Promises and Debts

26 Mar

No Money for School?
Photo: Star of Hope International

Almost three years ago, I wrote a review of Dambisa Moyo’s book Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is another way for Africa.

In it I took issue with her notion that, were poor nation governments forced to come up with their own development dollars through the private sector — an idea that made Ms. Moyo’s book hugely popular among conservative pundits — they would spend those dollars more effectively. But, as I pointed out in the review, it’s not so much the source of aid funding that’s the problem as the kink in the money pipeline where someone important decides what to do with it. In other words, the source of aid money is one matter, but how it is spent is another — a point on which Dead Aid is silent.

Now, I find a case in Haiti where Dead Aid’s purported solution has been put to the test — and seems headed towards failure.

Throughout the city of Port Au Prince, banners hang from lamp posts (which rarely provide any actual light) declaiming President Michel Martelly’s achievement in getting more children into school, and more schools built and repaired. “Pwomes se Det,” it reads along the bottom, just below Mr. Martelly’s smiling face and domed pate. “A promise is a debt.”

The banners refer to a project whereby phone companies charge international users an extra 5 cents a minute, and banks a dollar and half on money transfers, which then go into a special education fund.  According to Digicel owner Dennis O’Brien, at least $11.1 million has already accrued by them and transferred into the fund. The National Bank of Haiti says it has $4.8 million form their so-called ‘Tax on the Diaspora.”

But questions persist — 10 months after the Martelly administration set up the fund — about what exactly is happening to the cash. His former education advisor says it has $28 million. His current education advisor, Dimitri Nau, admits that none of this money has been spent. He also said that more than half of the 903,000 school children were going to school for free had already been doing so before the National Fund for Education had been set up, their fees paid for by the Clinton Global Initiative. The remainder are being funded by the International Financial Institutions, bodies Ms. Moyo criticizes, like the World Bank.

What’s more, according to the general secretary of Haiti’s National Confederation of Educators, teachers have not been paid for months, and the schools are unable to buy any materials for lack of money. “There are teachers who, until now, have not received their salaries for this school year ,” said Lourdes Joseph last January, “because principals are waiting for the funds that are due from the program.”

Before the earthquake, only two thirds of eligible children were going to school, and for the average Haitian family who did mange to enrol their kids, the costs ate up about 40 per cent of their income. Less than a third of them could afford to study beyond sixth grade. And Unicef estimates that 5000 schools in Port au Prince alone — the vast majority of them private — were left in ruins by the earthquake and remain that way.

Digicel’s CEO told the New York Times in January that he was going to do an audit of the Fund, but that could be difficult. A number of bureaucrats seem to be involved in running it, yet none of them — including Mr. Nau — seem to know what’s going on.

So while the promise of a more efficient way to finance national education sounds good, when it comes to Haitian teachers and schools, all they’re seeing is debt. And the compelling need for more public schools, along with transparency in their funding, remains as critical as ever.


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