Student Puts the Spotlight on Red Cross' Spending in Haiti

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by
Miami Herald

Student Puts the Spotlight on Red Cross' Spending in Haiti

Critics are beginning to question how the American Red Cross is spending the $430 million raised by donors. The group, in turn, says that it's shifting to a long-term recovery plan after an initial flurry of spending.

by
Frances Robles

Fred Sajous is in Haiti and questions the spending by NGO's there. American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern says they are investing for the long term. (Miami Herald Staff)

Fred Sajous, a Haitian earthquake survivor armed with a video camera
and a cause, is a man on a mission: to figure out how the American Red
Cross spent the $430 million it raised for the disaster.

The former
Broward Community College student visited the tent city across the
street from the American Red Cross' Pétionville headquarters. Tent city
leaders said they had not received anything from the Red Cross. With
the organization's monthly report in hand, he went to a dozen more
settlements.

"I couldn't find the $106 million,'' said Sajous,
a 29-year-old mechanical engineer who left Fort Lauderdale for
Port-au-Prince after being laid off last year. "I didn't see a single
sticker or anything.''

More than three months since the
American Red Cross raised hundreds of millions to aid Haiti in the
aftermath of the 7.0 earthquake that killed an estimated 300,000 and
left 1.3 million homeless, the organization says it has spent about a
quarter of the money.

But after consuming $106 million in the
first 60 days, the Red Cross in the past month has tapped just $5
million more and has come under fire for what critics call anemic
spending.

Other aid groups, members of Congress, bloggers and
even a former board member are among the growing chorus asking what the
Red Cross is doing with such a massive amount of money raised in such a
short time.

Red Cross records are not public, so Sajous
settled on registering a watchdog organization called Kontrol Aid and
making a video about his hunt for Red Cross relief supplies, which he
posted on YouTube. American Red Cross President and CEO Gail J.
McGovern last week countered with an Internet video of her own,
responding to those who say the organization lacks visibility.

She also scheduled a conference call with members of Congress,
underscoring the agency's sudden drive to explain how it funded 43
percent of the global Red Cross efforts that assisted 2 million people,
gave tarps and other supplies to 450,000 and distributed almost 24
million gallons of water.

"Slapping our logo on people's
temporary homes just didn't seem right,'' McGovern said in the video."I can assure you that our presence is being felt by the people of
Haiti. We have to answer not just to our donors; we have to answer to
the people of Haiti.''

The Red Cross said that expenses so far
have included $55 million for emergency relief, such as food and
supplies, including $30 million to the World Food Program; $43.6
million for shelter, including tarp; $5.5 million for water and
sanitation, and $1.5 million for health costs.

RECOVERY PLAN


The organization says that after an initial flurry of spending,
operations have slowed as the American Red Cross shifts to a three- to
five-year recovery plan. Rather than spend donations distributing water
bottles, the Red Cross says it will fund water sanitation systems
instead.

"That's not disaster relief, that's long-term
recovery, and that's not the Red Cross' mission and not the donor
intent either,'' said former board member Victoria Cummock, a longtime
Red Cross advocate and volunteer who has given the organization over
$300,000.

The Coral Gables resident resigned from the national
board of governors in 2008 after it disbanded the disaster oversight
committee. She was disappointed in what she said were tepid responses
she got from Red Cross officials when she asked about its operations in
Haiti, so she decided to donate $25,000 each instead to Project
Medishare and UNICEF.

"You have to start to take credence in
the outcry of the people saying their needs are not being met,'' she
said. "If there are hungry people across the street from the Red
Cross, what is that about?''

A lot of the grumbling in
Port-au-Prince comes from other aid groups, which covet the
organization's largesse and first lady Michelle Obama's public appeal
on its behalf.

"Everybody is saying the same thing. People are
going: 'Where did that money go?' '' said Eric Klein, CEO of CAN-DO, a
small disaster relief agency that prides itself on cutting through red
tape. "Show me one thing you have done. Show me a village or location
of the camp. Are they going to show a pie chart?

"People are starting to scratch their heads.''

REPORT: $111M SPENT


According to Red Cross reports, the organization spent "or
allocated'' $80 million the first month after the quake, and another $26
million the second month.

The latest report says the group has
spent$111 million, and it no longer differentiates between what was
spent and what was allocated.

"I get a little cranky when
people suggest we aren't spending the money,'' said Nan Buzard, senior
director of international response and programs, 60 days after the
quake. "That is a lot of money to spend in two months. In an
emergency, you can spend 30 percent more because everything is
expensive and you are racing against the clock and not being efficient.
You can't spend $300 million in two months wisely.''

According
to the report, the American Red Cross expects to spend about half its
donations this year, and will use the rest for long-term recovery
issues such as disaster preparedness, transitional shelters, housing in
rural areas, economic development, sanitation and cash grants.

Nine cents of every dollar will go toward overhead, and the
organization has promised not to divert the funds to other disasters.

In her video, McGovern said the organization lacked visibility because
it chose not to spend money flying in thousands of volunteers who
consume resources for shelter and food -- and it decided against
delaying supplies by labeling them.

But Red Cross officials also
acknowledge that $20 million of the money spent went for the materials
to build 30,000 shelters, which are stuck in storage while the Haitian
government finds land with clear property title for them.

"This
is not a normal disaster where there is an emergency and then you move
to recovery,'' Buzard said. "We can't do recovery without people in
homes. If the land piece isn't worked out, it is going to be like a big
African refugee camp.

"I FEEL GOOD'

"I feel good about what we have spent and where we are going,'' she said.

Sajous insists that despite the reports, there is no evidence of the donations in Haiti.

"Did they distribute a high-energy cookie from the United Nations and
then say they fed so many families?'' he said. "I am looking for
transparency, I am not looking for them to rebuild Haiti.''

Florida Democrat Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz told a Florida radio
station earlier this month that she'd think twice before advising
people to donate to the Red Cross.

"We were actually pretty
struck by the fact that we didn't see the Red Cross anywhere, at all,''
Wasserman Schultz said on WTFL radio after a visit to Haiti.

But Wasserman Schultz toned down her remarks after getting an explanation from McGovern, the Red Cross president.

"They could have gone the route of spending quickly and getting out,''
Wasserman Schultz said in a telephone interview. "If they had spent it
all fast, we'd all be saying, `Where did it go?' Instead, everyone is
saying, `Why aren't they spending it?'

"I think they struck a balance.''

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