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Commentary: The gall of Wyclef Jean criticizing international donors
Published on January 24, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Anthony L Hall

No doubt you recall how governments around the world made quite a show of pledging billions to help relief and rebuilding efforts in Haiti after that catastrophic earthquake in 2010.

While those governments were basking in praise for their generous pledges, however, I was sounding this cautionary note:

I just hope this outpouring of support is coordinated and sustained enough to help the Haitian people build a 21st century infrastructure, as well as the political and civic institutions to manage it. For, as pledges in the wake of the Indonesian Tsunami proved, governments that rush for the limelight to make grand pledges of financial aid often hide in the shadows when it comes to honoring them.

(“Haiti’s Catastrophic Earthquake,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 14, 2010)

Mind you, I professed no clairvoyance. I just based my cynicism on the shameful legacy of unfilled pledges these international donors have appended to natural disasters in every corner of the earth.

Yet many readers criticized me for being too cynical. I’m usually inured to such criticisms, but was distressed that Haitians were among those criticizing me on this occasion.

Sure enough, though, exactly six months later donors vindicated my cynicism; so much so that I scolded myself for harboring even one iota of hope that they would do better this time:

Well, I suppose I should have known better. Because in a July 10 interview with ‘The Associated Press’, no less a person than former President Bill Clinton marked the six-month anniversary of this tragedy by lamenting the failure of donor nations to honor their pledges…

In fact, they have reportedly given only 10 percent of the financial aid they promised. Even the United States -- with Barack Obama as president -- has only paid $30 million of the $1.5 billion it promised. Yet, as soon as the next tragedy hits, these same compassionate poseurs will be rushing for the limelight to pledge billions more that they know, or should know, they will never honor.

(“Haiti’s Compassionate Poseurs,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 14, 2010)

Now comes Wyclef Jean, adding his “critically acclaimed” voice to the chorus of those criticizing international donors for failing to honor their pledges:

Haitian world renowned hip-hop star, Wyclef Jean … blasted international donors who failed to live up on their commitment to help fund the quake-ravaged Caribbean country’s reconstruction.

The Grammy-award winning musician and philanthropist, who entered Haitian politics in 2010, said the international donor community has misled the country and created false hope for a desperate population who had just experienced one of the worst disasters in history…

The international community had pledged more than $10 billion to finance reconstruction efforts, but the promised funds, for the most part, have not been provided and the amounts disbursed were channeled through NGOs, which often do not take into account the priorities of the Haitian government, which itself received only about 2% of such funds.

(Caribbean News Now, January 15, 2014)

Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant - headquartered in Washington DC - who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at
Incidentally, this is why Syrian refugees should not hold their breath for governments to follow through on the billions in humanitarian aid they pledged at a donors meeting in Kuwait last Wednesday.

To the point, though, you could be forgiven for thinking I would welcome Wyclef among our ranks. Never mind wondering what took him so long.

Except that conspicuously absent from reports on his criticisms of these donors is any mention of the criticisms others have been hurling at Wyclef since 2010 for failing to honor his own well-publicized pledges.

Recall that he founded Yéle as a charitable organization in 2004 to give back to his longsuffering people in Haiti. Reports indicate, however, that Yéle had little to show for its charitable works and less than $50,000 in assets before 2010.

By contrast, Wyclef is on record boasting that so many donations started pouring in right after the earthquake that he raised $1 million in 24 hours.

Then came this report in the October 11, 2012 edition of the New York Times:

Mr Jean, who made an aborted bid for the presidency of Haiti after the earthquake, neglects to mention two key facts: a continuing New York attorney general’s investigation has already found financial improprieties at Yéle, and the charity effectively went out of business last month, leaving a trail of debts, unfinished projects and broken promises…

Even as Yéle is besieged by angry creditors, an examination of the charity indicates that millions in donations for earthquake victims went to its own offices, salaries, consultants’ fees and travel, to Mr Jean’s brother-in-law for projects never realized, to materials for temporary houses never built and to accountants dealing with its legal troubles…

In 2010, Yéle spent $9 million and half went to travel, to salaries and consultants’ fees and to expenses related to their offices and warehouse; in contrast, another celebrity charity, Sean Penn’s J/P Haitian Relief Organization, spent $13 million with only 10 percent going to those costs.

Clearly, Wyclef criticizing international donors amounts to a brazen case of the pot calling the kettle black. Not to mention forensic audits showing that his charity spent far more on private jets to fly rich celebrities around to Yéle soirees in the United States than it spent on humanitarian aid for poor people suffering down in Haiti.

Still, to be fair, Wyclef has tearfully denied any wrongdoing. In fact, as the Times notes in the October 2012 report referenced above, he responded to these allegations by “portraying himself as persecuted like Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr.”

But his denials now seem like crocodile tears (or the tears of a clown); not least because he has never provided forensic accounts that refute these allegations. What’s more, he even looked like a clown when poor Haitians began openly ridiculing his professed good works on their behalf as follows:

‘If I had depended on Yéle, these kids would all be dead by now,’ says Diaoly Estime, who runs an orphanage in Haiti’s capital.

(Daily Mail, December 12, 2012)

Frankly, you could be forgiven for thinking that Sean Penn has done as a Haitian should and Wyclef Jean has done as a foreign donor would. Which is why nobody can blame Penn for also ridiculing Wyclef’s professed good works as follows:

My impression is that Yéle is at the service of Wyclef Jean and his reputation.

(New York Times, October 12, 2012)

Nevertheless, there’s no gainsaying the truth in Wyclef’s criticisms of international donors. Therefore, I hereby welcome his voice to our chorus by pleading, with apologies to Shakespeare: hate the messenger; don’t hate the message.

Haitians certainly appear to have little to be thankful for. But I respectfully submit that they should thank their lucky stars Wyclef failed in his 2010 bid to parlay his notoriety into becoming their president.

Related commentaries:
Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake
Haitians: returning to Africa
Compassionate poseurs

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