So now we’re back to ground zero, literally. A few weeks after the attack on 9/11, actor George Clooney and a bunch of celebrities fronted a television telethon to raise money for the families of the victims. It was a well-intentioned project that raised about $150 million.
Unfortunately, the distribution of the money was somewhat chaotic, and I led the charge to have the celebrities pressure the charities to be more transparent about where the funds were going. Mr. Clooney took umbrage at my request, and a big controversy ensued.
Now we have the charitable debacle in Haiti. A year after the devastating earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people, more than a million Haitians are still living in the streets. This, despite the fact that the United States alone has sent almost two billion dollars to that nation. Another ten billion has been pledged by other countries, but it is impossible to track that money.
The brutal truth is that no one knows where much of the aid designated to help the Haitians is. There is absolutely no transparency and little accountability. Dozens of brand new donated trucks sit idle at the Port-au-Prince airport, because the Haitian government wants thousands of dollars in “import duties” before it allows the trucks to transport vital goods to the suffering people. That’s just one example of the madness going on.
Presidents Clinton and Bush 43 headed up the private relief effort in America, which raised $53 million for Haitian relief. In the middle of a wicked recession, Americans gave their hard-earned money to help people they will never know. I asked President Bush if he knows why there is so little progress in Haiti, even after so much money has poured in there. He said he does not.
President Clinton will not even answer my questions, despite the fact that he has been deeply involved with Haiti for years. We have called the “Clinton Initiative” many times and they say they have distributed tens of millions of dollars to help the Haitian people and can provide documents to back that up. But, again, once the cash arrives in Port-au-Prince, darkness descends.
The moral question is this: Should good people continue to send money to a place that has been corrupt for aeons? The scenes this week of Baby Doc Duvalier, the gangster former dictator of Haiti, returning to his country after an exile in France is symbolic of the problem. Despite all the good intentions in the world, Haiti remains a place of squalor and hopelessness. Nothing seems to get better.
I would like to see Presidents Clinton and Bush demand accountability from the Haitian government right now. These guys should go on television and call some people out. Mr. Clinton, in particular, knows what’s going on, and he has a responsibility to let us know.
It is easy to ask for money. It is much more difficult to see that it is honestly spent.