GAO slams USAID’s Haiti rebuilding efforts

By Ali Watkins

McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — U.S. efforts to help rebuild Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake have been plagued by poor planning, delays and mistaken cost estimates that have forced many projects to be scaled back, the Government Accountability Office has concluded in a report released this month.

Of the $651 million Congress allocated for Haiti reconstruction to the U.S. Agency for International Development, only $204 million has been spent three years later. And much of that has gone to questionable use, the GAO found.

The GAO was especially critical of USAID’s largest reconstruction project, a $170.3 million undertaking that includes construction of a power plant, a port and an industrial park.

The GAO said Haiti is unlikely to be able to manage and maintain the project on its own once construction is completed. It also criticized the way the project had been planned, noting that the three facilities are interdependent, meaning delays in construction of one portion affects the usefulness of other completed sections.

USAID finished the first phase of the power plant’s construction under budget and in time to supply the industrial park’s first tenant with power. But construction of the port won’t begin for another two years, the report said.

In addition, the GAO said that according to initial construction estimates, the project will end up over budget, with USAID needing to find anywhere from $117 million to $189 million to complete it.

The GAO also said that USAID underestimated how much it would cost to build permanent housing for some of the estimated 2 million people made homeless by the quake, which killed an estimated 225,000 people. That means the agency has had to cut the number of homes it planned to produce by 85 percent and increase funding for such construction by 65 percent.

“The estimated number of beneficiaries was reduced from 75,000 to 90,000 to its current estimates of approximately 13,200 to 15,900,” the report said.

The GAO also criticized USAID’s congressionally mandated reports on its Haiti progress, saying they were often “incomplete and not timely.”

Beth Hogan, USAID’s senior deputy assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, said that officials would use the assessment to improve their efforts.

“Mid-point reviews such as this one are helpful to us to see how we can be more effective. It is important to bear in mind that the report is a snapshot of progress to date, and that work in housing, energy, port construction and other areas is ongoing,” she said in a statement.

Hogan said that $1.3 billion pledged to Haiti reconstruction efforts had been disbursed, but it was unclear to what that figure referred. Congress’ total appropriation for Haiti reconstruction in July 2010 was $1.14 billion.

The GAO recommended that Congress consider requiring regular reports from the State Department on USAID’s progress. It also recommended that USAID hire an engineer to oversee construction of the port and suggested the organization put community support programs in place for housing development projects.

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