Saturday, October 22, 2011


(Trust Law) - By Aleksandr Shkolnikov

What has been one of the key reasons for Rwanda’s successful establishment of effective governance structures emerging out of conflict? According to a recent book by Paul Farmer, UN Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti, Rwanda’s leadership has been consistent in its commitment to the development of the country, focusing on governance rather than patronage and corruption.

As Farmer notes, unfortunately, this effective leadership is precisely what Haiti has been missing as it struggles to emerge from the devastating earthquake and fix governance problems that keep it the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

Paul Collier’s reflections on Farmer’s account of Haiti’s struggles with rebuilding after the earthquake raise a number of important questions in regards to governance reform. Is having the right group of people in the leadership of the country a key factor to get on a path to good governance? What role do donors have to play when domestic politics get in a way of effective governance and undermine relief efforts?

While opinions abound on what the right approach is, the story of Haiti’s continued struggle highlights just how difficult improving governance can be.

Certainly it’s not for the lack of resources and incentives that reforming Haiti’s notoriously dysfunctional governance has been slow – billions more could be spent on reconstruction of the country if only donors had the assurance that the money would be used effectively. It’s not for the lack of know-how either – there are dozens of toolkits and guidelines on building governance mechanisms and many experts willing to help.

Improving governance is often presented as a simple roadmap. Generate political will. Engage civil society in monitoring and oversight. Improve technical capacities of individual government agencies. Write better laws and regulations. Introduce checks, balances, and anti-corruption mechanisms.

Yet, while prescriptions for reform are clear, a country’s institutional climate makes it infinitely more difficult from the standpoint of implementation. You may know what needs to be done, but the question of how is often a more difficult one.

And this is where Haiti’s history begins to play such a large role. For instance, donor support and engagement have been welcomed in Rwanda, yet deeply suspicious of donor intentions Haitians have been reluctant to fully open up. The country’s history is rife with examples of outside forces meddling in its affairs. In such an environment, even best-intentioned efforts may not be able to penetrate the wall of perceptions and distrust.

Following the earthquake a number of experts, including Dani Kauffman, called for governance reforms as a way to sustain rebuilding efforts and avoid unnecessary human casualties. The point – poor governance has been responsible for the large number of deaths in the earthquake and the humanitarian crisis that followed. Much of the devastation could have been avoided, as we’ve seen in Chile.

Twenty months later there has been little progress. There are some legitimate reasons for that – for example, how do you improve the capacity of a government that doesn’t exist?

Yet, for the most part, Haiti is proving that governance reform is not about a series of measures that can be transplanted from one country to another. It is not as much about technical expertise as it is about mobilizing people, building trust, displaying true commitment to reform, and taking concrete steps. And, perhaps, as Farmer notes, leadership is the key to getting on a path of good governance and institution strengthening after all.

Unable to move past promises to improve governance in the past, Haitian citizens have placed their faith in Michel Martelly to be the leader that breaks with politics as usual and takes them forward. As the newly elected President Martelly noted recently, Haiti’s path forward is along the lines of building “strong institutions that prevail over the privileges and interest groups.” Rwanda, widely lauded for its governance improvements, has been working to achieve just that. Perhaps, Haiti can live up to the challenge as well.

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