found that HNP counternarcotics agents disrupted one significant drug trafficking organization in Haiti, falling short of the target of disrupting at least three such organizations by September 2018. In addition, the HNP counternarcotics unit conducted one joint operation with the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration outside of Port-au-Prince during the activity’s final year, which did not meet the target for the unit to organize and coordinate at least four large-scale operations annually.

It is worth noting, that while not included in GAO’s report, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) officially opened a permanent HSI office at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in February 2022, which is intended to combat gang related crimes, bring criminals to justice, and protect public safety. HSI Port-au-Prince also works to develop and foster relationships with host government law enforcement partners to exchange information, coordinate, and support investigations, and facilitate enforcement actions and prosecutions. To this end, HSI Port-au-Prince has begun working towards the establishment of a Transnational Criminal Investigative Unit in Haiti by building relationships with the host country law enforcement and customs organizations. 

Overall, USAID has taken steps to strengthen the organizational capacity of local organizations in Haiti so that they can manage USAID awards, GAO said. However, local entities secure limited USAID funding, due in part to capacity limitations, according to officials. The government watchdog found that the USAID mission in Haiti does not fully track data on its local partnerships, or its activities to strengthen local organizational capacity, which limits institutional knowledge about these efforts and understanding of results and lessons learned to inform future activities.

GAO recommends that USAID improve its infrastructure planning, tracking, and assessment of results; and better track data on its local partnerships in Haiti and activities to strengthen local organizational capacity. GAO also recommends that State evaluate the effectiveness of its activities to develop the HNP. USAID and State concurred with the recommendations. 

USAID noted that USAID/Haiti has awarded a new monitoring, evaluation, and learning contract to collect and analyze data to assess and learn from ongoing and completed activities, including infrastructure activities. In addition, USAID/Haiti has begun to track data on direct awards made to local organizations and performance indicator data to measure whether capacity development efforts have led to improved organizational performance in organizations receiving organizational capacity development support from USAID.

State said it will conduct an independent internal evaluation of the effectiveness of its activities to develop the HNP.

Read the full report at GAO

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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