Out of the blue yesterday came a media report titled: CIDA’s Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund: Millions Raised, Nothing Spent. The author of the piece recounted his increasing frustrations at getting any answers from the CIDA administration concerning the Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund. That fund is supposed to match any donation given by Canadians that the shattered nation was given by a certain cut-off date, which in this case was last February 12th.  Only certain organizations are registered to qualify for these matching funds and to-date some $128 million is now eligible for the fund matching mechanism.

The author, clearly frustrated, wanted to know how much of those funds have now been distributed by CIDA from the Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund. He couldn’t get a clear answer but after sifting through all the information he acquired determined that not a penny of CIDA’s portion had been spent. Alarm bells started to ring immediately, as did my cell phone.

Technically, the reporter was correct, but it’s more complicated than that.  Let’s lay out how this actually works.

  • All money that has been donated to these eligible non-governmental organizations is in their hands.  In other words, if you donated, say, $100 to the Red Cross, they have it. So that means that roughly $85 million has already been distributed.
  • These organizations, like the Red Cross, UNICEF, CARE and WorldVision, have already been in the process of providing food, water, shelter, hygiene kits, health care etc. with your donated funds.
  • The matching money from CIDA has not yet been distributed, but for clear reasons.  Lessons learned from the Tsunami experience in 2005 showed that confusion resulted from the immediate disbursal of both funds. Waste was a common theme and it was determined from that incident that the money donated directly by Canadians would still be distributed immediately, but that the CIDA portion should wait until proper assessments were undertaken as to the effectiveness of this portion in the region.
  • CIDA’s half of the funds have to first be confirmed through fiscal proof from the organizations that they, in fact, received what has been stated – a process that takes some time. Also, like with other donor nations, the international community, in partnership with the Haitian government, is to undertake assessments of the ongoing needs of the crisis. This process will conclude shortly, and at that point CIDA will release its portion of the funds in coordination with these assessments.

This last point is actually the kind of process used in both the China and Burmese earthquake response and more effective than what occurred during the Tsunami a few years earlier.

CIDA is a development agency, and as such it has the responsibility to ensure that it is ready to follow-up on the second stage of relief and it is using its matching funds to undertake those plans. What average Canadians have donated has already been disbursed to the agencies of their choice.

What CIDA clearly is not is a communications agency. The experience of the reporter is just one of many examples of the frustration so many Canadians have experienced in getting more detailed information from the organization – just ask the Auditor General!

CIDA is right on withholding its portion of funding until Canadian taxpayers know it is being distributed wisely on the basis of international assessment.  But it is clearly offside when it comes to clarifying this issue for average citizens.  It should have provided such details the moment it announced it would match the funds.  Alas, CIDA’s transparency troubles continue, but in the case of Haiti itself it is working on sound development principles learned over recent years.