Reflections on the Reconstruction

Port-au-Prince, HAITI 26 March 2013 – Haitian and international media have published many articles on the progress of Haiti’s reconstruction.

The watchdog partnership Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) has been investigating this subject, in depth, for almost three years now. For a change, HGW decided to approach some of the major players to inquire about the following three aspects of the reconstruction process.

1)    Aid, dependence and sovereignty

2)    The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC)

3)    The question of vision, leadership and coordination

HGW made numerous requests for interviews, several of which were refused, namely those with government ministers and several members of parliament  [1]. Nonetheless, HGW was able to access numerous national and international actors important to the reconstruction, such as: four former members of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), three current and former employees of the Haitian government, and the Haitian representatives of the World Bank (WB), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Cover photo - a resident digs a hole at the Tabarre Issa camp. Read more here.
Photo: Fritznelson Fortuné

Aid and dependence, sovereignty

Well before the 12 January 2010 earthquake, Haiti depended largely on international aid to finance its government projects, programs and budget. Bilateral and multilateral donor funds were far more important than the internal revenue of the Haitian government.

The earthquake largely exacerbated this situation.

Post-earthquake international aid to Haiti falls into two categories: emergency aid, concentrated on humanitarian aid, and reconstruction aid to finance rebuilding and long-term development. Much like aid to Haiti before the earthquake, the majority of this money bypassed the Haitian government and ended up directly in the hands of private contractors, “NGOs” or “Non Governmental Organizations”, bilateral and multilateral agencies and other non-state actors.

Graph showing the amount of reconstruction assistance that went to the Haitian
government (dark blue).

Source: Office of the UN Special Envoy for Haiti - "Has Aid Changed?" [PDF]


Only one percent of emergency aid went to the Haitian government. The figures were slightly higher for reconstruction money: bilateral and multilateral donors respectively gave seven and 23 percent of their money to the Haitian government.

What do those interviewed think?

Michèle Oriol is executive director of the Interministerial Committee for Territorial Planning (CIAT in French), a government agency in charge of coordinating the actions of six (6) ministries.

“We need to do a kind of global reflection on the question of international aid. My impression is that international aid throughout the world doesn’t reap much success,” she noted.

And, she emphasized, “Who votes for it? It isn’t foreigners who vote in our place in their home countries to then come and impose it on us. We must first question the responsibility of Haitian authorities about the financing and functioning of the Haitian state and not the other way around. The responsibility is first and foremost a national one.”

Jacques Bougha-Hagbe is an economist and engineer by training. He has represented the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Haiti since March 2010.

“We can’t deny it. A substantial part of the aid does not go through the Haitian government and we find this deplorable, also. I don’t think it helps to simply blame the donors, because Haiti is a sovereign country. What is stopping the government from assuring there are structures that inspire confidence?

“Ideally, we would have made funds available to the Haitian government and the government would have used these wisely while staying accountable to the Haitian population and the partners,” he added, remarking that, “I don’t think things will succeed unless the government proves it has a leadership in which donors can trust. Because, in the end, no one will ever be able to replace the government.”

For Bougha-Hagbe, even a weak Haitian government must try to play its role: “Certainly the Haitian government has weaknesses, but it has the last word... The principle donors may be NGOs, but they can’t carry out anything without the approval of the government.”

The IMF representative ended by saying: “Haiti is a sovereign country. The day the Haitian government asks me to leave the country, I will leave, because they are the bosses. The IMF cannot impose anything at all on Haiti... The Haitian authorities themselves must absolutely make the necessary reforms... [and] increase the revenue of the state and [thus] make the country less dependent of foreign assistance.

A view of a typical “cluster” meeting meant to coordinate emergency
response. For months, almost all meetings were run in English only,
and many had no Haitian government presence.
Read more here.

Michel Présumé is director of the public buildings division at the Control Unit for Public Housing and Buildings (UCLBP), a small government agency.

Présumé noted that he likes to be realistic or at least pragmatic and said: “It’s clear that our means are very weak and our needs are enormous... We are weak because we don’t have the means to do what we want. At the moment we’re waiting for the aid of others, but it gets to a point where it’s almost painful.”

Présumé, a civil engineer and former employee of the Ministry of Public Works for 13 years, thinks that there are certain delays in the disbursement of money “because there’s a will to take back control. That explains the delay in aid.” 

“A lot of reports refer to the percentage of the aid that goes to the Haitian government. We must change this. The only means of getting there is to become a more responsible and respectable country,” he concluded.

Jean Claude Lebrun has been the national coordinator of Movement of Independent Integrated Organizations and of Engaged Unions (MOISE) since 13 November 2006 and is former member of the IHRC, where he represented the union sector.

“The United States had control over everything that was being done in the reconstruction. This stranglehold was exercised through different entities and also through the influence of the Clinton Foundation, which was very active in reconstruction-related decisions.”

Lebrun is convinced “an absence of leadership” drove the country into its current position of dependency. “We cannot reestablish sovereignty through international aid,” he said. 

Alexandre V. Abrantes has been a doctor and health administrator at the World Bank (WB) for the past 20 years and is currently the bank's representative in Haiti.

“The government had control over decisions made about reconstruction, at least while the IHRC was still operating.”

Almeida Eduardo Marquez was the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) representative in Haiti during the earthquake and post-quake period. He was interviewed via email.

Marquez noted that “the Haitian state’s weak executive capacity existed before the earthquake.”

William Kénel-Pierre is an architect and founding member of the political party Organization of People in Struggle (OPL).

“If I were to speak about reconstruction, I would start by speaking about the need to reconstruct our sovereignty, our dignity and our social structure. I can’t speak of reconstructing our social structure so much as of building a new social structure that can change the situation in which we are living,” he said.

For the Kénel-Pierre, foreign assistance is always synonymous with obligations. About the IMF, he wondered, “Is their mission to assist us or to manage the money they are lending to us?”

“Before the earthquake, it was clear that out institutions were in a serious state of collapse. The earthquake transformed that into what can be described as an ‘epiphenomenon’ of our general and more serious problems.”

New slum on Morne L'Hôpital, comprised mainly of T-Shelters donated by NGOs.
Read more here. Photo: HGW / Evens Louis

Jean-Marie Bourjolly is a mathematician and a professor at the School of Sciences and Administration at the University of Quebec in Montreal. Bourjolly was a member of the IHRC, from July 2010 to July 2011, as a representative of the executive power. Bourjolly is also editor of the review Haiti Perspectives. He was interviewed via email.

“We owe the extent of our troubles most to the chronic weakness of the Haitian state, and to the laissez-faire and lack of vision of our leaders,” according to Bourjolly, who has published the entirety of the interview with HGW in Haiti Perspectives.

The professor blamed “the weakness of the state and deficient leadership that manifests itself in the proverbial kleptomania of Haitian leaders, too inclined, as we know, to confuse their personal coffers with the national bank accounts, and their personal interests with those of their country.”

“The Haitian state, weak as it was before the earthquake, became bloodless and poly-traumatized; for their part, over the years the NGOs constituted themselves into a state within a state wherein the label 'Republic of NGOs' gained currency as Haiti’s nickname. As for entities like the World Bank, the IDB, and USAID, they were not in the habit of telling us about their activities and it’s hard to see what could have been done to change their approach,” he added.


Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC)

The IHRC was created by a presidential decree on April 21 2010. According to the decree, its role was “strategic planning, coordination, project development, rapid and efficient implementation, use of resources, project approval, optimization of investments and contributions, and technical assistance.”

Jacques Bougha-Hagbe, IMF representative.

“Why did we create the IHRC? To be honest, it’s because there is still this lack of confidence between many partners and the Haitian government.

“The idea of the IHRC was interesting at first. It initially created a forum that allowed the partners as well as Haitian civil society to see together how they could move forward,” he noted. “Unfortunately, the institution encountered problems that many other aid coordination platforms have known. Harmonization between practices and objectives of the partners and the government is crucial, but it is hard to establish.”

The IMF representative thinks that the challenges faced by the IHRC were not specific to Haiti, because “the difficulties it faced simply reflected the difficulties of aid coordination in developing countries in general.”

For Bougha-Hagbe, even if the IHRC mechanism was new and no longer exists, “there is always a disguised IHRC in Haiti. It’s the aid coordination mechanism... that rests on ‘sectorial tables.’ Sectorial tables are sector subgroups between the donors and the government that discuss strategy in the domains of education, health, sanitation, security and governance.”

One of the drawings for the reconconstruction of Port-au-Prince, proposed by the Prince
Charles Foundation of the UK
. Read more here. Source: Prince Charles Foundation

Jean Claude Lebrun, former IHRC member.

“The biggest weakness of the IHRC was its problem with communication...The IHRC functioned in closed circuit and no information was let out.

“The IHRC could have been better if it have been more democratic and if… information had circulated freely. There was a information deficit,” he added. “Only the executive committee and the executive secretariat made the decisions... the executive committee had two co-presidents: Bill Clinton and Jean-Max Bellerive.”   

While the Parliament had representatives within the IHRC, they had no control over it. According to Lebrun, “that was the IHRC’s undoing.”

Furthermore, he added: “Within the IHRC, [some] international representatives also had problems because the only sector with any decision-making power was the pro-American sector.”

Alexandre V. Abrantes, WB representative in Haiti.

“The IHRC was a very good initiative and I completely disagree with all those who criticize it without understanding what it accomplished,” he insisted. “All of our World Bank projects passed through the IHRC.”

“I believe that there was this perception that the IHRC was dominated by foreigners. It was for political reasons, national pride. And as you know, the international press loves telling bad stories. What they do is come after six months to talk about how 'nothing has happened, reconstruction isn't beginning.' It’s ridiculous,” he added.

Almeida Eduardo Marquez, former representative of the IDB in Haiti.

The IDB representative shares the same position as his counterpart at the WB.

The IHRC was an excellent initiative for coordinating international action with the government and for attracting attention, as much from donors as from the private sector. It would have been more successful if it had been used more as a communication tool between Haiti and the international community," he said.

Like other actors, he thinks that the experience of the IHRC could lead to improvements in other domains such as the “sectorial tables” and the government’s new Coordination for External Assistance for Haitian Development entity (CAED in French) that is supposed to now be in charge of managing of international assistance.

The unused model homes at the failed $2 million housing exposition. Read more here.
Photo: HGW/Jude Stanley Roy

Lucien Bernard is rector of the Episcopal University of Haiti, a professor at the State University of Haiti and former member of the IHRC, where he represented the senate.

“There was no communication. We were kept in the dark about what was going on. Control was in the hands of a bunch of international organizations. Even the document on internal regulations was presented to us in English,” according to the professor. “It was a deliberate attempt to trick us. It’s the same thing most governments do to their people.”

Garry Lissade, a lawyer and head of a well-known firm in the capital, represented the judiciary on the IHRC. 

Lissade felt that the IHRC was “a very good thing that could have offered the country a good start for the reconstruction, because the manner in which the interim commission was formed was not unilateral. It was constituted by both national actors and international donors.”

While admitting that the IHRC suffered due to certain challenges, Lissade qualified the experience as a success.

“The IHRC had a particular structure and was a unique model in the world, with the Haitian members designated by the Haitian authorities and members of civil society designating their IHRC representatives. What distinguished the IHRC was that so-called ‘friends of Haiti’ countries did not just hold Haiti’s hand and decide for Haiti. Instead, they sat down with the country at a table,” according to Lissade.

Jean-Marie Bourjolly, professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal and former member of the IHRC.

“In a country where the public authorities were known uphold their responsibilities and work for the common good, a supranational organization like the IHRC would have been, without a doubt, useless and even unthinkable,” according to the professor.

The creation of the IHRC was preceded by a presentation and publication of two studies, thanks to the initiative, and the technical and financial help of the international community. One was called the ‘Post Disaster Needs Assessment’ (PDNA) to look at the extent of the damage, and the other was the ‘Action Plan for the Recovery and Development of Haiti’ (PARDH in French), published in March 2010 to plan not only the physical reconstruction, but, according to the Head of State, ‘a re-founding of Haiti.’... I think it is in this context that one must see the IHRC. On paper, it seemed to correspond to the situation. I refer to the eight goals referred to in Section 5 of the IHRC’s rules: strategic planning, coordination, project development, rapid and efficient implementation, use of resources, project approval, optimizing investments and contributions, technical assistance.”

However, Bourjolly noted, “The IHRC was a big machine that completely evaded the control of its administrative council” because the council, in his opinion, “had unanimously, minus one voice, voted to give ‘full control’ to its two co-presidents, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bellerive, who tenaciously and loudly insisted on that, against all reason, until they succeeded.   

“The IHRC could have acted as a leader in this resurrection or, at least, it could have obtained much better results if it had opted for transparency both within the commission and toward the outside, and if it had opted to gain the trust of the Haitian people rather than treating them with suspicion,” according to Bourjolly.

Despite all these critiques, the professor contends that, “I sincerely believe, despite the very harsh criticisms I’ve just formulated, that in the circumstances, the role played by the IHRC was positive overall.”

Coordination, Leadership and Vision

 According to the accounts of some actors, the earthquake also provided the international community, through its different organizations (such as multinational agencies, donors), the opportunity to exercise greater control over Haiti. While for others, it was an opportunity to prove, in black and white, the lack of leadership and vision of Haiti’s authorities.

There were attempts at coordination. The Action Plan for the Recovery and Development of Haiti (PARDH) was supposed to be the compass for the reconstruction, and for an incalculable number of projects, there were dozens of “clusters” to organize the emergency response, and there were countless conferences, seminars, and round tables. But studies and testimonies complained of the lack of coordination.

Jacques Bougha-Hagbe, representative of the IMF.

Bougha-Hagbe noted that it is always difficult to coordinate post-disaster aid in a poor country.

“The general problem is that, on the one side, you have the government who must continue to play its role, and [on the other], the international donors who have their own realities,” he told HGW.

However, a government cannot just give up. It must accept to rise to the challenge, he added.

“The government must always maintain leadership over the development strategy. But its leadership must be enlightened, clear and confidence inspiring. I don’t believe anything will succeed until the leadership can gain donor trust. Because no instance can ever take the place of the government,” he added.

“The ideal would have been for the government itself to have developed the mechanisms to distribute donor aid. But the mechanisms must be reliable. That means that if a donor decides to make resources available to the government, the government will use the resources to carry out the agreed upon objectives,” he concluded. 

A map showing and listing the dozens of multilateral, bilaterial and aid organizations
and agencies working on agricultural projects as of September 2010.
Source: OCHA

Michel Présumé of the UCLBP.

Présumé, without beating around the bush, admitted: “I do not know who is the real ‘driver’ [of the reconstruction], except that we know our mandate [at the UCLBP] and our mandate is clear. We have had very good collaborations with all institutions and we know what we need to do.” 

Alexandre V. Abrantes, WB representative in Haiti.

“The government had the control over reconstruction decision-making, at least during the existence of the IHRC,” according to the WB representative. Abrantes gave as examples the reconstruction of the General Hospital (HUEH) and of National Highway #3.

“The decision was made by the government. The execution... There, you are correct. The government didn’t have control over the execution of these projects, but had the control over the decision to do this or that project,” said Abrantes.

The WB representative said he thinks the Haitian government has today regained power over both the direction and the coordination of the reconstruction. 

“Now, with the new document for the Coordination for External Assistance for Haitian Development entity (CAED in French), it’s pretty clear that the Minister of Planning [a position currently held by Prime Minister Lamothe] plays an important role in the coordination of aid.”

Almeida Eduardo Marquez, former IDB representative.

Asked who has control over the reconstruction, Marquez said: “I think the best answer to this question isn’t who has, but rather who should have control. The answer is simple: the government. There is no way to rebuild Haiti without the participation of the Haitians themselves, coordinated by the government. A government capable of creating a plan, targeting projects, managing finances and coordinating, in partnership with the private sector, civil society and the donor governments, in an autonomous and democratic manner, is the only solution for the reconstruction. I see that the necessary provisions have now been made for this to happen.” 

Photo collage showing the many kinds of “transitional shelters” built by perhaps
three dozen organizations all over Haiti.
Read more here. Source: Shelter Cluster

Jean-Marie Bourjolly, professor and former member of the IHRC.

“The PARDH, I repeat, is a sketch of a plan. I’ll add this: a sketch of a plan concocted quickly by the international community on behalf of the Haitian government, with the participation of the some of the Ministry of Planning staff. The Haitian government then presented it officially to this same international community to make believe it was in control of something, a fiction that fooled no one, certainly not the international community, but which had the effect of dampening certain nationalist criticisms… Even more, it was conceived without the participation of the actors on the ground who were fighting admirably against the multiple post earthquake problems.

“If the reconstruction was to be coordinated, it could not have been done so by anyone other than an organization invested in the mission and the power to decide – in consultation with the legitimate authorities (ministers, NGOs, international community, communities, local authorities and civil society...) – on what needed to be done globally and locally, according to which priorities, with which resources, and to verify or have verified what is being done on the ground in order to be able to rectify problems.”

Houses built and donated by the government of Venezuela which sat empty for 15 months
after the earthquake.
Read more here. Photo: HGW/James Alexis

 [1] The following people ignored our interview requests, made via letter and in person at least two or three times in each case: the Prime Minister and the Minister of Planning and Foreign Cooperation Laurent S. Lamothe, the Director General of the Ministry of Planning and Foreign Cooperation Yves Robert Jean, the former Executive Director of the IHRC Gabriel Verret,  the Special Envoy to the UN Secretary General former US President William J. Clinton and his deputy Dr. Paul Farmer, and the former co-president of the Haiti Reconstruction Fund (HRF) Joseph Leitman.


Garbage In, Garbage Out

by Jane Regan, coordinator, Haiti Grassroots Watch

Port-au-Prince, HAITI, March 22 2013 – “Garbage in, garbage out,” or GIGO, is a computer science term meaning that if the original data is erroneous, even the most sophisticated computer program will produce erroneous results. Perhaps unbeknownst to themselves, Haitian officials, the Haitian people and Haiti’s garbage are caught in the middle of a potentially expensive and risky GIGO scenario.

A foreign company that hopes to set up a trash-to-electricity incinerator in Haiti has misled the Haitian public, and perhaps Haitian authorities, with what appear to be false claims and deliberate attempts to avoid answering key questions raised in a January 22 article by the investigative journalism partnership Haiti Grassroots Watch.

In a text sent to Haiti’s daily Le Nouvelliste and published on February 8 with the title “Le projet Phoenix précise,” (“The Phoenix Project Offers Precision”) the Pittsburgh-based International Electric Power (IEP) company made claims that largely obscure, rather than clarify, its Phoenix Project and the criticisms and risks which surround it. [The text – as relayed by Le Nouvelliste – is available here, in French.] 

What is the Phoenix Project?

The Phoenix Project is a planned public-private company that would collect garbage from the capital region and then burn it to allegedly provide 30 megawatts (MW) of electricity available for sale to Haiti’s state electricity company. The initial cost of the venture is about US$250 million, according to IEP, which is seeking a loan from the US government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). Once built – by a Spanish company previously chosen by IEP, rather than via an open bidding process – the capital’s garbage would be picked up by public and private garbage collection entities and brought to the plant, sorted[1] and then relevant portions burned.

The Haitian government would own 10 percent of the eventual company, and would receive 50 percent of the after-tax profits (presumably once the US$250 million loan has been paid off), according to IEP. Boucard Waste Management and other Haitian private sector players are part of the deal.

Some members of the Haitian government support the project. [However, a high-level government official involved with solid waste disposal rejected the project. See this report.] IEP officials told HGW that authorities have already signed two memoranda of understanding (MOUs) that commit to making two payments to the new company for 30 years: one, required, would be a sum to operate the plant, and another, optional, for any electricity purchased. The state would also donate land north of Port-au-Prince. HGW was denied its request to see the MOUs, but Haiti’s Minister Delegate for Energy Security, René Jean Jumeau, confirmed that the project “is part of our Action Plan for the Development of Electricity.”

A WtE plant in Mallorca, Spain, built by the company IEP says
will build 
Haiti's plant.
Source: Ros Roca

“We aim to build factories that will turn trash into energy all over the country,” he told HGW on October 10 2012.

The five-year-old IEP has never built or operated a “waste-to-energy” (WtE) plant, and according to the company website, the principal staff members do not have direct experience with the business either. (Nevertheless, in the February 8 text, IEP claimed its team has “proven expertise in the collection of solid waste and its transformation into electricity.")

The firm slated to build the plant – Ros Roca of Spain – does have expertise. It built a giant WtE combustion plant in Mallorca, Spain. Interestingly, it turns out the Ros Roca plant is too big. Households on the island of Mallorca do not produce enough garbage. Therefore, the plant’s owners, who do not include Ros Roca, are now importing 100,000 tons of garbage per year from all over Europe to make up for the shortfall, despite the strong opposition of some local officials and several citizens groups.

One of many protests against the import of trash to the island
of Mallorca, Spain.
Source: El Pais

In Haiti and abroad – with documents, meetings, junkets to Mallorca for government officials, public relations campaigns and interviews – IEP has promoted the Phoenix Project as the answer to both the capital’s garbage problems and the country’s need for more electricity. The company also claims that the combustion plant will not cause any environmental or health dangers, that it will eventually eliminate the practice of open-air burning of garbage as well as the problem of blocking drainage canals,” and will create 1,800 “high-quality, skilled jobs” and also “at least 10,000 jobs,” presumably related to garbage collection. (The February 8 text lowers the numbers, claiming 1,600 “well-paying” jobs.)

Disturbing discoveries, glaring contradictions

In its two-month investigation, Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) discovered a number of contradictions between IEP’s various claims and the reality on the ground in Haiti and in similar, low-income countries.

Based on the evidence collected, the journalists concluded that Haiti’s “municipal solid waste,” or “MSW,” would likely not be able to produce 30 MW of electricity. Journalists also raised questions about the health and environmental risks associated with incineration or combustion plants. Finally, journalists noted that the project would commit the government and people of Haiti to 30 years of payments to a company mostly controlled by profit-seeking investors.

HGW also discovered that the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), headed by President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive (2010 and 2011), twice rejected the project. Two staffers at the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) who had seen the Phoenix proposal and were familiar with the IHRC both confirmed the rejections. One of them told HGW: “both the World Bank and the IDB studied the project and both of them rejected it because it would be terrible for Haiti.” [For more, see Phoenix Project... Born Again?]

1 – Haiti’s waste likely not suited for a combustion plant

On its website and in its February 8 text, IEP claims that Haiti’s MSW has the “caloric value” necessary to produce electricity. HGW’s research found this to be unlikely.

A recent (2010) study by the US government’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on the various WtE technologies that would most appropriate for Haiti’s garbage recommended bio-digestion, not combustion.   

NREL noted that Haiti’s garbage “is estimated to contain between 65% and 75% organics… Food waste typically does not make a good fuel or feedstock for combustion or gasification systems. This is because the waste has high moisture content.”

In its February 8 text, IEP said that these figures – “between 65% and 75% organics” – were out of date. The company repeated its claim that “the composition and caloric value [of the capital’s MSW] exceed what is necessary for producing 30 MW, even in rainy season,” and also implied to readers that both the NREL and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) agreed.

Contacted in February, neither NREL nor the UN program would confirm the claim. Both said they are in the process of producing reports for the Haitian government, which are not yet complete.

IEP has also claimed that its own research confirms Haiti’s garbage would produce the 30 MW. However, as with other issues related to the project, there is little transparency surrounding the alleged study, which was conducted by the very firms who stand to benefit if the project is funded.

HGW decided to do its own research and discovered that a very recent study (2012) from the World Bank, “What a Waste – A Global Review of Waste Management” [PDF], says that for “low income countries,” combustion of waste to produce electricity is “not common” and “generally not successful because of high capital, technical, and operation cost, high moisture content in the waste and high percentage of inerts.”

Chart from 2012 World Bank report showing that in “low income
countries,” about 64 % of municipal solid waste is organic.

Source : What a Waste report

Chart from 2012 World Bank report showing that in the year 2025, in “low income countries,”
about 62 % of municipal solid waste will be organic.
Source : What a Waste report

The study noted that low-income countries typically have garbage that is about 64 percent organic, a figure only slightly lower than the 65 to 75 percent numbers in 2010 NREL report.

2 – Environmental Risks

In its February 8 text, IEP sniped that anyone raising questions about the risks associated with incineration have an “a biased opinion.”

Incineration or combustion plants today are clearly cleaner than in the past, but only if expensive technology is used and only if they are continually subjected to rigorous and expensive monitoring. The HGW article highlighted some of the risks associated with incineration and speculated that a government which fails to enforce its most simple, low-tech environmental regulations – like one banning tree-cutting or another banning the use of Styrofoam food containers – would not be able to enforce the kinds of rules countries like Denmark and Germany uphold. 

IEP also claimed that “industrial incineration is more and more popular in European Union countries.”

While it is true that there are hundreds of WtE combustion plants in Europe, as well as in the US, it is not true that they are becoming “more and more popular” there. In 2007, the European Parliament voted to prioritize recycling over incineration, and in 2011, the European Commission published a “Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe” which says that by 2020, there should be no incineration of any garbage that could be turned into compost or recycled.

Finally, IEP said that its project would be cleaner than the open-air garbage burning common across Haiti. While that might be true, there are many other ways to stop open-air burning, including: passing and enforcing a law and/or developing a comprehensive waste management plan that includes composting and/or biodigestion and/or landfills.

Chart from 2012 World Bank report showing that incineration is the next-to-last
choice for dealing with municipal solid waste.
Source : What a Waste report

There are many other environmental considerations that need to be studied before approving or rejecting a WtE combustion plant, including the fact that for many materials, burning produces more greenhouse gas emissions than would recycling.

3 – Costs

One of the risks raised by HGW journalists is the financial commitment entailed. In its February 8 text, IEP used an economic argument of its own, claiming that the Phoenix Project would produce “cheap energy.”

A recent (2010) report from the US Department of Energy says just the opposite.

Studying the “capital costs” and “operating costs” for various electricity-generation plants or methods, including what it calls “MSW plants” (garbage combustion plants), wind farms, solar farms, and biodigestion, the “Updated Capital Cost Estimates for Electricity Generation” states that, contrary to IEP’s claims, MSW plants one of the most expensive installations to build and operate when compared with other technologies.

Building a 50 MW plant, like the Phoenix Project but a little larger, would cost US$8,232 (2010 dollars) for each kilowatt (kW) of capacity, with fixed operating costs at US$376 (2010 dollars) per kW.

In stark contrast, a 50 MW “bubbling fluidized bed” biomass installation would cost US$4,755 (2010 dollars) for each kW of capacity, and have fixed operating costs of about $100 (2010 dollars) per kW.

Finally, a 150 MW solar photovoltaic installation would cost US$4,755 (2010 dollars) per kW to set up and have only about US$17 (2010 dollars) of fixed operating costs per kW.

GIGO and Haiti’s garbage

HGW cannot claim complete expertise in the area of trash-to-energy technologies. But the GIGO axiom clearly applies to the Phoenix project. With incomplete and erroneous data, the Haitian state and the Haitian people are at risk of making a costly error.

The studies cited above prove, irrefutably, that the Phoenix Project is certainly not the only “solution” to the country’s garbage and energy challenges. It is, in fact, probably the most risk-laden and expensive choice. For countries like Haiti, the World Bank and others usually recommend recycling and “recovery” via composting or via biodigestion, which produces both energy (methane that can be burned) and “soil amendment” (nutrients that can be added to the soil). 

The precedent being set in Mallorca offers another reason for pause. Perhaps the Phoenix Project plant is being built with foreign garbage in mind? Haiti already had a close call with imported trash from IEP’s home state, Pennsylvania.

In 1988, the Khian Sea barge anchored off Gonaives and unloaded some 4,000 tons of its 15,000-ton toxic cargo: ash from a City of Philadelphia incinerator. Ten years of tireless advocacy by citizens groups and courageous reporting from Radio Haïti Inter journalists finally succeeded in forcing the city of Philadelphia and its contractors to reload its toxic cargo. The Khian Sea captain dumped the rest of the ash in the middle of the Indian and Atlantic oceans. [See these reports: IPS and Counterpunch]

Without a complete understanding of all the facts, the data, the costs and the risks surrounding various methods for dealing with its municipal solid waste and its energy challenges, the Haitian government risks signing the state and the taxpayers up for a very costly deal. Government authorities and the agencies advising it need to put all their cards on the table, reveal all possible conflicts of interest in the project, and the NREL and UNEP need to publish their results sooner rather than later.

Read High-Ranking Government Official Rejected Phoenix

[1] There is a certain contradiction in the IEP plan. Efficient sorting of urban garbage would include the removal and recycling of the very materials which burn at a higher temperature.


Two journalists attacked by World Vision worker

Port-au-Prince, HAITI, March 21 2013 [AlterPresse] – Two Haitian journalists were attacked by a man working for the humanitarian organization World Vision on Monday March 18 in the hamlet of Savanette, located about 160 kilometers west of the capital.

[World Vision response: below]

Evens Louis, a multimedia journalist with Accès-Médias, a section of Groupe Médialternatif, and Lafontaine Orvild, journalist and assistant coordinator of Haiti Grassroots Watch, were verbally attacked. The aggressor also hit one of the journalists.

The attack took place while the team was filming one of World Vision’s food distribution activities in Savanette.

“I was shoved and hit in the face by this person, who was wearing a World Vision vest,” Orvild said, noting that after the assault, the aggressor got into a World Vision vehicle.

The man had also tried to damage and confiscate the journalists’ equipment. Orvild and Louis were in Savanette to work on a Haiti Grassroots Watch investigation that also involves several community or rural radio stations and the AlterPresse online news agency, which is also part of Groupe Médialternatif.

“It is terrible to see freedom of the press menaced like this,” Orvild deplored.

Teacher Mimose Sanon witnessed the entire incident, telling AlterPresse that when the man shoved the journalists and hit one of them, he tried to intimidate them by telling them “to stop filming because supposedly the institution for which he worked would not allow it.”

The food distribution activity was being carried out on an open plot of land next to a river. Witnesses said the incident might have deteriorated if those present had not intervened.

Groupe Médialternatif strongly condemns the attack and considers it an attack on the freedom of the press and the freedom of information. Groupe Médialternatif will undertake the steps necessary to denounce the act, as well as discuss it with national and international World Vision authorities who should know that the activities of any and all organizations which are of concern to the people in any and all regions should never be considered private operations. [mm gp apr 21/03/2013 11:50]

Original article - http://www.alterpresse.org/spip.php?article14297


Statement by Jean Claude Mukadi

Haiti National Director, World Vision

March 22, 2013

World Vision deplores the incident March 18th involving reporters of the Ayiti Kale Je platform - of which AlterPresse is a member - that occurred at one of our food distribution sites, in Calumette, a locality in the commune of Savanette.

Our organization has launched an investigation into the matter and, if it is determined that any of our employees acted wrongfully or in an unprofessional manner, appropriate disciplinary actions will be taken.  The press will be informed of the outcome of this investigation upon its completion.

In addition, if AlterPresse determines it also will conduct its own investigation, World Vision will cooperate fully.

World Vision reaffirms its commitment to open and trustworthy relationships with representatives of the news media, whether in Haiti or any of the other nearly 100 nations in which we serve vulnerable people. In Haiti, we appreciate the excellent collaboration our staff have with journalists, on whom we rely to inform members of the public about our programs. Recently, World Vision hosted a field trip in the northern region of the country, enabling a group of journalists from Port-au-Prince to see the impact of our operations in some of the remotest areas of the country.

Our organization has been working in Haiti since 1959 and we remain dedicated to working with the people of the country, government agencies and other humanitarian organizations to help provide sustainable solutions for the future of children, families, and communities. 


Contact: Jean Wickens, (+) 509-34540454; Jean-Wickens_ Merone@wvi.org


The Caracol Industrial Park: Worth the risk?

Caracol and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 7 March 2013 – Last October, officials from the Haitian government and from a number the so-called “friends of Haiti” governments and institutions saw their dream turned into reality. Finally, earthquake reconstruction progress worth celebrating. The inauguration of the giant Caracol Industrial Park which, according to its backers, will someday host 20,000 or maybe even 65,000 jobs.

President Michel Martelly was there, as were Haitian and foreign diplomats, the Clinton power couple, millionaires and actors, all present to celebrate the government’s clarion call: “Haiti is open for business.”

Aerial view of the Caracol Industrial Park. Source: official park website

“We supported the Caracol Park because we knew it was going to be an extraordinary thing for the north. The park will allow us to ‘decentralize’ the country and create a northern ‘pole.’ It will also give people jobs in an extraordinary way!” then-Minister of Social Affairs Josépha Raymond Gauthier told Haiti Grassroots Watch.

But a two-month investigation by Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) discovered that the number of jobs in the north is not yet “extraordinary,” and that many other promises have not yet been kept.

One year after it started operations, only 1,388 people work in the park; 26 of them are foreigners and another 24 are security guards. Also, HGW research amongst a sampling of workers found that at the end of the day, most have only 57 gourdes, or US$1.36, in hand after paying for transportation and food out of their minimum wage 200-gourde (US$4.75) salary.

HGW also learned that most of the farmers kicked off their plots to make way for the park are still without land.

“Before, Caracol was the breadbasket of the Northeast department,” said Breüs Wilcien, one of the farmers expelled from the 250-hectare zone. “Right now there is a shortage of some products in the local markets. We are just sitting here in misery.”

Another farmer, Waldins Paul, a member of the Association of Caracol Workers, explained:

“In my opinion, [the PIC] has its advantages and its disadvantages… The good part is that there are a lot of people who before didn’t have anything to do, who just sat around yawning. But now they see they aren’t getting that much for working, since 200 gourdes (about US$4.75) can’t do anything for anyone. What’s worse, it has impoverished the breadbasket of Haiti’s North and Northeast departments.”

The PIC was put together by the US and Haitian governments with help from the Inter-American Development Bank [IDB]. It cost, for the first phase, at least US $250 million. Almost half, about US$120 million, came from US citizens. Since then, more money has been spent on studies, roads, and on paying off the farmers expelled from their lands. [See also Caracol By The Numbers]

“The disadvantages”

The January 2010 earthquake forcefully dislocated 1.3 million people in Léogâne and the capital. But those weren’t the only regions that saw dislocation. The PIC also forcefully expelled people: the 366 families who were farming 250 hectares of fertile land. [See HGW 11 #6 and #7 to learn more about the choice of Caracol for the park.] The Chabert plantation assured the survival of about 2,500 people in those families, as well as 750 agricultural workers who toiled for at least 100 days per year each year on the plots.

Mother and son, Gina Saint Louis, 50, and Ghimps Saint Vil, 27. Photo: Lafontaine Orvild/HGW

The Haitian government requisitioned the land in November 2011, covered it with asphalt and fill, and put up giant hangers for the factories. The Technical and Execution Unit (Unité Technique d’Exécution - UTE), an agency of the Ministry of Finances, has been charged with the task of relocating of the farmers, and also with paying them damages to cover the cost of every harvest lost until they receive new lands.

According to the UTE, each farmer is getting US$1,450 per hectare to make up for the lost cash revenue, as well as an additional US$1,000 per hectare to account for the food that the family would have eaten from its own plot(s). (HGW could not determine if the agricultural workers also received payments.)

In January 2013, the UTE told HGW that the state had paid out to the farmers on two occasions, because the farmers had lost two harvests thus far.

In addition to the money spent to reimburse the farmers – a total of about US$1.2 million, Haiti has also twice lost 1,400 metric tons (MT) of agricultural products, or 2,800 MT of food produced in Haiti for Haitian consumption. It takes over 100,000 bushels of dried beans to make up 2,800 MT. Finally, the UTE itself has an operating budget of about US$1 million. [See also Caracol By The Numbers]

Verly Davilmar will be getting 35,000 gourdes, or about US$833, for the most recent harvest lost. Before, he worked a half-hectare of land, growing yams, manioc and spinach. No longer. No land. He sits at home. A family of ten.

“What they gave me is gone in a flash,” he told HGW. “There’s no other revenue. You don’t have any land so you have to make do with nothing.”

Farmer Alfred Joseph, 52, lost the land he has farmed for decades.
"What little land I had is now covered with cement.
What is an old person supposed to do?"

Photo: Lafontaine Orvild/HGW

UTE Director Michael Delandsheer told HGW that his team has almost found a solution. The farmers will eventually get plots nearby, in Glaudine.

“Our first priority is to give the farmers land so they can work. But even then, once they have land, we aren’t finished. We are going to make sure they get official leases to their land from the tax office, and we are going to accompany them throughout the process,” Delandsheer explained. “Even then, our work isn’t done. We want to continue to accompany them, to help them improve their productivity.”

After almost two years of promises, the Caracol farmers remain skeptical. Some of the farmers in the Ouanaminthe area, home to the CODEVI industrial park, never got lands they were promised after being displaced almost a decade ago.

Caracol farmers were also allegedly promised jobs.

“They said our family would be able to work [at the PIC], but so far we haven’t gotten any job offers,” Davilmar said.

The assistant mayor of Caracol is also disappointed. At the beginning, Vilsaint Joseph was not completely supportive of the park, but he kept an open mind, he said. And he is happy that the commune now has electricity, thanks to the power plant built by the US. But people in Caracol haven’t gotten jobs.

“There are people who are about 32 years old who went and got training, but they didn’t get a job because of the flood of young people in their twenties. I think that isn’t right. People spent three months getting trained up but then were told – ‘no work for you,’” the mayor deplored.

The decline in regional agricultural production is also a worry, he said, because before “come harvest time, there would be truckloads of corn and beans for Port-au-Prince.”

Of a dozen farming families questioned by HGW, all of them said the payments were insufficient. Some said they could not afford to send all of their children to school.

“We are thinking of organizing a sit-in to demand that the authorities give us land so we can work,” Breüs Wilcien told HGW during a recent telephone interview.

Wilcien got 42,000 gourdes (US$1,000) but he said he can’t pay for his children’s’ schooling.

“My entire household is suffering. Before, we always had our manioc field. When things were going badly, we went out there and pulled some up to make sweet bread or to just eat as is. We are really suffering these days.”

The “winners”

If the farmers and their families can be considered as “losers,” at least for the moment, the government and its partners say that those who got jobs are “winners” because they have employment. All of the documents about Haiti’s reconstruction talk about the need to “create” jobs and in this regard, the PIC is held up as the biggest “success” thus far.

HGW interviewed 15 workers, men and women, employed at the South Korean factory employing most of the PIC’s workers. This assembly factory – S & H Global – is a subsidiary of SAE-A Trading. It puts together clothing for some of the biggest US-based companies, including JC Penny and WalMart.

All of the workers – most of them women, as in assembly factories the world over – confirmed that they received the minimum wage of 200 gourdes (US$4.75) per day. Among the workers questioned, 11 said that they spent on average 61 gourdes on transportation each day, and another 82 gourdes on the midday meal and a drink. That left only 57 gourdes or about US$1.36, for all the additional expenses: water, electricity, food for the family, clothing, school fees, etc. [See also HGW Dossier 11 #1]

“I can’t live on this salary. It doesn’t do anything for me,” Annette* told HGW.

Before the PIC, this mother of ten worked at the CODEVI industrial park in Ouanaminthe. She lives near the border town and gets up early every day to come to the PIC. Annette left her job for the new position in the hope that conditions would be better, she said. She was wrong.

“What I found is not worth if,” she explained, but she doesn’t know what else to do. Annette is in the same position as the thousands of Haitians who agree to work for a 200-gourde daily salary.

A fisherman anchors his boat in the Caracol Bay. Fishing is a major source
of employment in the region. The IDB has promised to help Caracol’s fishermen
with new engines and other aid
. Photo: Lafontaine Orvild/HGW

Economist Frédérick Gérald Chéry believes that the Haitian government has a flawed approach to the minimum wage question, and that it has made a huge error in focusing on assembly factories where workers rarely earn more than that. In addition to not providing enough income for even a basic existence, the State University professor notes that a 200-gourde salary cannot contribute to the growth of other sectors of Haiti’s economy.

“You have to calculate what a worker earns and then what he can buy with that money. What he can buy is the most important factor. You should not set the minimum wage according to absolute terms, but in terms of the basic necessities,” Chéry told AKJ during a November 2012 interview. “You should not encourage a worker to buy rice that comes from the US or the Dominican Republic. A minimum wage should be able to buy local products.”

Waiting for a bus to go back home to Cap-Haïtien, Flora* was overjoyed to talk to a journalist, despite clearly being exhausted.

“God sent you. I have been needing a journalist to talk about what we are putting up with in the park,” she said. “They yell at us as if we were animals. The food they prepare is bad. There is only warm water to drink. Sometimes I’ve had to work all day without a facemask. Dust fills my nose.”

The workers’ comments were backed up by a recent report from “Better Work,” an agency of the UN’s International Labor Organization, which found that half of the 22 assembly factories in the capital region were “in non-compliance” as far as working conditions were concerned, and that 16 of them did not have an “acceptable” temperature.

Ask about salaries and working conditions at its Caracol factory, a representative of SAE-A contacted via email said the company respected all aspects of Haitian law. However, when HGW asked to visit the factory in order to see the working conditions, the request was denied. More recently, a union organizer also asked to visit the factory in order to see working conditions. That request was also denied.

HGW’s investigation revealed that of the 15 S & H Global workers questions, 80 percent said they felt the salary level vs. the amount worked did not make sense.

“It’s not worth it! The supervisors don’t respect us. They don’t see us as human beings. They hit us with pieces of cloth,” Adeline* said.

Formerly a merchant, Adeline said she wants to go back to her old profession rather than continue to suffer.

Haiti’s former Minister of Social Affairs told HGW that she realizes the minimum wage offers a low salary. But she immediately echoed the same justifications that all the factory owners and managers repeat.

“Someone working in an assembly industry [factory] isn’t going to get rich overnight,” ex-Minister Josépha Raymond Gauthier said in a November 2012 interview. “But someone who has no job at all has no hope.”

The Caracol mayor told HGW that he felt the same way last year. Now that he knows more about what he called “unacceptable” conditions and the low salary, he has changed his mind. The jobs are nothing short of “humiliation,” Vilsaint Joseph said.

The Haitian government has said that eventually it will provide free bus transportation to workers, and has also promised that some of them will receive housing with subsidized mortgages. Part of the US$120 million pledged by the US government is for a US$31 million dollar development of 1,500 small homes called “EKAM” and located near the PIC. According to US and IDB documents, the houses – costing US$23,510 each will be for workers as well as displaced Caracol families considered “vulnerable” because they are headed by a woman or an elderly person.

However, because only 750 are funded at the moment, relatively few will benefit. [See also Caracol by the Numbers]

Some of the EKAM homes. Photo: Lafontaine Orvild/HGW

Worth the risk?

In all, for the installation of the park, the power station, EKAM, the payments to the famers, and other expenses, the US government, the IDB and the Haitian government have spent over US$250 million. But even with that investment, the eventual benefits to Haiti and to the Haitian state are not guaranteed.

All of the companies that set up shop in the PIC will get various tax breaks, meaning that little money will end up in the state coffers. Until the year 2020, the clothing assembly companies, like S & H Global, have additional privileges thanks to the US “HELP” (Haiti Economic Lift Program) law. [See HGW Dossier 11, #3]

S & H Global does employ 1,294 people and has promised to employ another 1,300 by the end of the year. In addition, SAE-A is building a school and will subsidize its operation.

But to establish those jobs, SAE-A closed down a Guatemala factory, throwing 1,200 workers on the street. The company left Guatemala for Haiti because of Haiti’s low salaries and because of the HELP law, according to this report. Once the HELP advantages expire, in seven years, will SAE-A also leave Haiti?

Even with these meager results, the Haitian government and other actors say the PIC is a good “bet.” In one document, the IDB promises that it will set Haiti on “the path of economic growth.”

Speaking to the New York Times in 2012, the IDB’s country manager José Agustín Aguerre recognized that “[c]reating an exclusively garment maquiladora zone is something everyone — I wouldn’t say tries to avoid, but considers last resort.” Still, he said, the PIC is “a good opportunity” even though the salaries are “low” and the jobs “unstable.”

“[Y]es, maybe tomorrow there will a better opportunity for firms elsewhere and they will just leave. But everyone thought this was a risk worth taking,” Aguerre added.

Economist Frédérick Gérald Chéry has a completely different analysis. Chéry notes that rushing to set up assembly industries, without a global plan, and without a national debate, is an error.

“Rather than seeing the textile industry as a temporary thing, they see it as a contributing sector to our economy, and it cannot be that, because the salaries are too low and because we don’t produce any of the inputs,” Chéry told HGW. “We don’t produce the cloth, we don’t do the design, and we don’t have an ‘economy of scale.’ I predict catastrophe if we stay on this path.”

Also, the economist noted, prioritizing the PIC over agricultural production is very worrying.

“If we don’t develop our agriculture in parallel with the clothing assembly industry, the farmers will be the losers,” he said.

The Caracol Industrial Park is not the first big project full of promises to set up shop in Haiti’s north.

In 1927, US capitalists established the Dauphin Plantation to grow sisal for the international market. By World War II, the plantation had taken over 10,000 hectares of land and was the biggest employer in the country. But tens of thousands of farmers lost their land to make way for the monoculture, and the entire region became dependent on the industry.

After the war and after the invention of nylon, the sisal price plummeted. The investors pulled out and eventually – in the 1980s – the plantation closed, bankrupt. Its traces can be seen today: ruined buildings and land made less fertile by years of sisal plants.

One of the Caracol farmers remembered the plantation. He knows what happened when the industry closed down.

“Today, if you go visit Derac, Collette and Phaeton, you’ll see. If it weren’t for the U.N. blue helmets and the World Food Organization, those people would had died of hunger by now.”

  Note: Reporters from Haiti Grassroots Watch and many other media were denied access because they were not on a list compiled by a private media consulting group hired by USAID called Wellcome

* Note: This is a fictional name. HGW decided to conceal the identity of the workers in order to protect them from repercussions.


Go to Caracol By The Numbers


Nervousness and lack of transparency surround three new mining permits

Cadouche and Port-au-Prince, HAITI, 20 February 2013 – The population of Cadouche, a small village about 12 kilometers south of Cap-Haitian in Haiti’s North department, is nervous about three new mining exploitation permits granted last December in an opaque and secretive process.

Located near the Morne Bossa deposit, the Cadouche economy is based mostly on agriculture. In this hamlet of a little over a hundred small houses, which has no clinic or other services, families work day and night to take care of their families needs. And they ask themselves if they are invisible to the authorities in Haiti’s capital, because negotiations about their region’s future go on behind closed doors, without any local representation, they say.

A view of the Morne Bossa plain. Photo: HGW/Ben Depp

Until today, not one single member of the government or of the company has consulted the population to hear our complaints or ask for our agreement to the mining of the Morne Bossa deposits,” said Mezadieu Toussaint, a teacher and farmer in his fifties. “If the mine benefits the population, that would be wonderful. But we are worried that it will poison our environment.”

Steno Chute, a member of the Democratic Movement for the Development of Quartier-Morin (Federation du movement démocratique pour le développement de Quartier-Morin - Femodeq) and a farmer of corn, beans and sorghum, said he is afraid of mining.

"Mining can have disastrous consequences,” he told the crowd. “We are really anxious and nervous. The water and environment will be polluted.”

Old permits

News that the government mining agency (Bureau des Mines et d’Energie – BME) had approved three gold or copper “exploitation” permits late in December recently sent reporters and elected officials scrambling. In articles and interviews, journalists speculated what Haiti had lost or would gain, and accused the government of granting “illegal” permits, and pointed questions from Haitians senators brought BME director Ludner Remarais to tears.

The three “new” permits – for mining deposits in Morne Bossa, Douvray and “Faille B” in Haiti’s North and Northeast departments – are not new. They are the conversion of three permits for “exploration” into permits for “exploitation.”

The three permits were originally granted in 1997 by the René Préval government via two mining conventions with two “Haitian” companies – St. Genevieve S.A. and Sociète Minière Citadelle S.A. [Download the original conventions - 6 and 8 MB - here: St. Geneviève, Citadelle] Because they were sold or they changed their names, these conventions are held by two small firms: Société Minière Delta and Société Minière du Nord-Est SA (SOMINE S.A.). But in both cases, the power rests overseas, in the hands of foreign companies and shareholders.

Map showing location of Morne Bossa property (VCS / Société Miniere Delta).
Source: VCS website 

SOMINE property location. Source: Majescor website

The Société Minière Delta is the property of VCS Mining, a small US private company registered in the state of Delware, infamous for its policies which permit firms to hide their profits, keep their operations secret and pay minimal taxes, according to a recent New York Times article.

SOMINE S.A. is a subsidiary of the Canadian mining company Majescor which says it specializes in “emerging” regions. Last month, Majescor offered for sale US$2.5 million worth of shares for “the SOMINE project." Majescor says it controls SOMINE because it controls a company called SIMACT Alliance Copper-Gold Inc., which in turn controls the majority of SOMINE shares.

These three permits are the most advanced of the dozens of permits for about 2,500 square kilometers handed out in recent years. The new permits will convert into concessions once the companies start mining.

Map from 2011 showing the permits controlled by another foreign company,
Eurasian Minerals.
Source:  Eurasian Minerals website

Parliamentary protest

According to many senators, the three new permits violate the Haitian Constitution because they are based on conventions that were never approved by the parliament. A Senate Commission organized a special hearing on January 22 2013, where they accused BME director Remarais.

“In 20 years the parliament has never ratified any mining conventions,” Senator Steven Benoit (West) thundered, while Senator Andris Riché (Grande Anse) shouted: “We must not accept wacky contracts that seek to bury the people.”*

“I am sorry the Senate was never contacted,” Remarais responded, tears in his eyes.

The Constitution says that the parliament must “approve or reject international treaties and conventions” (Art. 98-3). According to attorney Mario Joseph, director of the Office of International Lawyers (Bureau des Avocats Internationaux – BAI): “The conventions are illegal, because the parliament did not ratify them.” But it appears that these conventions are not “international” because they concern the government and companies that – at least on paper – are Haitian.

The former director of the BME, Dieuseul Anglade, maintains that the conventions are not “illegal” because the government decided to sign and publish them as decrees, i.e., without ratification.

“Decrees have the same authority as laws. If someone wants to be a demagogue or make political hay, he can call the conventions ‘illegal,’ but the are legal,” Anglade told HGW in a telephone interview on February 6 2013.

In another telephone interview, a spokesman for VCS Mining, the company working in Morne Bossa, said the same thing, insisting that his people have followed regulations from the beginning. Last year, they submitted the required “feasibility study” for the site, which maps out the steps they will take in order to prepare for mining, and it was finally accepted by the BME in November, he said.

The representative – who asked not to be identified by name because his company has decided to keep a low profile until the resolution of the BME-Senate conflict – insisted: “We have done the work as required by law. The permits are legal.”

The VCS representative also said that his company has invested over US$4 million on the Morne Bossa site so far, and that since gold was first discovered by UN prospectors in the late 1970s, “over US$38 million has been spent.” The mine would eventually employ 300 people, he said.

Seeking verification and clarification, HGW requested an interview BME director Ludner Remarais. The interview was three times promised, and then denied. HGW wanted to confirm what VCS said, wanted to ask for a copy of the feasibility studies and also wanted to ask about the illegality of the original conventions.

Many other questions

The question of legality is not the only area of doubt surrounding the three permits. Both of them award the Haitian state with very low royalties: only 2.5 percent of the value of the minerals extracted. A number that is “really low,” according to mining royalties expert Claire Kumar. 

“Anything under five percent is just really ludicrous for a country like Haiti. You shouldn’t even consider it. For a country with a weak state, the royalty is the safest place to get your money,” Kumar told HGW in 2012.

Majescor President and CEO, Marc-André Bernier, with a copper-oxide enriched
volcanic rock sample from a recently outlined showing in the North section
of the SOMINE property (May 2009)
Source: Caption and photo from Majescor website.

According to Haitian mining law, the financial agreements in a convention can be “revised,” but so far, no government official has mentioned the possibility, nor has discussed Haiti’s “ludicrous” royalty rate.

The other major concerns are lack of transparency in general, the eventual social and environmental impacts of open pit mines documented by HGW in its series last year and the lack of participation from and benefits to local communities.

The feet of a farmer next to a VCS marking indicating the location of a test drill
in Morne Bossa.
Photo: HGW/Ben Depp

Recently over a hundred people living in the a hamlet not far from the Morne Bossa deposit met to learn more about the mining industry. One after another, they asked questions and expressed their frustrations.

“The [Jean-Bertrand] Aristide, Préval and [Michel] Martelly governments are opening up the country to pillagers in the name of the untouchable neoliberal plan, without thinking of the devastating consequences,” said Francisco Almonord, a member of the Federation for the Development of Cadouche (Fédération pour le développement de Cadouche - Fedec), bitterly.

Without information, and apparently without local authorities willing to defend them, the smallholders of this community have trouble identifying their opposition. Mezadieu Toussaint put it this way: “Against whom should we fight? The Haitian government or VCS?”