In This Review

Haiti in the Balance: Why Foreign Aid Has Failed and What We Can Do About It
Haiti in the Balance: Why Foreign Aid Has Failed and What We Can Do About It
By Terry F. Buss
Brookings Institution Press, 2008, 272 pp

Since 1990, the international community has allocated over $5 billion to this small country, yet Haiti remains a desperately impoverished "fragile" state. In a study based less on original field research than on self-critical evaluations by major donors, Buss points many fingers -- at Haitian elites, U.S. domestic politics, the donor community, NGOs, and private contractors. The Haitian people are the victims, even as Buss recognizes a widespread culture of corruption, illegality, and political violence; he eschews the literature on social capital, in which a pervasive lack of trust and cooperation among citizens is shown to pulverize national development projects. Despite his recognition that Haiti has always been governed miserably, Buss does not give up. A public-administration specialist, he argues forcefully for prioritizing central public administration and financial management, for building capacity and implementing performance assessments, and for battling corruption; meanwhile, democratic elections, political decentralization, and privatization may have to wait. Donors must coordinate better among themselves, take a comprehensive "whole-of-government" approach, and fund sustainable projects that make a difference. These are all defensible recommendations -- yet in presenting them as he does, Buss ignores the overwhelming crush of evidence that in fact donors have tried them all before only to confront the stubborn resistance of Haitian society.