Confronting Corruption in International Aid to Dominica


Exactly six months after Hurricane Maria struct Dominica, one wonders where things stand in the reconstruction effort in Dominica. Why does the recovery appears to be anemic? What can be done individually and collectively to move things along? Are there reasons to be concerned? 

In the midst of the chaos and confusion that greeted Dominicans on September 19, 2017, the stage was set for another disaster; that related to relief and reconstruction. Category 5, Hurricane Maria struct the island on September 18, 2017 and communication with the island was cut-off for at least 24 hours. Once the scale of the disaster was appreciated, International aide started to flow to the extent that the island's capacity to process this aide was rapidly overwhelmed. In this regard, Dominica is not unique.

Most of the countries that have faced similar challenges are typically managed by corruption-prone governments operating within a system of weak laws, lax enforcement and poor accountability. Instances include Nepal struck by earthquake in 2015, Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and Asian countries affected by the massive 2004 Asian Tsunami. In all of these cases, the injection of large amounts of relief supplies, building material and money into resource-poor economies with weak laws, lax enforcement and poor accountability enhanced the potential for abuse.

Lets look at Dominica. From the beginning, immediately after the Hurricane struck, the abuse started. The ruling labor party administration was shameless in the politicization of the distribution of donated food, including that donated by the World Food Program. The abuse continued with the WFP Voucher Program and reached a climax with the World Bank subvention to farmers and fishers. All the while, the ruling party claimed innocence as ministers of government and Labor Party Constituency 'caretakers'  were busy distributing food and relief supplies to woo potential voters. Indeed, photographic evidence surfaced in which relief items were being delivered to homes and offices of ministers of government.  The excuse was that the government lacked capacity to warehouse donated items. Now that large sums of pledged monies are scheduled to roll into Dominica, estimated as high as XCD $905M and counting, how can these resources be protected from Corruption?

The governing administration's response is the establishment of CREAD (Climate Resilience Execution Agency of Dominica), a supposedly statutory body that is now operating out of the Ministry of Finance. Unfortunately, CREAD will not cut it because no one seems to be clear on its function. How will this be transparent? Will it be coordinating reconstruction efforts, authorizing reconstruction projects or, per investDominica.com,  will it be in the investment business?  The fact that CREAD  has been launched without parliamentary authorization is an ominous sign. 

So, what are the approaches to mitigate corruption in distribution of humanitarian aid? According to Transparency International, some key aspects to be considered include:

  1. Itemized list of donations by donor. 
  2. Consolidated total of donations.
  3. Itemized list of spending, broken out by donor.  
  4. Real-time and regular reporting of money received and spent, as well as geo-mapping of areas where spending is done. 
  5. Mapping of donations to spending categories.

Has the Dominican Government met any of these standards?  The answer is a resounding No!! During the recently concluded National Rebuilding and Economic Partnership Consultation organized by the government of Dominica (February 19, 2018), the Financial Update was a major highlight of the proceedings. Notwithstanding the boast of financial prudence and economic prowess, the report emanating out of the Ministry of Finance made no mention of the donations received thus far or how the monies have been spent or plan to be disbursed. There has been mention of 2 'no-bid' contracts awarded to Foreign companies and monies to some communities. For example, the large constituency of Mahaut, represented by the Minister of National Security, will benefit from an injection of XCD $2M and some constituencies will benefit from housing, but there is no mention of the origin of the allotted monies. In contrast, aid has not yet been directed to the largest constituency of Roseau North. Is it because it is represented by an opposition MP? 

Instead of publicizing receipt of Aid money and how it is being spent, the Labor Administration has been politicizing Aid and have simultaneously gone on the offensive. They are attacking anyone who dares to challenge their approach to managing relief resources. The strategy has been to demonize critics as uncaring, not concerned about the suffering of ordinary Citizens or not wanting to see the island recover. Meanwhile, the cronies are smiling and salivating as they see opportunities for self-enrichment looms. 

This brings us back to the original concern. Why is it that six months after Hurricane Maria, reconstruction in Dominica is so anemic? The answer lies in poor substrate and foundation preceding Maria, poor governance, weak institutions, lax regulation and poor enforcement. In addition, central government seem reluctant to communicate with local governing bodies / village councils particularly if these councils do not share Labor Party governing philosophy.

At this time, it is critical to keep up the pressure on the Roosevelt Skerrit Labor Administration to divulge all source of monies and supplies and how such resources have been distributed, or plan to be distributed, throughout the island. Donor countries, the people they represent and recipients (Dominica) expect no less. If you witness abuse and corruption, make every effort to report it to the International Agencies, International Press, the Diaspora. The donors will be thankful you did!!

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