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Cash for Work – At What Cost

“You have to ‘negotiate’ to get a job in the program.”

“Some of us put up with sexual harassment in order to get the tiny amount for survival.”

“The foremen… give the jobs to their relatives and girlfriends.”

“Around here, we don’t think these jobs are really in our interest.”

Published July 18, 2011

These are just some of the comments from participants in a so-called “humanitarian” program in the Ravine Pintade neighborhood in the Haitian capital.

The comments aren’t just random, and the program is not unique. It's one of dozens of “Cash for Work” programs, employing thousands of people, going on around the country.

An in-depth study of the Ravine Pintade program discovered:

Corruption – Thirty percent (30%) of the beneficiaries say they had to pay a kickback for their job.

Sexual abuse – Ten percent (10%) of women beneficiaries say "their friends" had to give sexual favors to get a position.

Social conflict – Many beneficiaries and neighbors say that the program has caused strife, between inhabitants and foremen.

After students from the Journalism Laboratory at the State University of Haiti heard rumors about corruption and other unhealthy practices in the Cash for Work program being carried out by CHF International (Cooperative Housing Foundation International), they decided to look into the matter.

Together with Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) – a partnership of the online news agency AlterPresse, the Society for the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS) and community radios – they carried out a two-month research program to answer these questions: How does one get a Cash for Work job and what are the program's impacts?

Is it worth the price?

Cash for Work (CFW) is one of the programs that various governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) use after a disaster to give people work and assure that money is circulating.

In Haiti, the government, multilateral and bilateral agencies and NGOs doing humanitarian work use CFW to remove rubble in the capital and other cities hit by the devastating January 12, 2010, earthquake.

In addition to calling it “Cash for Work,” these kinds of programs are also called “Livelihoods” or “High Intensity Manual Labor” (HIMO in French) in “humanitarian” language. [Haiti Grassroots Watch did a series of articles and a video on CFW last fall.]

HGW's investigation in the fall of 2010 examined the potential negative effects CFW programs can have on Haiti's economy, on people's conceptions of the roles of the government and of "non-governmental organizations" ("NGOs"), on agricultural production, and on the work ethic. This photo from the Central Plateau is typical: two people work while five watch. Photo: HGW

Typically, beneficiaries work for two or four weeks, six days a week, for minimum wage – 200 gourds or about US$5 a day – to clean out ravines, sweep streets, rehabilitate infrastructure (irrigation canals) and remove rubble. The “team boss” or foreman, gets double the salary, or about US$10, according to a CHF document that Haiti Grassroots Watch obtained.

A view of one slope of the ravine. For more on the ravine and on CHF
International's "Katye" program, which includes Cash for Work, see this story.
Photo: HGW

Despite the fact that CWF programs are supposed to be only be used in the early months following a disaster, there are still many active programs in Haiti.

For example, according to their documentation, from January 2010 through January 2011, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the World Food Program (WFP) gave 120,000 people jobs. Those agencies hope to reach a total of 300,000 people by September, 2011. Many other agencies used CFW in the months following the earthquake, also, including: Oxfam, Mercy Corps, Tear Fund and Action Contre la Faim.

In its “Action Plan for National Recovery and Development of Haiti” [PDF], the Haitian government applauded “high-intensity labour [sic] jobs” and asked for US$200 million for 200,000 jobs per day for the 18 months following the disaster. The plan says:

Over and above its economic effects, this creation of jobs addresses the desire to set Haiti on a course to recovery and shorten the humanitarian aid phase which, although vital, threatens to place a large part of the population in a situation of dependency. Creating jobs for the public good will restore both meaning and dignity for all Haitians who wish to provide for their own needs on the basis of their work.

But have Haitians living in the earth-hit zones avoided “situation[s] of dependency?”

Do CFW workers really have a feeling of dignity?

Not according to what HGW journalists found.

These programs – and all programs like them – can play an important role after a catastrophe, and in any economy, but, as humanitarian and development agencies know all too well, they carry with them risks. One of the oft-cited manuals, “Guide to Cash for Work Programming” by Mercy Corps, underlines them clearly, including “fiscal mismanagement and corruption,” problems with “targeting,” and the creation of “dependency."

Chart from the Mercy Corps manual.

Damage and Deviations

A two-month investigation into CHF International’s Cash for Work program revealed that the Mercy Corps manual is right on the money. According to CHF’s beneficiaries, the Ravine Pintade program has spurred corruption, sexual exploitation and social conflict.

Among the 50 beneficiaries questioned, almost one-third (30%) say they were victims of corruption or exploitation. Others who have not yet gotten a job (the journalists interviewed 50 of them), say they were aware of corruption and abuse. Here are the results of the investigation.

NOTE – The journalists could not confirm the claims made by Ravine Pintade residents. However, because various stories resemble one another, and because studies from other institutions in Haiti and abroad speak of similar corruption and other problems, the journalists assume that there are at least elements of truth in the stories they heard.

CFW workers from another organization – Project Concern International – pass
rubble one block and one bucket at a time.
  Photo: HGW

Foremen turned "big bosses"

CHF told HGW journalists that beneficiaries are chosen according to a CHF-conducted census which indicates which residents are most vulnerable.

“Our program is aimed at giving jobs to the poorest residents of Ravine Pintade,” CHF International’s Emmanuel Whapo told HGW.

However, a CHF promotional flyer implies that the "team leaders" and "leaders" of the area have a lot of influence in choosing beneficiaries, since it says "CHF works with neighborhood committees to choose workers..."

And, during the multiple visits to work sites, journalists noted that the majority of workers did not appear to be typical "vulnerable" residents (older, etc.) Instead, they were young men and women who appeared to be well-fed and in excellent health. The workers said they were chosen by the foremen, who themselves have been chosen because they are the supposed “leaders” of the neighborhood, according to CHF. These young men decide who will, and who will not, get “cash.”

Despite the insufficient salary – about US$5 a day – many Ravine Pintade residents say they would like to land a two-or four-week contract. But they also claim: to get a job, you need a personal connection to a foreman.

 “Ever since the program started, we have been waiting for a chance to work… They’ve never visited us over here. We’ve showed them that even though it is a ‘miserable’ 200 gourde salary, we’re interested. But you need a ‘godfather,’” said the indignant 65-year-old Jeanne César.

The comments and accusations encountered by journalists resemble findings of a September 24, 2010, audit which the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) [PDF] carried out on its Cash for Work programs last year. The study reported:

Because CFW employment provides significant benefits for individuals in impoverished communities, transparency in the selection of workers is necessary to demonstrate fairness….

Furthermore, because CFW benefits can be misappropriated, reasonable controls to prevent corruption, nepotism, and kickbacks should be in place.

The same audit noted that in 2010, to choose beneficiaries, CHF “involved local officials as well as community leaders, nonpolitical community organizations, and implementing partner staff.”

More recently, a UNDP study found the same kinds of problems.

A “Powerpoint” presentation called “Preliminary lessons learnt from Cash Programming in Haiti," shown during a February 16, 2011, meeting noted that in Grand Goâve, the Lutheran World Foundation “experienced problems where the local government and local gangs (with guns) were pushing to have their ‘own people’ fill at least 10% of the lists.” The same study noted that Oxfam received from City Hall a “list provided by a mairie [town hall]… full of ‘ghost’ beneficiaries.”

A slide from UNDP presentation.

One of the former Ravine Pintade foremen confirmed the same phenomenon of corruption and abuse of power within the CHF program.

“Here, the foremen rule all. They give their friends work, and what’s really bad is that a lot of their family members work in the program at the same time as the people who are really supposed to benefit don’t get jobs. There are also people who have been working since the program started,” claimed Jean Bernard Chaperon, former advisor to the Association of Young Progressives of Haiti, and a resident of the area for over 40 years.

Chaperon said he quit the foreman job because he himself was a victim of corruption, over a misunderstanding regarding a 1,300 gourde ($32.50) kick-back.

CHF staffperson Whapo told journalists he was aware of the corruption in the program, but noted that he wasn’t empowered to intervene into community conflicts.

“We’ve received a lot of complaints from beneficiaries but we aren’t here to help the community members with their quarrels. They need to find a way to get along,” Whapo said.

Paying to get paid

Thirty percent (30%) of beneficiaries contacted by journalists said that they have paid for, or been asked to pay for, getting or keeping a job.

“I am a victim of their aggression because I decided not to pay part of my salary. Ever since then I haven’t been able to work in the program,” Jeannette Romelus, wife of local Pastor Romain Romelus, explained.

“The foremen wanted 30 Haitian dollars from each beneficiary in order to stay in the program,” according to Pastor Romelus, Jeannette Romelus’ husband. That’s 150 gourdes of the 2,400 gourdes received for 12 days of work, or about US$3.75 out of the US$60 total.

“The foremen are not qualified. They don’t even know how to read. They have the jobs because they know how to boss people around… If you don’t pay, you can’t stay in the program,” said an angry Sylvain Ronel, a direct beneficiary.

According to Chaperon, the ex-foreman, one of the foremen draws up a list of potential workers, and then asks each one for 500 gourdes (US$12.50) each on the side.

During journalists’ visits to the area, the same foreman pressured CFW workers not to respond to questions. Not surprisingly, victims often remain silent because denouncing abuses results in exclusion from the program.

Just some of the Cash for Work programs in Port-au-Prince, April, 2010.

Sexual Negotiation

Even sadder is the fact that certain women say a lot of them have traded their bodies for jobs. Many say they have “friends” who have “negotiated,” but none of them admit to being victims themselves.

For example, Claire Desrosiers Maryse noted: “I don’t want to accuse anyone in particular, but a lot of women sell what they have to get work.”

Armelle Desrosiers, a woman working as part of a CFW team, denounced the abuses that her co-workers have suffered in order to get a tiny salary.

“The foremen have the habit of buying the consciences of the women, and demanding that they have sex with them in order to get a job,” she said.

Even though it wasn’t possible to confirm the denunciations of beneficiaries and residents about the sexual exploitation, on many occasions journalists noted that certain foremen hassled women at the work sites.

In addition, the aforementioned UNDP report found the same phenomenon in its survey. Save The Children confirmed that committee members had demanded “sexual favors” in exchange for plots on beneficiary lists.

Asked about the subject, however, foreman Reginald Luxama denied that anything of the sort occurred.

“We don’t have those kinds of things here,” he said. “The community has confidence In us.”

CHF not satisfied with Cash for Work either, but for other reasons…

CHF staffpeople interviewed by HGW journalists admitted that the program is burdened by a number of problems. But rather than focus on the corruption, they put the accent on efficiency.

“In my opinion, Cash for Work is a real waste because the beneficiaries don’t really want to implicate themselves in the process of removing rubble from their zones,” Anne Young Lee, director of CHF’s Katye project, told HGW journalists.

“They are not proud of the work they do with this system. People don’t really work, they just laze around and get paid for it… I don’t like the mentality of Cash for Work. To get things done, the system needs to be changed.”

CHF is in the process of replacing “Cash for Work” with “Cash for Production,” a new system where workers will be paid for the actual amount of work done, rather than being paid just for showing up. [See our previous series for more on how CFW workers do not always “work.”] CHF hopes the new program will be more efficient.


Even if the program is more efficient in terms of rubble removal from neighborhoods, will it resolve the problems of corruption, sexual exploitation and social conflicts?

Perhaps the bad “mentality” to which Young refers stems from the method of recruitment and the corruption?

Other institutions are using Cash for Work all over the country. Have they found a way to protect people against corruption?

Has the government – which has given organizations like CHF huge latitude to organize high-intensity manual labor programs – found a solution to the dangers of using “cash” in the numerous “emergency” and “development” programs?

And, what kind of long-term effects might these programs – which reinforce paternalistic, “big boss” structures – have on Haitian society?


Read more about the Katye program and about CHF International in this story.

Read CHF's reaction to this story.

Students from the Journalism Laboratory at the State University of Haiti's Faculty of Human Sciences collaborated on this series. A student from American University's Investigative Reporting Workshop also assisted.

Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA) and community radio stations from the Association of Haitian Community Media.

In order to carry out this study, during a two-month period (March and April, 2011) journalists interviewed 50 beneficiaries in five zones of Ravine Pintade, and 50 people who had not yet benefited from the program, as well as five foremen (the men who choose the workers) and three representatives of CHF International. The journalists also consulted studies and reports from CHF as well as from those published by other organizations concerning Cash for Work.

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