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Corruption fears stalk Haiti after the quake

By Nick Davis
BBC News, Port-au-Prince

The international community has pledged to assist Haiti with billions of dollars in assistance, not only to help in the immediate aftermath of the devastating earthquake, but also in the long-term reconstruction of the country.

Joseph Lolo Elda
Joseph Lolo Elda: "If there is a government, I haven't seen it yet"

But there are concerns that corruption could see some of the money not getting to the people, and the delays in aid deliveries are being seen by some as a sign that something clearly is not right.

We drive towards a camp in the centre of Port-au-Prince. Open land only has one use here, and a former Catholic school, its buildings crumbled and damaged, is now home to hundreds of people.

The playground is full of children playing football and basketball. The school fields are packed with row after row of tents and tarpaulins.

It is clear that there are no international relief agencies operating here; the smell is a sign that there is no proper sanitation.

The problem is I don't know who is receiving aid, what they are doing with it and where it goes
Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive

It is just Haitians trying to survive with what little they have left. For the people who now call this home, they don't know who will help them.

"If there is a government, I haven't seen it yet. And if there is a government I would say it's the Americans, the foreigners, who came here to help," says Joseph Lolo Elda, who helps out looking after the women here.

Many of the people in the camp believe that because they aren't seeing the aid, it is going missing somewhere - and that someone is making money out of their misery.

Haiti is rated as one of the worst countries in the world for corruption by Transparency International, a monitoring group. In the group's annual ranking, Haiti came 168th out of 180 countries.

A combination of endemic corruption, the now non-existent institutional infrastructure, and the large amounts of money flowing into the country all make this the perfect time to commit crime.

Government 'overwhelmed'

Outside the judicial police headquarters, the makeshift new home of the Haitian government, there are hundreds of demonstrators chanting that they want to see the President, Rene Preval.

Over and over they shout: "We have no water, we have no food and nowhere to stay."

The administration has been conspicuous by its absence since the quake on 12 January, and this is one of a number of protests that have brought Port-au-Prince to a standstill.

The people say that they are not getting any help from those they elected.

Haitians queue for water at distribution point in Port-au-Prince - 2 February 2010
Aid for the earthquake victims is flowing into Haiti

Having lost thousands of civil servants and most of its buildings, Haiti's government admits it was overwhelmed trying to organise the disaster response between the UN, the international community and numerous aid agencies.

But with billions in aid coming into the country, the question of corruption is one it has had to address. The government says the lack of co-ordination over what is being spent where means the system is open to abuse.

Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive says: "The problem is I don't know who is receiving aid, what they are doing with it and where it goes, but it's important that the government knows, because we will be held accountable for it.

"They will say: 'We gave $3m or $4m to Haiti' and they don't know what we did with it, they will say the government stole it. They say that Haiti and the government is corrupt, but what did I get to steal? Nothing has been given to me."

The government wants Transparency International to look at all the assistance, and says it is not receiving any money, that the only funds being spent are by the relief agencies.

'They don't care'

But that is not enough for some people.

At another camp on the outskirts of the city, there are people everywhere in what used to be a park, huddled asleep under tarpaulins, cooking up big bowls of rice while children play. There are no officials here either, but a sense of community already exists.

A sign saying "unisex haircuts" hangs over a makeshift barber shop made with plastic sheeting. I approach as customers inspect their new trims with a piece of broken mirror.

When I ask those waiting outside the barber shop about the government, they become very animated, and laugh when I ask about corruption.

"They don't care about us, we don't have a government," said Colas Simer, who was one passer-by who got involved in the discussion.

"If the American people want to help us, don't let the money fall in the Haitian hands. Please!"

The US has spent more than $750m (£500m) in Haiti over the past five years alone, with little to show for it. Despite efforts by the country's leaders, the issue of corruption is one that still has no gone away.

There will be an international conference in March aimed at raising more money for reconstruction, and even more money will come into the country.

But many here say the international community needs to help them stop the corruption that has dogged the country for years.



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