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Katz doesn’t claim that the Haitian government is a bastion of purity and transparency. But he does make a case that overblown perceptions about corruption led to an unwarranted degree of mistrust. These perceptions make donors reluctant to funnel money through Haitian entities, governmental or not. It has even led some to consider freezing aid to Haiti altogether. Katz also claims that observers unfairly hold Haiti to a different standard than, say, the United States, documenting several questionable purchases that Americans bought with Haiti aid money: $368,000 in food and lodging for U.S. government employees at the five-star Mandarin Oriental hotel in Washington, D.C.; $4,462 on a deep fryer for the U.S. Coast Guard.
Ultimately, foreign governments and agencies like the World Bank pledged billions to rebuild Haiti, but much of the promised aid has yet to be delivered, and most aid that has been spent went to foreign aid groups and contractors. Donors have channeled comparatively minuscule amounts to the admittedly weak Haitian government and local firms and organizations, the parties Katz advocates should receive a larger share of the pie. These local entities are presumably most interested in “the need to build strong, well-funded institutions” that President Préval preached in the aftermath of the quake. Katz may be overly optimistic about channeling aid through Haiti’s government. But Haitian businesses and civic organizations have the local context required to work in the country nimbly and effectively, and they have the greatest incentives for better institutions to develop.
Katz’s account offers evidence that international efforts after the quake have failed to push Haiti very far toward reconstructed housing, let alone better institutions. After the 2008 school collapse, Préval told Katz that “political instability” is what keeps Haiti from realizing institutions that preclude disasters like La Promesse. Once stability arrived, the president claimed, progress would follow. Katz’s follow up question to Préval two years before the earthquake is the one that remains today: “But what will you do until then?”