Parallel service delivery in a fragile state
29 October 2010
During Haiti’s 200 years of independence it has remained an extremely weak state, characterised by the absence of functional institutions. Recent political developments raise the issue of the impact of parallel service delivery on the emerging state structure.
Haiti faces levels of poverty and human development that are the worst in the Western hemisphere, has a primitive, closed economy and class strife, and is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters aggravated by environmental degradation. The only factors that traditionally contribute to conflict and instability in other countries but are lacking in Haiti’s case are the absence of ethnically related conflicts and threats to its sovereignty from the outside.
In the past, Haiti was governed by families whose interests were protected by military power rather than along any ideological lines. Among Haitians, there is little or no sense of ‘nation’ and certainly no consensus on what should be the role of ‘government’ in daily life. There is little public enthusiasm for the role of the state in providing public services because such services were historically subverted or exploited by the political and economic elite. Due to the lack of dependable public institutions, survival in Haiti has been basically a personal responsibility in which everyone looks out for his or her own interests.
In the last two decades, a great number and variety of civil society organisations (CSOs) have sprung up with strong support from the international community. Originally instruments of humanitarian assistance and survival for the poor and disadvantaged, these CSOs have now become institutionalised as instruments of change. They act as a countervailing political force and run a parallel form of many state functions, including the protection of human rights and the provision of basic services such as water, food, energy, education and health.
Twenty years ago, the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship was quickly followed by the adoption of a strong constitution. This event signalled the beginning of large-scale external aid programmes to the country. Despite this support, Haiti has remained in crisis.
Fortunately, the international development community has seen Haiti as ‘a difficult but not impossible partner’, and has committed itself to long-term engagement. This commitment is significant in a country where maintaining the status quo can be seen as ‘success’ since it outweighs the costs of abandoning the effort. Currently, Haiti has a democratically elected government which enjoys fairly good public support and is strongly backed by the international community.
Cooperation is necessary
Haiti cannot successfully combat poverty and get on the path towards sustainable development until it overcomes the major weaknesses in its political and social institutions. To do this, the three main actors – the state, civil society and the international community – must move into much tighter forms of collective action.
This, however, is not easy. There is a permanent debate between those who favour parallel solutions (such as creation of public services outside the formal political system, even with the danger that they become permanent), and those who emphasise institutional reforms from within the formal system.
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Parallel solutions have led to a situation in which certain services have developed completely outside the realm of the state. To take one example, the Ministry of Education has basically lost control over the core issues of quality and access in a national education system in which over 80% of schools are now private institutions.
At present, given that there is a legitimate government in place, efforts are focusing on the reform of the state. At the same time, the national administration recognises that Haitian CSOs and participatory forms of development are crucial at the local level. In terms of security, for instance, Haitian CSOs are instrumental in documenting crime and anti-social activities, they initiate preventive measures at the community level and they engage in conflict resolution.
The challenge for everyone involved in the development effort is to achieve a workable complementarity between the state, CSOs and the international community. The approach currently being taken in the Poverty Reduction Strategy is to engage both the government and CSOs as partners in the pursuit of common goals. This strategy aims to enhance the capacity of the government while recognising the existing social functions, independence and the political advocacy role of the CSOs.
Within this approach, the goal of all capacity development programmes must be to strengthen the ability of those trained to contribute to the construction of democracy in the country. The international community’s capacity development approaches must therefore focus on confidence building, and on providing tools for creating consensus in the country. A ‘hands-on’, direct assistance approach to the development process in Haiti could put the entire process in jeopardy.
Canada’s Parliamentary Centre is the executing agency for the Haiti Parliamentary Support Project (HPSP). The goal of the project is to increase the effectiveness of the Haitian legislature.