A proposed doubling of U.S. aid to Haiti has caused concern among aid officials from other countries and agencies operating here who believe that the island nation's economy is barely capable of absorbing the foreign aid it already receives and that its govenment is too corrupt to be trusted with more.
According ot figures provided by foreign agencies, total outside aid from all sources to Haiti has increased as much as 800 percent over the past four years.
Yet a number of officials interviewed from various aid organizations cited fes successes in development programs financed by that asaistance. Instead, they complained with near uniformity that, as one private agency head pt it, "nothing happens. I don't know where all the money goes."
In their more frustrated moments some aid officials say a large percentage of the money has gone into the pockets of President Jean-Claude Duvalier and members of his family and government. "All Latin America has corruption," said one Western diplomat, "but none like here.
"It's not a question of skimming it off the top," he said. "It's a deep gouge."
Another official from an international development organization cited tentative, but moderate successes in erosion control and farming cooperatives that he felt had progessed primarily because workers were paid directly by the agency in food instead of with money distributed through the government.
He noted that if "one out of 10" projects succeeded to some degree, "we fell we move forward."
In addition to corruption, the critics say the Haitian government is not set up to handle so much outside money and so many new projects. They say Haiti's budget process has built-in encouragements for waste and theft, including provisions that allow as much as two-thirds of government revenues to be deposited in and distributed from hundreds of secret bank accounts without ever appearing in the budget at all.
The aid experts say Haiti has no feasible, comprehensive development plan to coordinate outside projects. Nor does Haiti even approach having the number of trained personnel to process or administer the programs.
"Ministers are not expected to produce," the development organization official said. "People literally invent statistics." One foreigner said that on a business visit to the Ministry of Agriculture he had asked for a piece of paper to take notes "and no one could even find any."
Most of the aid personnel interviewed here seemed to view Haiti as a development nightmare where all the impediments to Third World progress combine to form a bottomless pit for money and efforts that have consistently failed to produce results.
They're getting far too much," the private agency head said. "More than they can absorb. If we want to help, we have to help wisely, not just keep flushing a couple of million dollars down the drain every year."
Many of them accuse the United States of being the worst offender. Yet their criticisms seem more a reflection of a general discomfort among aid experts here, who fell caught between conflicting mandates to give help where it is most needed but not to get taken.
The new U.S. program, through a complicated system of forgiveness on loans, would double to more than $20 million annually the money given through food aid. But this is only a part of anaid total form all sources that, accordinng to an internal document form one international agency operating here, "will be considerably increased during the period 1979-81."
The document estimates tht "external resources available for development during this period will exceed $600 million." While the figure is not staggering, the document points out that it amounts to 65 percent of Haiti's total development budget.
Its importance, the document continues, "will be fully appreciated if it is considered that it represents $120 per inhabitant for the aforementitioned period." Haiti's gross national product in 1976 was $140 per person.
Few would argue that Haiti does not desperately need help. By far the poorest country in the Americas, the vast majority of its 5 million people fall well below minimum international income, nutrition and health standards.
A mountainous nation that covers the easten third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, shared with the larger and more prosperous Dominican Republic, Haiti has practically no natural resources. Although as much as 80 percent of its population makes its living from agriculture, the soil is poor and getting poorer as erosion eats away at Haiti's once-green slopes and pours millions of cubic yards of clay-colored earth into the sea every year.
With birth and death rates and population density among the highest in the world, "no other Latin American country even approaches" Haiti's problems, according to an AID official.
While anticommunism and the Aliance for Progress, along with a long history of U.S. involvement in Haitian affairs, made Haiti a prime candidate for help in the early 1960s, aid to the blatantly corrupt and reepressive regime of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier eventually became unjustifiable.
It was not unitl 1972, under the new and ostensibly less repressive government of Jean-Claude Duvalier, now 26. who replaced his dead father as "president for life," that U.S. assistance to Haiti began to pick up again.
The accession of new president had coincided with a shift in U.S. aid emphasis away from open self-interest toward more humanitarian concerns. In the furture, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee decreed in 1973, aid was "to provide increased empasis on the immediate needs of the world's poorest people."
Thus, the money started pouring in, not only form the United States, but from donor nations and agencies. "We've been more of less following the policy of the U.S. government," said the representative of an international development bank here. "The new trend is to help find a way to trickle funds down to the rural poor."
The results of such largesse were dryly summarized in a Library of Congress report last June. "Despite sizable assistance inputs from multilateral donors (World Bank, the United Nations Development Programs the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Organization of American States)," the report said, "bilateral donors (United States, France, West Germany, the Republic of China, Canada and Israel), and a number of private voluntary organizations, . . . Haiti can show little evidence of economic and social development ofr the majority of its population."
The report gave the same reasons for failure as the agency heads here: "overwhelming poverty . . . extreme environmental abuse . . . elitism and neglect . . . government plagued by insecurity . . . inadequate government structure and planning . . . failure to attract and retain qualified personnel . . . complexity of the budget sustem . . . allegations of widespread corruption . . . excessive taxing of agricultural goods [while] taxes on imports and foreign investments have not been collected."
The report also noted a "lack of coordination between donors and between te government and donors" that agencies here said frequently results in overlapping programs. "Everybody is interested in Haiti," the development banker siad. "The onlyy problem is finding a project" that someone else is not already doing.
Competition among the agencies is so strong, several of their representatives said, that it is common practice for them to outbid each other in topping the meager salaries of the few trained government officials iwht what amount to bribes to approve, assist and follow through on projects.
"The idea of planning is a very new one here," said one high-level Haitian official. The Haitian position, he said, "has been, 'give us the money and then we will come up with a plan for it.'"
The coordination problem has been at least partially addressed with the formation two years ago of a Joint Commission of government and agency representatives. So far, the commission has managed to persuade the government to draw up a development budget and, at the most recent meeting last July, the government announced it would implement suggested fiscal reform that includes accounting for 100 percent of its revenues.
Many agency heads said the reforms had been promised many times in the past and expressed strong doubts that they would be realized. They seem resigned to the likelihood that, considering their mandate to give to the poorest and Haiti's poverty credentials, their own compulsive giving would increase.
Yet they displayed strong resentment both over U.S. confidence that its proposed new program can succeed where there has been such conspicuous failure and apparent U.S. attempts to coordinate deals with the government outside the delicate workings fo the commission.
AID says its program is fail-safe because ti wil not be implemented unless Haitian reforms are forthcoming. "The guts fo it," an AID official here said, "is that they can have more money for their won development if they could just stop stealing it."
President Duvalier, the official said, has already agreed with the United States to reform the budget process and produce receipts for all government funds, especially those from the notorious Regie du Abac, the state tobacco monopoly that has long been symbolic of government corruption as the leadding producer of unbudgeted funds and a gold mine for patronage handed out by the Duvalier family.
In return, once the details of the program are working out, the official said, Haiti will get-over a give-year period-more than $100 million worth of U.S. wheat, vegetable oils and rice to sell to its own people. The government can keep all the money it makes on the sales, provided it agrees to spend it on U.S. approved development projects.
Examples of approvable projects, the AID official said, will be those that "upgrade the country's absorbative capacity" such as technical training programs and government salary increases to offset Haiti's significant brain drain.
It will never work, other aid experts contend. Too much money, too fast, too ambitious. Besides, they said, the reforms will never come in the first place.
One agency head recalled a similar ploy in 1962, when the United States temporarily renewed aid to Haiti following a cutback provoked by Duvalier repression.
A condition for the aid renewal at that time, as author Bernard Diederich noted in his 1969 book "Papa Doc," reportedly included "a public accounting of the Regie du Tabac funds."