Charles Kenny presents a well-researched case against Western aid programs dumping U.S. and other overseas corporations’ unwanted surplus onto Haitian soil (“Haiti Doesn’t Need Your Old T-Shirt” – November 2011). Even when carried out with the purest intentions, the cost-free incorporation of excess inventory into the local economy inevitably drives down the price of everyday products, thereby stifling domestic small businesses throughout Haiti.
Following his criticism of hauling surplus cargo to disaster-stricken nations, Kenny advocates donating cash as an alternative. In countries as politically corrupt as Haiti, donors often choose to give to private organizations with the hope of bypassing local government. But even if the authorities are effectively ignored, giving monetary aid is nothing near a fail-safe solution. Donations given to NGOs operating in Haiti provide these organizations with extensive influence in key sectors, such as health and agriculture. This has led ordinary Haitians to rely more heavily on these private-sector organizations for assistance rather than on their own government, thereby perpetuating the perception that the state is incapable of solving domestic issues. The prevalence of NGOs, coupled with political corruption, has left Haiti with extremely limited resources aimed at alleviating harsh local conditions, which is an issue of great concern to local officials who feel that their authority is being drained as a result.
If cash donations are really the best way to tackle the ongoing afflictions of this impoverished nation, then serious efforts must be made to increase both the transparency and effectiveness of government initiatives so that donors can feel confident that their gifts are in fact being put to good use. Unfortunately, such progress cannot occur without the reliable foundation of a strong and capable leadership that Haiti so regrettably lacks.