Yesterday, we posted a digested version of a November 27 New York Post article ("Questions Dog Wyclef's Haiti Fund") which suggested that earthquake-relief funds raised by Yéle Haiti, a charity co-founded by hip-hop star Wyclef Jean (who is Haitian), in the months after the quake had been used improperly. At the heart of the Post's allegations are P&A Construction, which is run by Warnel Pierre, the brother of Jean's wife, Claudinette, and two independent contractors, Miami-based Amisphere Farm Labor Inc. and Samosa SA, in Port-au-Prince.
That article generated the following response from Hugh Locke, a co-founder of Yéle Haiti who served initially as executive director of the charity's Haiti operation and then as president of the combined Haiti and U.S. operations (until this past February). In the interest of fairness (and the facts), we thought it was important to reprint Locke's comments in their entirety.
Feel free to weigh in on Locke's comments, the Post's reporting, and/or our version of the Post story in the comments section below.
My name is Hugh Locke and I was until earlier this year the president of Yéle Haiti. I would like to set the record straight regarding the NY Post article.
Bad journalism can be the result of sloppiness, incompetence, or a distortion of facts in order to serve a bias or editorial agenda. All three of these traits are on full and splendid display in the November 27, 2011, New York Post article "Questions Dog Wyclef's Haiti Fund" by Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein. These two reporters have Wyclef Jean, co-founder of Yéle Haiti along with Jerry Duplessis and myself, in their sights in a no-holds-barred effort to sell papers, and no pesky truth is going to stand in their way.
The Yéle staff and our various partners who braved a chaotic and dangerous situation in order to deliver emergency relief to victims of the January 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti are true heroes in my book. Ms. Vincent and Ms. Klein cannot be allowed to discredit our collective efforts with falsehood and innuendo. What follows are the facts and figures to counter to each accusation in their Post article.
1. How much did Yéle receive in donations following the earthquake in Haiti and how much of that money was used for emergency relief?
NY Post: "In the months following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, a charity run by hip-hop star Wyclef Jean spent a pittance of the money it took in on disaster relief and doled out millions in questionable contracts....Records show that Yele Haiti spent just $5.1 million for emergency relief efforts, including food and water delivery to makeshift survivor camps...."
HL Response: As reported in Yéle Haiti’s 2010 IRS 990 tax filing, the organization received $16 million in donations that year (figures quoted are rounded off). More than half of these donations were received in the weeks immediately following the earthquake. Over the course of 2010 we spent a total of $9.2 million -- $8.2 million for programs (most of that for emergency relief and a small portion for other Yéle programs) and $1 million (or roughly 11 percent) on administrative overhead. Yéle made a decision not to expend all the funds raised in 2010 during that same year because people in the tent camps continued to need support. Consequently $6.8 million was carried over to cover operations in 2011.
Clarifications about contracts, none of which were "questionable," are answered in the points that follow.
Yéle’s activities in 2010 were a combination of emergency relief and long-term rebuilding. Here is an overview of what we accomplished.
Emergency Relief: Yéle worked with non-elected community leaders and elders within a core group of 30 of the tent camps throughout Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas to identify needs and coordinate aid delivery. These targeted camps had a combined population of just under 80,000. Here is a summary of what was distributed by Yéle over the course of 2010:
- 2,000 tents of various sizes
- 873 tarp kits for building shelters
- 4.2 million gallons of filtered water delivered in trucks (including to cholera areas)
- 233,000 10-ounce pouches of water
- 32,850 bottles of water in various sizes
- 98,000 hot meals
- 14,400 items of canned and packaged food
- 270,310 nutrition bars
- 4,425 individual care bags with personal toiletries and other items
- 8,705 items of new and used clothing
- 3,520 pairs of new and used shoes
- 1,000 pairs of new boots
- 14,300 pounds of medical supplies
- 1,240 windup and/or solar flashlights
- 2,500 windup and/or solar radios
- 26 generators
- 900 sheets and blankets
In response to the cholera outbreak in October of 2010, Yéle purchased 2 million water purification tablets and received a donation of 50,000 bars of soap and 100,000 bottles of hand sanitizer. These items were distributed by going tent to tent in the camps, noting that a portion of them were distributed in 2011.
Employment: There were very few jobs following the earthquake and even fewer for the 1.3 million people living in tent camps. Yéle began a program in 2010 that employed up to 2,000 people at a time to clean the streets of Port-au-Prince, paying them a respectable $7 a day. Towards the end of the year a vocational training program in carpentry, plumbing, and masonry was added to give youth marketable job skills.
Youth Development & Education: Yéle provided weekly support for two residential orphanages that were damaged in the earthquake. In additional to providing operational costs, one orphanage was completely rebuilt and more than doubled in size while the second was repaired and some additional facilities added. Yéle managed an onsite medical service for all the orphans as well.
Tree Planting & Agriculture: Haiti has less than 2 percent tree cover and imports roughly 70 percent of its food. Yele’s response in 2010 was to increase the capacity of local farmers, working with them to plant trees and introduce better farming practices that resulted in higher yields. A second Yéle program involved commissioning peasant farmers to grow vegetables that were delivered weekly to up to 2,000 orphans.
2. What was the role of Amisphere Farm Labor Inc. in Yéle’s emergency relief efforts?
NY Post: "A purported Miami business called Amisphere Farm Labor Inc. received a whopping $1,008,000 as a 'food distributor'. No trace of the company could be found last week in the Sunshine State, but records show the company’s head, Amsterly Pierre, bought three properties in Florida last year, including a condo in an upscale waterfront community.
"The firm incorporated in August 2008 but never filed any of the subsequent financial paperwork required to do business in Florida, according to the Florida Department of State.
"The address listed for the business is an auto-repair shop in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, where a worker said he had never heard of Pierre or Amisphere. Pierre did not return a call for comment...."
HL Response: Getting food to people who were in makeshift tent camps following the earthquake was a priority. It was particularly important to send in hot meals because people had limited capacity to cook in the camps. With this in mind we approached Amsterly Pierre, a businessman in Haiti who had experience in this field, and asked him to set up the operation on our behalf. For this purpose he used the bank account of a company he had registered in the US, Amisphere, because the banks were not yet functioning in Haiti.
In the midst of the chaos that characterized Port-au-Prince at that time, Mr. Pierre used his operation on the ground there to find a kitchen that, although damaged, could be made operational with a minimum of effort. He found sources of food, some of which had to be brought in by truck from the Dominican Republic, and assembled a staff that could cook and deliver thousands of meals at a time.
The hot meal program began on January 24 with the first distribution of hot meals to tent camps, with a particular focus on women and children living there. Over the next three months a total of 98,000 hot meals were served in the course of 15 distributions that ranged between 5,000 and 7,000 at a time.
While the primary emphasis was on the tent camps, during the early phase of the program we provided some of these meals to members of the national police force who were themselves living in tents, as the government was unable to give them any food or wages for the first month and a half following the earthquake. We also provided meals during that same time for a number of civil servants who were in a similar situation but who were determined to stay on the job to do what they could to restore services for the population.
In addition to the hot meals, we also contracted Mr. Pierre to develop a dry food ration kit. These were prepared in the Dominican Republic and brought in by truck and distributed in tent camps. Each kit had enough rations for an average family for one week. A total of 700 of these kits were distributed.
The term "whopping" should be applied to the impact Mr. Pierre had on Yéle’s behalf. Each hot meal fed an average of two people, and the ration kits fed five people for a week -- so through Mr. Pierre we were able to feed around 200,000 people at a cost of about $5 per person at a time when food was scarce, hot meals almost unheard of, and delivery of food into the tent camps was regularly causing riots.
3. What was the role of Samosa SA in Yéle’s emergency relief efforts?
NY Post: "Yele Haiti also paid $577,185 to a company called Samosa SA, based in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, as a 'bulk water supplier'. But some of that money went to rent a house for Yele Haiti volunteers on Samosa’s property at the inflated price of $35,000 a month...."
HL Response: Samosa SA is a Haitian company that Yéle contracted to provide fresh water to those living in tent camps. Samosa utilized 14 of their 1,200-gallon tanker trucks to deliver an average of 34,000 gallons of water a day on a rotating schedule to 30 different tent camps. The water came from an aquifer on the Samosa property and they filtered the water on site using a reverse osmosis process. While Samosa provided the trucks and drivers, Yéle sent its own staff to accompany each delivery -- having made sure that each tent camp would be ready with volunteers to help manage the operation and residents lined up with pails ready to take the water.
Water distribution began on January 24 and over the course of the remainder of 2010 a total of 4.2 million gallons of purified water was distributed at a unit cost of 10¢ a gallon. The unit cost went up in October when half the water was diverted as Yéle contributed to fighting the outbreak of cholera in the rural areas north of Port-au-Prince. The increased cost was a combination of more fuel being required to drive outside the capital plus a bonus paid to the drivers because they were afraid to go into the midst of the cholera outbreak when it had just begun and the population was terrified and did not yet understand how it was spread.
There was a second and separate contract with Samosa SA for Yéle to rent a seven-acre walled property that included a house. The property and house were rented from May 1 onwards for $15,000 a month.
The house was used by Yéle as a center of our relief activities, serving as both headquarters and main office. Our U.S. staff and visiting volunteers also stayed there. The house had three bedrooms and by using mattresses and sleeping bags we were able to accommodate as many as 30 people at a time, depending on the scale of the distributions or other emergency relief programs that were being implemented.
The rest of the property was used as the site of a warehouse operation where relief items such as tents, tarps, blankets, food, clothing, shoes, medical supplies, windup flashlights, windup radios, and other items were stored, sorted, and loaded onto trucks for delivery to the 30 tent camps that we served on a regular basis.
The warehouse operation had two components -- we installed a large concrete slab on which we placed nine permanent 40-foot containers and had space for six more that shuffled between the property and the port. The second component involved a 44-foot diameter geodesic dome that we erected and which was used for both storage and sorting.
Lastly, we built a facility that was intended to serve the needs of amputees. Two geodesic domes were erected, but the facility was not completed when it was discovered that the initial government estimates amputees had been significantly overstated. The two domes were taken down and are currently in storage.
As the overall emergency relief needs in Haiti changed, Yéle subsequently moved out of the rented Samosa property in early 2011.
4. What was the role of P & A Construction in Yéle’s emergency relief efforts?
NY Post: "Yele Haiti paid five contractors to accomplish its goals, including P&A Construction --- which received $353,983 and is run by Warnel Pierre, the brother of Jean’s wife, Claudinette...."
HL Response: Yéle contracted a company called P & A Construction to design and build several things, and in keeping with a policy of transparency we included the fact that the owner of the company is a relative of Wyclef Jean in our IRS 990 tax filing for 2010.
Finding a contractor who can build anything in Haiti on time and on budget is a rarity, and Warnel Pierre was that person. As we did with all contracts, estimates for projects were reviewed against standard costs per square foot or the relevant unit of comparison, depending on the project. In all cases we were satisfied that Mr. Pierre was providing a good service at a competitive rate.
Among the services provided by Mr. Pierre during 2010 were the following:
- repair and complete rebuilding and expansion of the Jean et Marie Orphanage that had been damaged in the earthquake;
- repair and the addition of a kitchen, bathrooms, and two new classrooms at the Bon Samaritan Orphanage that had been damaged in the earthquake;
- installation of electrical power lines, septic and water storage tanks, and a well; re-surfacing with gravel and a drainage system, building of toilets and shower facility, and other upgrades to the Place Fierte tent camp in the Cité Soleil slum of Port-au-Prince;
- installation of concrete slab and related ramps for container-based warehouse storage;
- installation of concrete slab base, plumbing, bathrooms, and showers for the amputee facility, including assisting in the installation of two geodesic domes on the site; and
- installation of concrete slab and surrounding gravel drainage area for geodesic dome used as part of the warehouse operation, including assisting in the installation of the dome.
5. What did Yéle do to ensure transparency of operation?
NY Post: " 'Given the fact that Yele Haiti was involved in a swirl of controversy after the earthquake in Haiti, it's all the more reason to be more transparent to ensure donors that their funds are going to help people,' said the Better Business Bureau’s Bennett Weiner...."
HL Response: Yéle hired the prestigious accounting firm of RSM McGladrey to improve its level of transparency and together we developed one of the most comprehensive and timely systems of disclosure of any NGO working in Haiti. Beginning in September 2010, Yéle regularly updated this financial information on its website.
6. Did Yéle lose $244,000 in 2009?
NY Post: "The group lost $244,000 in 2009...."
HL Response: This allegation is simply made up. Yéle began 2009 with $57,421 in cash on hand that was carried over from the previous year. To that was added donations in 2009 totaling $749,480, for a total of $806,901. We spent $994,344 in 2009, with the difference of $187,443 between what we spent and what we received being invoices that came in the latter part of 2009 and which were paid in 2010. There was no loss.
(Locke is currently writing a book about his six years of humanitarian service in Haiti.)