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The Morne à Cabri mystery houses

Croix-des-Bouquets, HAITI, July 10, 2012 – For the past eight months, a giant housing project of at least 3,000 homes has been quietly under construction in the desert near Morne à Cabri about 15 kilometers east of the capital.

The little houses are there, visible to all. But that is perhaps the only aspect of the project that is clear. Everything else remains a mystery.

Partial view of the housing project from the air. Photo: UCLBP

What is the exact number of lodgings to be built? What is the total budget? When will the construction be completed? Under what conditions was the contract signed, and by whom? What firm is executing the project, and what firm is overseeing the project? Does the project fit with the government’s new housing policy? Who is or are the landowner(s) and how much money did he or they receive?

Are the houses meant to be “public” housing for the victims of the January 2010 earthquake?

Or – like the housing being built in the north near the new industrial park in Caracol – are they “private,” meant for the eventual workers at another industrial park, planned by the government? Or maybe for the workers that will work at a third set of factories, planned for the private “integrated economic zone” of Corail, more commonly known as “NABATEC”?

Is the “public” subsidizing the “private” by making it cheaper and easier for foreign corporations to set up factories where they can hire workers for the lowest salary in the hemisphere?

A woman walks by the half-built houses. Photo: HGW/Evens Louis

On the ground, many mini-houses, but no sign explaining anything. Nothing to say who is doing what, for how long, and at what price to the Haitian nation. And despite two months of research, interviews or attempts at interviews with almost a dozen officials, much information remains hidden.

Haitian officials have decided to keep their mouths shut about the circumstances that led to the country’s largest housing project, even though that silence is a flagrant violation of Article 40 of the Haitian Constitution, which states:

“The State is obligated to publicize via the written, spoken and televised media, in Creole and French, the laws, orders, decrees, international accords, treaties, conventions, and all that concerns the life of the nation, except for information that would put in jeopardy national security.”

From Fort National to Morne à Cabri

In the 30 months since the January 12, 2010 earthquake, the Haitian nation has seen a number of new housing projects. The Morne à Cabri project will have at least 3,000 units, according to a document recently circulated by the prime minister’s office. The earthquake-proof houses – some with two stories – have at least four rooms, including two bedrooms, a kitchen, a porch, a bathroom with a shower and a toilet.

A Haitian-Dominican works on one of the anti-earthquake houses.
All of the workers journalists met were either Dominicans
or Haitians from the Dominican Republic.
Photo: HGW/Evens Louis

On June 21, Prime Minister Laurent Salvador Lamothe shined light on the project during a meeting of the Economy and Finances Commission of the Haitian Senate. He said that the project at Morne à Cabri was in fact the project originally planned for Fort National.

That development – a series of high-rises – was specifically meant to benefit the displaced families of the impoverished Fort National neighborhood, which was devastated by the earthquake. The project was blocked by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), a committee set up to oversee the "reconstruction." Its mandate ended on October 21, 2011.

Image of the Fort National project that was rejected by the IHRC and also criticized
as being likely to only benefit the "middle classes," according to UN-Habitat.
[See Fort National, Stuck Between Rubble... and Doubts]

According to Lamothe, the Morne à Cabri project costs US$44 million and is financed by the “Petro-Caribe Fund.”*

A document entitled “Implementation of Three Projects – Call for Bids” related to the bidders on three reconstruction projects – Fort National, Bowenfield and the Parliament – uses a bid much higher than the US$44 mentioned by Lamothe. According to this page – whose authenticity has not been verified, but which is accepted by many journalists and others are being trustworthy – the Fort National housing project would be executed by a Dominican Republic firm called Constructadora Rofi S.A. for the sum of US$174,308,897. The Miami Herald has also used the US$174 million figure.

According to the same document, engineer Jude Hervé Day – who later became Minister of Planning for the Dr. Garry Conille government, in 2011 – was a member of the three-person evaluation committee that selected Rofi S.A. for the project. (By refusing to grant Haiti Grassroots Watch and Le Nouvelliste an interview, Day did not allow journalists to confirm the authenticity of the document or the signature – his? – at the bottom of the page.)

Signed on November 3, 2010, the document indicates that the other two contracts were given to two other Dominican companies: Constructadora Hadom and Construcciones y Diseños.

Both Rofi and Hadom are owned by or are under the control of Dominican Senator Félix Ramon Bautista, according to Le Monde journalist Jean Michel Caroit.

Suspicions and accusations

The Fort National project and the two others are among the six contracts denounced in the “Preliminary Report” of an audit requested by former Prime Minister Conille, in March 2012. Conille asked for the audit of 41 contacts allegedly signed without any bidding process during the government of President René Préval and Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive. At that time, an “Emergency Law” allowed contracts to be signed with no bid. (Although the “Preliminary Report” has never been authenticated, many journalists and media accept it as true.)

According to the document, the participation of Bautista’s three companies in a “restrained bidding” process for six contracts meant that “the principle of true competition was not respected and it is entirely possible that the three firms made a deal amongst themselves.”

“The signature of those contracts is not only harmful to the interests of the State, but it was also done in an irregular manner,” the report adds.

(It is widely believed that the audit – and the contradictions surrounding it – are likely among the reasons Conille resigned on February 24, 2012.)

A Dominican investigative journalist also looked into the contracts. In one of her “Nuria-Investigación Periodistica” television programs on March 31, 2012 Nuria Piera alleged that Haitian President Michel Joseph Martelly received – directly or indirectly – almost US$2.6 million from Senator Bautista in exchange for lucrative contracts for his companies. [View the program (in Spanish) on her site or view this excerpt.]

Today, the audit is complete. Although the results are not public, on June 21, 2012, while announcing that his government had received the definitive report, Lamothe revealed a few details. According to a news release from the prime minister’s office, “The audit commission created by the previous government has recommend to unilaterally annul all of the contracts for which no money has been spent.”

And for the contracts that are already being executed? The prime minister's office they will be subject to an “analysis.” Also, it said, according to the Cour supérieure des comptes et du contentieux administratifs (CSCCA or Supreme Court of Accounts and of Administrative Litigations)) – which, among other tasks, looks at and approves all contacts – “the contracts were awarded in a completely legal manner according to the Emergency Law.”

 But legal does not necessarily mean unquestionable.

A document obtained by Haiti Grassroots Watch [available for download here] shows that one of Bautista’s companies – Hadom – was hoping for at least 11 contracts worth almost $350 million. How many contracts did the three companies win altogether?

“In a single day, November 8, 2010, Jean Max Bellerive, the predecessor of Conille, gave eight construction contracts, for a total of US$385 million, to three companies belonging to Dominican Senator Félix Bautista,” Caroit wrote in Le Matin on April 9, 2012.

Bellerive has rejected the accusation.

Silence, or almost, on the Morne à Cabri project

By all counts, the Morne à Cabri housing project is moving forward. However, will the contract be analyzed and revised, as the audit has recommended?

The list of authorities and entities refusing to speak – or at least, to speak about the contract – is long.

Harry Adam, director of the new Unité de Construction de Logements et de Bâtiments Publics (UCLBP – Unit for the Construction of Housing and Public Buildings), refused to discuss the project’s contract, but had no problem chatting about the project itself.

“We are taking over the project,” Adam explained. “The [UCLBP] is just looking after a contract that was signed by the Préval-Bellerive administration.”

However, his office doesn’t even have a plan for the project, Adam admitted, and he suggested journalists visit the Ministry of Planning and External Cooperation (MPCE in French), for more information on the plans and the contract.

Urban and post-disaster housing expert Priscilla Phelps, a consultant to the UCLBP, spoke of the absurdity.

“It’s ironic that the largest housing project in the country is not under the control of the UCLBP,” she said, noting that “it’s not even clear what agency or human being is supervising the development.”

Phelps also said she did not know which state agency approved the project. An advisor to the IHRC when it existed, she said she had never seen any proposal for a project in what she calls a “questionable” location.

Page from a document called "Priority Projects" released by the prime
minister's office on July 2, 2012.

There are other questionable factors, Phelps noted, including the fact that she has never seen the plan or any budget… nothing more than some artist’s drawings. She is also worried about the supervision issue.

“Normally, a second firm – independent of the first, of course – would supervise the executing firm in order to assure all the expenses are justified and that the budget is respected,” she said, adding that, “that’s not the case for Morne à Cabri.”

Adam recognizes that the UCLBP doesn’t have much power to supervise the project, but, he said, “we are following the project.”

An engineer from the Rofi company, Maximo Mercedes, said the MPCE was supervising the project. However, during three visits to the site, journalists never saw any representative of the Haitian government.

Mysterious ministries

Not one person from the Ministry of Planning (MPCE), past or present, was available to speak with journalists despite a hand-delivered letter, numerous visits, emails and over a dozen telephone calls.

The former Minister of Planning, Hervé Day, whose name is listed as being a member of the committee that evaluated the contracts, refused to speak, on the pretext that he was no longer a member of the government. “You had reached me 24 hours too late,” he said.

The response from the current Minister of Planning, Josépha Raymond Gauthier, was the same. Her secretary said repeatedly that the minister was out of the country, but made many promises to call journalists to set up an appointment in the future. That never happened. But when a French film crew called, they got an interview the next day.

Dr. Conille, the former prime minister who requested the audit, prevaricated, saying “let’s wait for the installation of a new prime minister,” but numerous attempts to reach him after Lamothe took office were futile. His predecessor, Bellerive, promised interviews twice before he disappeared.

An uncourteous court and an ignorant EPPLS

The Supreme Court of Accounts and of Administrative Litigations (CSCCA in French) is supposed to give  advice on all the contracts, accords and convention that the government signs. But on two visits, a journalist was rebuked.

“You don’t have the right to that information. Who are you to ask me about the contracts? A state agency? A company?” were among the rude and hostile responses.

But at least one state official did agree to speak. But just like the other state agency linked to the housing issue (the UCLBP), the director of the Entreprise Publique de Promotion de Logements Sociaux (EPPLS or Public Enterprise for the Promotion of Social Housing) said his agency is not in charge of the project.

“I heard people talking about a big housing project, but so far I am completely ignorant about it,” EPPLS director Elonge Othélot confided during an interview in June. “I really don’t know anything. I am planning to visit there next week.”

Housing for the displaced, or for workers?

At the same moment that the 3,000 homes are being built, the government is in the process of putting together a new housing policy. The subject, and a draft document currently in circulation will be the subject of a two-day colloquium on July 24 and 25.

Cover of the draft housing policy. To download it, click here.

“The government is working very hard to come up with this housing policy,” Phelps reported.  “However, what happened is that… they were left with a project that in many ways doesn’t conform to the new policy.”

Maybe the objective was not public housing?

While the Morne à Cabri project might not fit the new housing policy, it does fit very well with another policy: its clarion call: “Haiti is open for business.”

The Morne à Cabri housing project is very near an area that national and international officials have chosen for the construction of a mega-development that includes factories and urban zones. In addition, a new document from prime minister’s office entitled “Priority projects – Financed by Petro Caribe and debt relief (IMF)” says the “Morne à Cabri industrial park” is one of the government’s “priorities.”

Giant project planned well before the earthquake

The new housing project and eventual industrial park are also just steps from another proposed development, this one definitely private.

Since at least 2009, a Haitian company called NABATEC – a partnership between two other companies, NABASA and TECINA – has been promoting what was once called “Haiti Habitat 2004” and is now known as “Haiti Habitat 2020”. The project is what the government and the World Bank call an “Integrated Economic Zone” that would have a free trade zone component, an industrial park, an urban development with various levels of housing (factory workers, professionals) and tourism installations. Maps and documents indicate that it is located just to the west of the Morne à Cabri housing project.

A 2011 report from the World Bank [available for download here] says that NABATEC owns 1,000 hectares (about 2,500 acres) and that the “Integrated Economic Zone” or IEZ of Corail is the most promising of 20 sites ranked by the its International Finance Corporation (IFC).

“The Corail project, commonly known as the NABATEC project after its developer, NABATEC S.A., is the clearest application of the IEZ concept among any proposed project in Haiti today,” the report notes.

Two maps from the IFC report.

NABATEC's president, Gérard-Emile “Aby” Brun, said that his company does own 1,000 hectares, includng the land under the nearby Corail-Cesselesse refugee camp, which he and NABATEC had hoped would eventually become one of the housing projects in their development. But the firm doesn’t own the Morne à Cabri land. The developer added that, as far as he is concerned, the NABATEC project has essentially “fallen apart” because of the invasion of some 60,000 squatters into the region after the René Préval government declared the land “public utility.” The new excrement treatment plant “in the middle of the industrial and touristic zone” has also bunged up his firm’s plans.

“I still hope we can salvage part of it. But I’m going to have a hard time convincing my investors to come back in,” he said in a telephone interview, adding, “I haven’t heard about a Morne à Cabri industrial park, and I haven’t seen any master plan.”

Two maps of the proposed NABATEC or "Corail" Integrated Economic Zone
from the IFC report

Is the new housing project – built with Petro Caribe funds – part of a broader plan to turn the entire region into an industrial zone? Is that plan connected to with the “Corail project?”

Either way, it appears the choice of location is not as “questionable” as Phelps imagines.


Map of are declared "Of Public Utility" by the René Préval government in 2010.
The shaded area is the Corail-Cesselesse camp region.
Source: IOM

Recently, Prime Minister Lamothe told the public that victims of the earthquake, including from Fort National, would be moved into the Morne à Cabri project. Truly?

At the end of a two-month investigation, journalists learned a great deal, but mysteries remain, and there are even more questions than at the start of the enquiry:

Will poor urban families from Fort National really be transported into the quasi-desert?

Who owns the land? And how much money will the landowner(s) receive?

What is the project budget?

Who is overseeing the development?

In a country with so much unemployment, why wasn't Rofi asked to hire Haitian workers?

Who are the elected officials that approved the use of public funds for projects that seem meant to mostly benefit private investors in search of the lowest wage in the hemisphere?

A view of the new housing project. Photo: HGW/Evens Louis


* This fund is the result of an accord that allows the Haitian government to get petroleum products from Venezuela and then send them to local companies. A percentage of the revenue becomes a 25-year loan with an interest rate of one percent. The government often uses the money to finance development projects.

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), community radio stations and students from the State University’s Faculty of Human Sciences.

This report made possible with the support of the Fund for Investigative Journalism in Haiti.

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