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Farmer, the Clinton envoy, recently published a report on trends in Haiti’s dysfunctional aid system. He stressed the need for “accompaniment” to be the guiding principle of Haiti’s reconstruction, with Haitians “in the driver’s seat” and the international community listening to their priorities. Farmer also emphasized the importance of local procurement and job creation.
It is hard to imagine a better case study of the very opposite approach than the Clinton trailers. In response to questions about what due diligence the foundation did to ensure the safety of the trailers it purchased for use as hurricane shelters, the Clinton Foundation initially insisted that the most appropriate person to speak to was a Haitian employee of Clinton’s UN Office. When Graham, the foundation’s COO, finally agreed to talk about the project on the record, she denied that the foundation had been responsible for any due diligence regarding its own project, claiming that those responsible were a “panel of experts,” including one point person from the foundation, Greg Milne, and representatives of other organizations. (Milne referred all questions to the foundation’s press office.) The Clinton Foundation agreed to furnish documentation of who was on this panel but by press time had not done so.
Graham said that the staff of the Clinton Foundation—which has for more than a year publicized the “hurricane shelters” that “President Clinton” built in Léogâne—are “not experts” in hurricane shelter construction. She claimed the same “panel of experts” would have been responsible for due diligence to ensure air quality of the shelters whose secondary purpose was as classrooms.
Explaining Bill Clinton’s rationale for the trailers, which were installed at the tail end of the 2010 hurricane season, Conille said, “It was not meant to be sustainable. It was meant because we didn’t want to have dead people in September.” According to Conille, Clinton was deeply troubled by what would happen to the women and children in case of a serious storm—and as the former president felt that “no one” was doing anything about the issue, he took the lead himself. Moreover, Clinton didn’t want to have his new “hurricane shelters” sitting empty while schoolchildren had classes in tents, Conille added.
Yet according to Maddalena, given the high rate of formaldehyde found in one of the classrooms, and the children’s headaches, “they’d be better off studying outside under a tarp.”
Wall, the former OCHA spokeswoman, responded by e-mail, “We all knew that that project was misconceived from the start, a classic example of aid designed from a distance with no understanding of ground level realities or needs. It has had a predictably long and unhappy history from the start.”
Even Conille largely concurred, in a telephone interview, that there were many problems with the project, saying, “It made sense at that time, and I guess someone could argue it wasn’t the best idea in retrospect.”
For his part, Léogâne Mayor Santos Alexis says he is still waiting for Bill Clinton to follow through on his pledge to equip Léogâne with hurricane-proof school buildings. Asked about his view on the Clinton Foundation’s claims to having completed an “Emergency Hurricane Shelter Project” replete with new classrooms for his town, Alexis is defiant. “If those at the Clinton Foundation are sure it’s done then they should prove it, they should show it to us, because I know nothing about it,” he remarked coyly, gazing out from behind his shades. Seated at his desk in a crumbling municipal building, the mayor said he is still waiting for the real Clinton Foundation schools, “built with norms that protect people from hurricanes and flooding.”
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CORRECTION: This article originally quoted IOM’s Bradley Mellicker stating, “That’s a lie,” after the quotation from the Clinton Foundation’s COO Laura Graham claiming that IOM had played a role in the procurement process for the trailers. While IOM played no role, Mellicker’s statement was made in response to a claim by a different Clinton Foundation source that IOM had led the procurement process, and not in response to Laura Graham. We regret the error. The Nation/CCIR understands that the Clinton Foundation and the Office of the Special Envoy looked at a list of unsolicited offers and picked a winner and that there was no public bid.
Isabel Macdonald is a Montreal-based journalist whose investigative reporting for The Nation and other publications has been featured on ABC’s Good Morning America, MSNBC and Democracy Now! Isabeau Doucet is a Port-au-Prince–based freelance producer for Al Jazeera English and a reporter for The Nation and other publications. This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, with additional support from the Canadian Centre for Investigative Reporting.