by Haiti Grassroots Watch (Haiti Liberte)
A $61 million, eight-year World Bank community development project implemented across half of Haiti has successfully repaired roads, built schools, and distributed livestock. However, the Project for Participatory Community Development (PRODEP) – Projet de développement communautaire participatif – has also undermined an already weak state, damaged Haiti’s “social tissue,” carried out what could be called “social and political reengineering,” and raised questions of waste and corruption.
As part of an overall strategy encouraging communities to participate in the choice of development project in their regions, PRODEP awarded $17,500 grants to almost 1,500 community-based organizations (CBOs) in 59 communes. But an eight-month investigation by Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) found that PRODEP subverted real community development.
By encouraging groups to form in order to get cash grants, PRODEP contributed to Haiti’s growing status as an “NGO Republic.” The projects also damaged traditional solidarity systems and in some cases even strengthened the power of local elites.
Although HGW’s extensive fieldwork was concentrated in the Southeast, new reports by World Bank economists support the idea that the findings can be extrapolated.
In their articles and a new book – Localizing Development: Does Participation Work? – Ghazali Mansuri and Vijayendra Rao found that many “community driven development” or CDD projects tend to benefit the “wealthier, more educated” participants who are “often more politically connected” and who “tend to make decisions in community meetings.” These same “elites” can even build political support and run for office, the economists said.
Ironically, PRODEP’s national director touts the creation of new politicians. At a press conference last July, Michael Lecorps, director of the Haitian government’s Office of Monetization of Aid and Development Projects (Bureau de monétisation des programmes d’aide au développement or BMPAD) which oversees PRODEP, said: “There are a lot of people who became deputies [parliamentarians] because of PRODEP. They created platforms, they became leaders!”
While Lecorps may see the use of World Bank dollars to consolidate political fiefdoms as positive, others associated with PRODEP – even those sitting on the local community councils that oversee the projects – do not. Emile Théodore, a farmer outside the southeastern town of Bainet where HGW centered their research, deplored this construction of “political capital” as well as the sudden birth of dozens of “organizations” created solely to go after the funding.
“The fact that there was $17,500 for small projects meant that a lot of organizations got created so they could get those grants,” Théodore told HGW.
This investigation looks at several questions: What is the PRODEP project? What are its objectives and were they achieved? What do the projects look like in and around Bainet, in Haiti’s Southeast Department? How has the work been received by participants and staff at implementing agencies? What are the principal findings of the World Bank economists who warn of the dangers of “development fads”? What long-term harm might have been done to Haiti’s society and “social tissue”?
What is PRODEP?
In 2004, the World Bank launched PRODEP in Haiti. The work is mostly subcontracted to two international aid agencies: CECI (Centre d’Etude et de Cooperation International or the Canadian Center for International Studies and Cooperation) and PADF (Pan-American Development Foundation). CECI and PADF set up technical bureaus throughout the country where staffers surveyed existing organizations and oversaw the creation of new ones.
Based in part on a similar program in Brazil, a key intent was to calm the population. “PRODEP began after all the political turbulence in the country,” explained Rincher Fleurent-Fils, coordinator of PRODEP’s technical office for the Southeast Department, in Jacmel. “The concern was to create social peace.”
This claim is substantiated by Bank documents written in conjunction with other principal supporters and funders of the de facto interim government that was put into power following the illegal overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004.
The Interim Cooperation Framework (ICF) – released in July 2004 by the World Bank, the United Nations, European Union, and Inter-American Development Bank – is a policy document meant to guide the “democratic transition” from a head of state’s illegal removal to a democratically elected government.
“The ICF is inspired by lessons learned in similar needs identification exercises in post-conflict countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor, and Liberia,” the authors note, even though the realities of those countries differ drastically with Haiti.
In fact, the Framework can be seen as a roadmap meant to insure the Haitian people accept the unconstitutional regime change and UN blue helmet occupation. The map was laid out, the document claims, with participation from the “Haitian Government” and “civil society” – but was characterized by “the strong involvement of 26 bilateral, multilateral and United Nations agencies,” in other words, “the friends of Haiti.”
Among other actions, the ICF recommended the “establish[ment] of decentralized participatory structures” since local authorities are “weak.” The Framework then goes on to call for “rapid impact” and decentralized development “interventions” outside of government structures. Instead, they would be implemented by “the specialized local national organizations using a participatory approach in accordance with models already tested in Haiti,” the report reads.
“Where organizations do not exist, they will be created,” the Framework says. PRODEP did just that.
According to the World Bank’s own reports, at least 232 new CBOs were “created as a result of the project” and then built into regional councils and federations, almost like a set of private “Communal Assemblies,” the participatory assemblies called for in the Haitian Constitution which have yet to be established. A virtual parallel state.
The new and existing CBOs were given training and structured into regional councils called COPRODEPs. With assistance from CECI and PADF, the new councils oversaw the submission of projects from CBOs, voted on which ones PRODEP should fund, and were mandated to supervise them. The projects fell into three categories: “productive” related to livestock, agriculture, fishing, etc.; “social” such as a community stores, schools, or community centers; and “infrastructure” such as bridges, roads, and water systems.
According to the World Bank, the projects built or rehabilitated 785 kilometers of road, 444 water distribution points, and 448 classrooms, and also contributed to building or stocking other community services like health clinics. The World Bank spent a total of $29 million on 1,519 projects.
However, each group actually got less than $17,500. According to a PRODEP/PADF official, 12% went for administration: 3% ($525) for the COPRODEPs, and 9% ($1,575) went to the technical office overseeing the region.
An additional $32 million – more than half of PRODEP’s $61 million budget – went for training, administration, evaluation, and other costs for BMPAD, CECI, and PADF staff, according to the Bank. (Because HGW was never provided a budget or a copy of the evaluation completed in June 2012, it was impossible to verify how money was actually spent.)
Building “social cohesion”
The PRODEP process was far from organic. PRODEP staff and the central government had control over which organizations were given the right to submit projects, sit on the councils, and decide on projects. According to Fleurent-Fils, an organization had to have been officially recognized by both the local mayor’s office and by the Social Affairs Ministry to qualify.
“We looked at all the groups [in a region] to see what kind of organizations they were,” he said. “Are they really community organizations? Once we were in touch with them, we helped them restructure themselves so they could enter into the PRODEP system.”
PRODEP officials claim that “over 70%” of projects were “successful,” first of all because the concrete goals were achieved, and secondly because they created “social cohesion.” This is a term used in PRODEP documents and by PRODEP staff, such as Lecorps and Arcène Gérome, who heads up PRODEP in the five geographic departments where PADF ran the program.
“When all of the community organizations are federated into the COPRODEP, we have achieved our goal of reinforcing organizational capacity, reinforcing ‘networking,’ meaning links between them, to create what we call ‘social cohesion,’ because as we say, the objective is to construct ‘social capital,’” Gérome said.
But Gérome’s claims run counter to the recent findings of the World Bank economists. In their June 2012 paper “Can Participation Be Induced? Some Evidence from Developing Countries,” Mansuri and Rao said that “there is little evidence that induced participation builds long-lasting cohesion, even at the community level. Group formation tends to be both parochial and unequal… [P]eople are induced to participate and build networks. But they do so in order to benefit from the cash and other material payoffs provided by the project.”
“Overall, projects tend to have very limited impact in building social cohesion or in rebuilding the state. They tend to exclude the poor and are dominated by elites,” the authors noted. “Induced participation – particularly when it is packaged within a project – is almost set up for failure.”
Who is right? PRODEP or the World Bank authors? Have “social capital” and “social cohesion” been constructed? Are 70% of projects successful? What is “success”?
HGW looked at projects in and around Bainet. All visits and interviews in the Southeast took place in August 2011.
According to PADF, PRODEP funded a total of 60 projects in the commune of Bainet – six in the small coastal town itself, and six in each of Bainet’s nine communal sections. HGW visited two in town. The first, the water purification project run by the Organization of Bainet Women (Òganizasyon Fanm Bene or OFB) in downtown Bainet, was never operational, according to observers and an OFB member who asked that her name not be used.
“PRODEP/PADF gave us a bunch of machinery that never worked,” she said unlocking the storefront. Inside, dust-covered machinery filled the room. Plastic bags that were supposed to be filled with purified water lay in flat heaps on the floor.
Nearby, the “OPA-net” cyber-café was also locked up tight. Run by the Organization of Peasants in Action (Oganizasyon Peyizan an Aksyon or OPA) and funded with almost $20,000 according to World Bank documents, OPA-net has been shut for nearly three years now. Dusty screens, towers, chairs, desks, and a dirty photocopy machine fill the rented space.
OPA coordinator Saint-Gladys Fleuranville said the project came to halt on Jan. 12, 2010, the day of the deadly earthquake, because the dish connecting the center to the Internet was displaced.
“It was working very well until then,” he said. “PADF has a Reinforcement Program that will help us. We are waiting for them because this is the only cyber-café in the entire community.”
Asked about the water and cyber-café projects, Rincher Fleurent-Fils, coordinator of the PRODEP/PADF technical bureau in Jacmel, acknowledged that some ventures had “a few problems” that still needed to be addressed, such as the cyber-café’s internet connection. “And,” he said, “they couldn’t pay their bills.”
Fleurent-Fils’ supervisor, Arcène Gérome, said he was aware that both the water purification project and the cyber-café projects were closed down.
“The way those projects began was a little amateurish,” Gérome admitted. So much so that 119 of the 700 or so projects PADF oversaw needed some kind of “correction” or “reinforcement,” he noted.
HGW visited four more projects in Bainet’s 9th communal section, Anba Grigri. Anba Grigri sits on the other side of the Bainet River along a bumpy, muddy, and rocky road. The hamlet and surrounding hills are home to about 10,000 people who have no electricity, access to clean drinking water, or modern sanitation. Farmers grow potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, sorghum, and herd cows and goats; coastal residents fish. For weeks at a time, villagers from Anba Grigri cannot reach Bainet because of the rain-bloated river. After Hurricane Isaac passed over Haiti in August 2012, the community was cut off to the east for three months.
One of the most infamous PRODEP grantees is the fishing project. The Organization for the Development of the 9th Section (Oganizasyon pou Devlòpman 9vyèm Seksyon or OD9S) got $17,500 to buy boat engines, netting, line, coolers, a generator, and batteries.
Almost immediately, the organization split over how the money should be used. The fishermen prevailed, buying new engines and other materials that helped them go further out to sea and catch more fish. But there were accusations of faked receipts with inflated costs for materials and theft. The resulting fish are still being sold at regular market price, according to an OD9S member who spoke to HGW on camera but asked that his name not be used.
The fisherman also admitted that at least one engine and some of the money meant for maintenance “disappeared,” and that other gear had been lost due to “natural causes.”
“We hope PRODEP-PADF can help us so we can buy more equipment,” he added.
The Community Store of Bainet sits on the main road that runs through Anba Grigri. It stocks the same, mostly imported, items that jam shelves in many small stores or “boutiques” throughout Haiti: canned goods, rice, beans, spaghetti, cooking oil, tomato paste, crackers, rum, and other products. The Community Store sells its products at the same price as other local vendors and doesn’t receive much business. During a HGW visit, store manager Delva Henry asked a friend to “buy” something for HGW’s camera.
“There are a lot of other stores in our communal section,” the store manager admitted. He said he was thinking of “writing a proposal” to ask for more money so that he could better stock his store, which he runs with his wife.
Community members reported that the store is no different than other markets. “It’s a private business,” according to François Brunel, a member of OJDB (Oganizasyon Jen pou Devlòpman Bene or Organization of Bainet Youth for Development). Brunel and others reported that the store offers no credit or discounts to local residents. “It’s a success because it exists and it is functioning, but they say you have to be a member of their organization to get a little credit,” he said. “I think all members of the community should benefit.”
Nearby, the Coordination of Bainet Woman (Kòdinasyon Fanm Bene or KOFAB) received a grant to set up a corn mill. HGW noted that it was up and running and appeared to be frequented by members of the community.
“Before we had the mill, we had to thrash corn and sorghum with a pestle… or walk a long way,” said an elderly woman. “The mill has made things easier.”
But that’s not to say that KOFAB runs it. “The project is a success because, as you can see, it is employing me!” explained Fabien Jean André Paul who said he manages the mill business, rather than KOFAB. “From time to time I meet with the women and give them a report.”
Another project also produced results: goats. A peasant organization received a grant to buy goats, which reproduced enough so that almost every member of Mouvman Peyizan Kay Anwò (Houses on the Hill Peasant Movement) now has a goat.
“Before, not too many of our members had goats,” said
member Alezi Jean Bastien. “Now almost everyone has a goat because our organization got the project funding. Life has improved a little bit for people because the goats are worth 2,000 or 3,000 gourdes [about $50-75] each.”
Assessments and Evaluations
PRODEP’s track record in and around Bainet is not as good as the “over 70% success” touted by PRODEP and PADF. Two of the Bainet projects have been closed for years, and of the six Anba Grigri projects, two – 33% – were barely operating.
“The projects didn’t work out the way they were supposed to,” said COPRODEP community council member Emile Théodore. “The majority of them have disappeared. You can’t find a trace of them. There are others that are run by a husband and wife, like the community store. As for the fish project, a little group of people is running that one also.”
The main reason, Théodore and others say, is that once the money is disbursed, there is little follow-up and verification.
“In some cases, it takes a while for that [supervision] to happen,” admitted Gérome. He denied knowing of any cases of corruption. “Let’s just say that sometimes there are administrative problems.”
But in the evaluations posted online, in the literature distributed at news conferences, and in interviews, PRODEP and PADF officials made no mention of any irregularities.
The most recent documents available online call PRODEP performances “satisfactory” with no more detail, although a 2010 document does note that evaluation had been a “main challenge.” But if “over 70%” of the projects were “successful,” by deduction somewhere between 20% and 30% were not, meaning that funding for some 400 projects – over $6 million – has been wasted.
PRODEP and World Bank reports do not mention whether or not people accused of corruption or waste were brought to justice or held accountable.
Despite numerous promises, HGW never received a copy of the PRODEP final evaluation that was completed in June.
What HGW did discover was that the apparent lack of monitoring, verification, and evaluation are not unique to Haiti. In their survey of dozens of so-called “community driven development” (CDD) programs around the world, World Bank economists Mansuri and Rao noted “a pervasive inattention to monitoring systems.” They found that only 40% of CDD projects they surveyed had any kind of monitoring and evaluation at all.
“The majority of project managers participating in the survey stated that the Bank’s operation policies do not provide incentives for effective monitoring and evaluation,” the authors wrote.
With these kinds of numbers, does PRODEP have the right to call its project a “success”?
Thanks to PRODEP, Haiti’s “failed state” fails again
One of the most questionable outcomes of the PRODEP system is what appears to be a deliberate undermining of Haiti’s “failed” state.
For decades, development and emergency funding has mostly bypassed the Haitian state, which many foreign governments and agencies dismissed as corrupt and inefficient. There were and still are internal reasons for Haiti’s poorly run government institutions. But, as Oxfam Senior Policy Advisor Angela Bruce Raeburn recently wrote: “Understanding how the U.S. and other international donors have bypassed the Haitian government in the past is key to understanding” Haiti’s weak state of the present.
A 2011 study from the UN Office of the Special Envoy showed that in 2007, for example, only 3% of bilateral aid, and 13% of multilateral aid, was “budget support,” meaning support for government ministries and programs, including communal section elected officials and their budgets.
The document states, however, that the most effective way for aid to strengthen public institutions is by channeling through them. However, in Haiti, “most aid is still channeled in the form of grants directly to international multilateral agencies, and non-state service providers (NGOs and private contractors).”
Deputy UN Special Envoy Dr. Paul Farmer prefaced the report by noting that “creating jobs and supporting the government” is key to ensuring “access to basic services.” He called on donors to “directly invest in the Haitian people and their public and private institutions. The Haitian proverb sak vide pa kanpe – “an empty sack cannot stand” – applies here. To revitalize Haitian institutions, we must channel money through them.”
“Community driven development” (CDD) projects like PRODEP also work better when they work with local governments, according to World Bank economists Mansuri and Rao. But the PRODEP program deliberately channeled its funding almost exclusively to non-state service providers: the agencies CECI and PADF, and the so-called community based organizations or CBOs.
It might have made more sense to bolster Haiti’s local rural governments – the CASEC (Conseil d’administration de section communale or Communal Section Administrative Council) –whose budgets pale in comparison.
In 2008, six CBOs in Anba Grigri received nearly $100,000 altogether, while the local CASEC had only about $6,500 for the entire year – to build a “community center,” repair a road, or host the town’s annual celebration.
Construction of a parallel government?
Even before PRODEP began, the World Bank and other donors called for the creation of organizations to “facilitate… rapid impact” decentralized “interventions” outside of local government structures.
PRODEP accomplished this by working with existing CBOs and by helping create new ones, and then by offering training and support to create COPRODEPs councils, for which the World Bank and PRODEP implementers had even more in mind.
“The goal is for the COPRODEP to mature from a project-specific tool into a locally driven self-sustaining community institution, managing funds from multiple sources and supporting the institutional capacity of local public institutions,” according to 2010 World Bank document justifying $15 million in additional PRODEP funding.
COPRODEPs are today called CADECs (Conseils d’Appui de Développement Communautaire or Councils to Support Community Development). PADF and CECI have been contracted to help the CADECs “in becoming independent non-profit associations that may later develop into Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) with the capacity to support local public institutions, projects, and programs,” according to the World Bank document. Local elected officials and “notables” are invited to sit on the councils, but 80% of seats go to CBOs.
“It’s a little revolution taking place at the departmental level today,” explained Arcène Gérome. “The big challenge for us is to institutionalize PRODEP and for the CADECs to become permanent local structures that run all local community development activities.”
What could be seen as a decentralization of “The Republic of NGOs” has only reached about half of Haiti’s 140 communes, but PRODEP officials recently said they are seeking $100 million to fund a nationwide PRODEP 2.
Harm to the grassroots?
In addition to undermining local authorities, PRODEP’s method also appears to have hurt local grassroots organizations and what the World Bank economists call “organic” or “endogenous” participation, the kind of organizing and participation that drives social movements.
Elace Dirou, a farmer and member of Kòdinasyon Oganizasyon Bene (KOB or Coordination of Bainet Organizations), lamented that “when these projects come into our communities, they actually destroy organizations. They make people become enemies. People that used to share what little they had – salt, matches, etc. – now turn their backs” on each other.
Dirou said that KOB – founded in 1990, during the euphoric days of the Lavalas democratic and popular movement – abstained from participating in PRODEP when it realized the social and political reengineering that could result.
Anthropologist Mark Schuller has been documenting such societal changes since 2001. “With the influx of NGOs and projects, people lose their sense of solidarity, of working together,” said Schuller, a professor at the University of Illinois as well as the State University of Haiti, and author of the recently published Killing With Kindness – Haiti, International Aid and NGOs. “I think this is one of the most direct effects NGOs have had here. NGOs are based on contracts, on money, on ‘what can you do for me?’”
“Because it’s foreigners who are helping, after a while, people even cease to believe in Haitians!” he said. “They say ‘Haitians can’t do anything’ because the NGO is doing all the work in their neighborhood… It has a direct impact on peoples relationship with one another, with how they work together.”
While PRODEP documents and officials claim the program aimed to “improv[e] community governance and build social capital,” the World Bank economists who surveyed CDD projects worldwide said that was nearly impossible.
In their June 2012 paper “Can Participation Be Induced? Some Evidence from Developing Countries,” Mansuri and Rao concluded that “the idea that all communities have a ready stock of ‘social capital’ that can simply be harnessed is naïve in the extreme.” They also note, in a paper a year earlier, that “participation [in CDD projects] has little effect on the exercise of voice or on community organized collective action outside the participatory structure. Instead, some evidence points to a decline in collective activities outside the needs of the project.”
“Induced participation” is not the same as homegrown. Organizations that “arise endogenously” are part of social movements, while “induced” ones tend to organize because they are seeking “cash and other material payoffs,” the authors note.
Anba Grigri saw the birth of a number of new so-called CBOs. “Yes, there are a lot of organizations created because of what PADF is doing,” according to Jean Louis Nicolas, a local elected official. “They are waiting for PADF to fund them.”
Schuller has noted the same phenomenon in Haiti’s capital. “There are a lot of organizations founded to channel funding from ‘NGOs,’” he said. “You could call those organizations ‘fake’’ or maybe ‘pocket organizations,’ because they have a piece of paper in their pocket that says they are an organization, but for the majority of the population, they don’t really exist.”
One final negative effect noted in the Southeast as well as by Mansuri and Rao is that the people and organizations that tend to benefit the most in CDD projects in poor countries are those who enjoy privilege and power at the local level. This phenomenon, known as “elite capture,” was listed as a risk in early PRODEP documents.
Mansuri and Rao’s survey found that in poor countries, “[a] few wealthy, and often politically connected, men – who are not necessarily more educated than other participants – tend to make decisions at community meetings.”
Like many others in and around Bainet, François Brunel, a member of OJDB (Oganizasyon Jen pou Devlòpman Bene or Organization of Bainet Youth for Development), voiced concerns that the projects and their benefits were being used to further political careers. Brunel said CBOs that won the approval of the council were those that “were in the same political group” as powerful council members.
“They made their choices with elections [inside the council], but in those elections, if you weren’t a good ‘partner’ of the council members, your project would not be chosen,” he said.
Those whose projects were funded voiced similar concerns. The corn mill employee, Fabien Jean André Paul, told HGW that organizations “had to do a kind of campaign” to make sure they got the votes they needed in order to receive their funding.
A “successful approach”?
According to Mansuri and Rao, over the past decade the World Bank has spent some $80 billion dollars on CDDs and participatory development projects worldwide. At least $61 million was spent in Haiti.
Was it and is it a success? Yes, according to its stated objectives. World Bank online documents, cited earlier, say the projects built or rehabilitated 785 kilometers of road, 444 water distribution points, 448 classrooms, and also contributed to building or stocking other community services like health clinics.
But what about the 20-30% of the projects which failed? Where did the $6 million in funding money go? More than half of PRODEP’s $61 million – some $32 million dollars – went to the agencies overseeing the project. How was that money used?
Even if the creation of new CBOs was an objective, don’t these “induced” organizations harm Haiti’s social tissue and the existing grassroots groups? And isn’t it likely that the monetization of community work and of relationships has a negative effect, as the World Bank economists and anthropologists have claimed?
Finally, will the construction of a parallel state, a “permanent local development structure” dependent on foreign aid, contribute to Haiti’s economic development and transition to democracy?
Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA), community radio stations from the Association of Haitian Community Media and students from the Journalism Laboratory at the State University of Haiti.
Frame from a video by PRODEP, which the World Bank launched after the 2004 coup d’état to “create social peace.” Instead it has harmed Haiti’s “social tissue,” the HGW investigation found.
One of PRODEP’s projects, the OPA-net cyber-café, was funded with almost $20,000 according to World Bank documents. But OPA-net has been shut for nearly three years now. Dusty screens, towers, chairs, desks, and a dirty photocopy machine fill the rented space.
PADF's PRODEP director, Arcène Gérome, is trying to “create what we call ‘social cohesion,’ because as we say, the objective is to construct ‘social capital.’” Apparently, he is not succeeding.
Photos by Haiti Grassroots Watch