State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Identifying Capacity Building Needs for the Government of Haiti

By Gerald McElroy

On March 26, the Earth Institute’s Haiti Research and Policy Program at the Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development welcomed two distinguished speakers as part of the Spring 2013 Haiti Dialogue Series to discuss government capacity building and national monitoring systems for government funded programs. Karl Jean-Louis, the director of the Unit of Public Policy Coordination & Monitoring, and Philippe-Raymond Cantave, chief executive director of Capacity Building Consulting Group, drew from their current and past experiences to discuss their views on how to enhance public sector programs.

The Earth Institute (EI) implemented the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF) in the Port-à-Piment Watershed. The LDSF is a tested methodology to obtain accurate information on soil characteristics and properties. The EI trained faculty and students from the American University of the Caribbean (AUC) in order to conduct the fieldwork and data processing. Photo Credit: CIESIN
In 2010-2012 The Earth Institute implemented a series of baseline studies to help identify changes in socio-economic and environmental indicators in the South-West part of Haiti. This photo shows a training session with the American University of the Caribbean students and faculty for Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF), a monitoring system to obtain information on soil characteristics, land use/land cover and ecosystems. Photo: CIESIN

Jean-Louis and Cantave discussed the idea that the critical step in taking coordinated action to move Haiti forward is the need to ensure qualified human resources through the government.

“This government generally wants results – they want to measure results – but the tools, the capacity, they are not there,” explained Jean-Louis. Other obstacles have complicated this process, including the fact that a significant number of public administration records were lost in the earthquake. At the end of the presentation, they also announced the upcoming effort to define a 30-year development plan for Haiti this summer. Discussants noted the critical importance of attaching benchmarks and targets to this plan, supported by a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation program.

Capacity building for government employees is important for multiple reasons, Jean-Louis said, including ensuring the rule of law and legal governance, efficient management of public finance, maintaining administrative control, supporting local governance, continuity of development planning, policy formulation and plan, program and project implementations for basic social service delivery, and infrastructure development and monitoring and evaluation.

For example, ministers don’t stay in office for a long time, changing as frequently as every six months. Important questions remain unanswered related to the training of these new leaders and regarding how to create effective and consistent programs and policies in their respective ministries. To date, no executive training program exists in Haiti to build capacity among these influential members of the government.

In particular, the two also emphasized the importance of political will in this process and noted that leaders are hesitant to adopt monitoring and evaluation programs, oftentimes concerned about how they could affect their autonomy. Finding ways to work in partnership with these government leaders so that they understand the critical nature of data collection and monitoring and evaluation will prove critical in the near future.

Despite the numerous challenges discussed, Jean-Louis and Cantave also pointed to important strides that the current administration has made, including an increase transparency and accountability. While the Haitian anti-corruption unit had been barely operational for 10 years, there has been a 40 percent increase in the organization’s activities since Martelly became president, they said.

During the question and answer sessions, some attendees asked about challenges specifically related to the lack of data and the tendency for Haitians to create an “inventory of needs” as opposed to more results-oriented approaches based on indicators.

The question was raised, how does one measure the effectiveness of government programs when reliable baseline data does not yet exist in many cases?

Those in attendance also asked about how best to ensure capacity, transparency and accountability among others involved in Haiti’s development, such as international aid agencies and NGOs. Drawing from his experience as founder of Haiti Aid Watch Dog – an organization that “scrutinizes the impact of efforts and services rendered to the Haitian population” – Jean-Louis stressed the need for coordinated efforts with the government that ultimately contribute to the capacity of ordinary Haitians and their government officials.

The event provided a firsthand perspective on the public sector challenges in Haiti as well as a mostly optimistic view of the country’s nascent capacity building efforts, and attempts to increase transparency and government accountability.

Gerald McElroy is a 2014 Master’s in Development Practice candidate.

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