WASHINGTON — House Republicans told the top U.S. foreign aid official on Wednesday that his agency’s earthquake relief efforts in Haiti have been a failure.
Citing inspector general reports, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said only 5 percent of the rubble has been removed and 22 percent of the needed transitional shelters have been built.
The administrator of the Agency for International Development, Rajiv Shah, told a House hearing that major progress has been made in providing safe drinking water and medical care. He said a new industrial park will create 5,000 jobs.
Shah said the Haitian government, not the United States, is in charge of the recovery from the January 12, 2010 earthquake that killed some 230,000 people.
“The initial response was tremendous,” Shah said. “We would have had more success with rubble removal and housing if we had more specific support from our partners and the government of Haiti. We’re not in charge of Haiti. We’re in a bilateral partnership with Government of Haiti.”
“You would be fired” if the recovery efforts showed the same results in the United States, said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., said USAID has suffered from budget cuts. But he added: “There is a responsibility to show this committee improvements are being made. I don’t think the patience is going to last forever.”
Chaffetz, who chaired the subcommittee hearing, said USAID’s record wasn’t much better in Iraq and Afghanistan. He pointed to a memorandum to Shah from the agency inspector general that concluded wildly inaccurate claims were made about operations in Iraq. Among them:
-262,482 individuals reportedly benefited from medical supplies purchased to treat only 100 victims of a specific attack.
-22 individuals attended a five-day mental health course, yet 1.5 million were reported as beneficiaries.
-123,000 were reported as benefiting from water and well projects that did not produce potable water.
-280,000 were reported as benefiting from $14,246 spent to rehabilitate a morgue.
“This is blatant fraud,” Chaffetz said.
Shah presented a different overall picture. He testified that he brought major reforms to an agency that once had such onerous internal reporting requirements that officers were stuck behind their desks.
“This year alone, we made tough calls to eliminate bilateral development assistance to 11 countries, either because we deemed that corruption would undermine the effectiveness of our assistance or because rapid growth had made it unnecessary,” he said.
Most of the hearing focused on Haiti. Shah said newer figures show that between 10 and 20 percent of the rubble has been removed.
“That’s not cleaned up. You scooted it over,” said Chaffetz. He introduced a picture of himself in Haiti last March, standing on rubble next to a sign saying the site had been cleared “with funding from the American people.”
Shah, who said rubble removal is only part of the effort, told Chaffetz that more than a million Haitians had access to vaccines, more Haitians had safe drinking water than before the earthquake, and some crop yields have doubled.
“You can’t judge the effort in Haiti in one or two years,” he said. “Haiti has been a very poor country for a long time.”
The House on Tuesday asked the Obama administration to come up with an accounting of how humanitarian and reconstruction aid is being spent in Haiti.