Cheryl Benton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
Harold Charles, President of CEEPCO Contracting
Dr. Omar Kader, Chairman & Owner, Planning & Learning Technologies, Inc.
Lloyd Mitchell, President of The Mitchell Group
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENTON: We’ve had a lot of questions, as you witnessed during the first part of our session, so we’re going to have, for the questions we don’t get to we’re going to pass out cards to people who want them. You can write your question down and we will respond to the entire group with the answer. The cards are at the information desk.
I’m personally gratified that you’ve been so forthcoming, that you have challenged us, that you have expressed your frustrations, and I know we don’t always love to hear it, but we do love to hear it, seriously. We’re so happy to have you here and that you can yell at them, but not me.
We’re going to now go to our third panel which is “Working with the U.S. Government from the Perspective of a Development Business”. Our panelists, it’s a very good group on this panel. Our first participant is Mr. Harold Charles. As I did early on, I’ll read everybody’s bio and then they’ll just come up and talk.
Harold Charles is the President of CEEPCO Contracting which has provided architectural, engineering and other construction services to different agencies since 2003. Under his leadership CEEPCO Contracting has been able to win and complete several large contracts on time and within budget.
Next we have Omar Kader. Omar holds a PhD from the University of Southern California in International Relations. He served as the Executive Director of the United Palestinian Appeal and Executive Director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee. He currently teaches seminars at several universities and is a board member of the Institute for Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University and the Middle East Policy Council.
Lastly is Lloyd Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell is President of The Mitchell Group, a management consulting firm that implements contracts for USAID. He has had over 35 years of progressive management experience in planning, organizing and implementing contracts and related activities.
Please join me in welcoming each of them to the panel today.
MR. HAROLD CHARLES: Good afternoon. My name is Harold Charles and the very first thing I’d like to say before I go on a little further is that we were in Haiti before the earthquake and the earthquake did not bring us to Haiti. We love our country. We were there. And we will be there until we can’t.
The next thing I want to say which will address some of the points that were raised this morning is that of all the prime contracts that we have in Haiti, only 3 percent of our subcontracts are given to non-Haitian firms. We use local expertise and one of our Haitian contractors based in Haiti is present right now here in the room.
I’m a Haitian-American. I am a civil engineer by trade, Licensed Professional Engineer in four states -- D.C., Maryland, Virginia and Florida. My company is also a general contractor licensed and registered in the same four states. I am LEED accredited -- Leadership Energy Environmental Design. I am also project manager and professional, PMP. I worked for the federal government for 19 years prior to starting my company and that gave me a very strong base on how the federal government works. I have been a quoter, I have been a PM, project manager. I know how the system works. I understand the FAR. I know the acronyms. When we meet with the federal government we can speak their language. We know what they are looking for. That’s part of our succeed.
CEEPCO stands for Charles Environmental Engineering and Public Health Consultants. We are based in Beltsville, Maryland. We’ve been around since 2003. We provide architectural engineering, construction management, environmental consulting and construction services. We also do a lot of work with, actually 95 percent of our work in the United States is for the federal government. We are an 8A firm. We’ve been in the 8A program since 2007. We provided services so far to eight federal agencies including the White House Projects Office where we currently have six contracts and we are performing well.
The 8A program really wide opened up the door for us. We were very successful from the time that we turned in our application. It took us only two months from August 2007 to October 2007 to obtain our certification. We have been providing a lot of services to the federal government here. In April 2009 I happened to be in Haiti to attend my first 50th Wedding Anniversary and it came to me that it’s time to give back. We need to bring our skills to Haiti. We left the country since ’78 and we started marketing. We quickly started looking at USAID and quickly found out that we were not ready yet, even though we were already performing here for the federal government, we felt that we had to work our way up and we started as a subcontractor to DAI, Kemonics and Parsons. We learned from them. We proved ourself. We made ourself known. We went to USAID. We were rejected several times, until the time came and through our experience we were able to secure and are right now working on three prime contracts through USAID.
So CEEPCO in Haiti, doing business in Haiti is not easy. You have to know the country, you have to know the players, you have to know how to work with the local firms. You always have to have a Plan B. You need to basically make sure in terms of time they understand that when something is due, it’s due, because when you have to turn in a deliverable to the government, today id today. Tomorrow is tomorrow. It’s not that we can drag our feet. So we made sure that we had that message go across to the companies. They understood and things have been working. We are really proud to say that we have a great relationship with our achievement partners in Haiti and it is most definitely a win/win situation.
I also want to point out we don’t only work for USAID in Haiti. We are also on the ground, we’re working on projects that are non-USAID funded. Which USAID, Gary this morning mentioned the north. We are also working in the northern corridor. We’re working on the bridge that he said takes him home that he hopes that it will get done soon, so he put me on the spot today so I have to deliver soon.
We have bid on lots of contracts that we lost. We lost the contracts and we learned our lessons. When you lose a contract you ask for a debrief, even when you win a contract, you want to know what you did that was right, what you did that was wrong. So you ask for the contracting officer to give you a debrief.
We have also marketed in the World Bank, in OPIC, IDB, the UN, and it’s taken me a lot of trips, a lot of effort. Those contracts didn’t just came just because they like me. It’s taken a lot of effort, good references, good performance, and we have successfully delivered.
To go to Haiti you can’t just be sitting here and hoping to get a contract in Haiti. While I was marketing USAID in Haiti I was also marketing USAID here and Sharon from the Small Business Office, she helped us out a lot. And the fact that I understand how the federal system worked, having worked for the federal government also was a tremendous plus for us.
The other thing too, in construction there is what they call bonding. To have the bonding, if you don’t have the financial strength, because you need to bond the construction projects. You need to most definitely have good credit and then have the financial strength to be able to get the bonding to be able to get a contract. Any construction contract that’s above $100,000 have to be bonded. If you can’t bond contracts it’s very difficult for you to get a construction contract that’s above that threshold.
We are very happy to work with our Haitian partners and our goal is to build capacity, tech transfer, and create jobs. So this is what I’m focusing on in Haiti.
I must also point out that I am one of the six IHRC board members that represent the government of Haiti. So I sit on the board, I’m a voting member, and I’m one of the six that President Martelly has designated to represent the executive branch at the IHRC.
I’m also part of the CTP which is the [inaudible] Preisdentiale, where we advise the President on technical matters.
He asked me for my help to restructure GPC which is the [inaudible] Civil which is basically FEMA’s counterpart because he knows that I worked at FEMA for quite some time during my tenure with the federal government and I am helping him there. I’m his personal advisor on reconstruction.
I need to point out that everything I’m doing with the government is free of charge. It’s pro bono. I am not getting paid by the Haitian government. There is no conflict of interest. All the contracts that I’ve had and that I’m still having were way before the President was sworn in, and there is no connection between what I’m doing to help my government as well as what I’m doing as a U.S. contractor.
My goal is to help out in any way, shape or form as I can. Having worked for the U.S. federal government here, I’m bringing in best practices to the Haitian government and to see how we can help restructure. It is our time now and we have secured lots of partners, and Haiti’s on the rise. I am working, doing my best, my mission in Haiti is to participate in the rebuilding of Haiti, change the lives of needy Haitians, change the image of the country, and provide opportunities for Haitian firms so that they can prosper and the money stays in Haiti. Thank you.
DR. OMAR KADER: Thank you for having me come today. I’m not a Haitian, I’m not even from your region, I’m not competing with any of you, I’m a Palestinian-American and I applied for the 8A in the late ‘80s. Because no Palestinian-American had ever applied for an 8A it took me four years, and I got rejected four times, and I finally got it. That’s my theme today.
Let me just tell you, when I started my company I thought you know, a Palestinian-American with a PhD, I specialized in development, I’m fluent in Arabic -- it’s my primary language. I was born and raised out in Utah, of all places. My travel, my authenticity, I’m really a Palestinian from a village in the West Bank. I have lots of Jewish friends, lots of Israeli friends, I’m not a firebrand, I’m really really boring. I thought this was going to be really easy.
Right around the peace talks starting in the ‘90s and getting right up to Camp David where Arafat and Rabin signed and shook hands, I thought this is it, I’m finally going to get into development, and I’ll be damned, I didn’t make a single entrée, nothing worked. I learned one lesson. You’ve got to learn to make a distinction between your abilities and discrimination. There’s a huge difference.
I assumed because I was so smart everybody would just come to me and say Omar, you look smart, come and have this million dollar contract. It didn’t work.
So I’d go out to the Palestine territories, I’d talk to Israelis, I’d talk to Americans, I’d talk to AID. I was a single proprietor. I started my business my bedroom. I had nothing. I had burned out every credit card. I had borrowed money from brothers. By the time I got my 8A I was so far into debt I didn’t know how I was going to get out, but I never quit. I always paid my bills, I always made my promises, and I’m going to talk to you more about these promises.
The difference between you and all the others is you don’t quit.
I can just tell you, I can go back and get some statistics. Do you know how many small businesses fail? Well, it’s a lie. All of you are going to succeed. Don’t pay any attention to the statistics. You’re all going to succeed. It’s going to take you longer for some than others, but you’re all going to make it. The fact that you bothered to come here and get cleared through the front door, you’re smart enough to make it.
Now this difference between your abilities and the competition and being a minority. We were both paranoid. I could sit here and tell you right now there’s somebody out to get you. There is somebody out to get you. It’s you. Get rid of that person and get that new person out there that says every time you shuffle those cards it’s a new deal. That’s what your day is. Every day you get up, it’s a new day.
I’m not going to give you this firebrand, send $25 and I’ll send you my self-help book. That’s not what I’m going to do. I’m going to talk with you about the success factors. There are some very simple success factors and they all boil down to personal habits. Every day do you get up and put in your eight hours? Every day. And every day do you make your list of contacts that you’re going to make? They tell you that for every time you knock on a door about an opportunity, about one in ten come through. So you’ve got to create every day a new list of ten and go through them and work them and go to your small business person. They can help you. The SBA can help you get to the next level. There are some limits to what they can do. The business opportunity specialists at AID can help you.
I went out to Palestine and Jordan I can’t tell you, four, five, six times. I met discrimination. I overcame it. I met more competent companies than me. When you go out there as a small beginning start-up you don’t have a lot to offer so you need to narrow yourselves and say what do you do?
I was just talking to Lloyd. He’s an accountant. A million things can happen when you’re an accountant. I was a professor. What does a professor have? Nobody wants to buy what a professor has. You just talk. I needed a skill and I didn’t have it boiled down to monitoring and evaluation, quality assurance. Anyway, by the time I finished, I have 15, 20 skills that I can sell on my web site. If you go look at it now, 20 years later, and it’s all public information, I’m at about $35 million now and I’m getting ready, I’m 68, getting ready to retire, and I look back and I say how did I do it? I can’t believe I did it. I woke up every morning scared to death that I was going to go broke, right up to this morning. Never quit. Earn your skills every day. Earn your ticket every day.
Bottom line, this is what I came to tell you. Keep your promises. Keep your promises. Number one, keep your promises to yourself. I will get up every morning, I will make ten calls if I can today, or I’ll make five of them or three of them or two of them or visits. Number two, never lie to your employees. Never lie to your wife. Never lie to your clients. Never lie to the bank. Keeping your promises is one of the most important things you can do to get credibility. When you’re getting with a client and they say can you dig a ditch three miles deep and 20 miles wide? Say no. Not, I need the money by darn, I’m going. Just keep your promises to yourself.
Secondly, consistent ethical behavior. It’s not easy. Not everybody does it. Don’t kid yourself, and the first person to tell you I’m honest, you know they’re a crook. How many people in this room have heard somebody come to them and say you can trust me 63 percent of the time? Nobody. They’re all honest. I have mentored about six firms in the last 20 years and I have lost $3 million to theft, unethical behavior, fraud. Mentoring. Turning your contract when you’re an 8A over to an 8A after you graduate and you become their sub and they bill the government and they’re supposed to pay you when the money comes back -- I can’t tell you how many times that hasn’t happened. $1.8 million last year. $1.8 to my prime last year -- that was my 8A partner. Be different. I can tell you right now, putting in your literature that you emphasize ethics will raise eyebrows because no one knows what ethics are. Be honest. Be honest. I know that’s frivolous, but not very many people are.
When you go into this, you keep your promises to yourself and you keep your promises to your colleagues.
Most of you will find yourselves tested. Don’t congratulate yourselves until somebody gives you $5 million and you have a choice on it because when you get that money coming, you’re going to transform. You’re not going to be the same Joe or Joeanne. You’re going to be Slick something.
The key difference that I find in everybody that succeeds is that professional quality of your work, know when you’re performing and know when you can’t. Every time I went to Palestine there was Kemonics, there was DAI all doing excellent work, outstanding work. Don’t blaim AID, they’re not out to get you. Most of AID’s work is hard. All work in the third world is extraordinarily hard. You can’t take beginners out there and put them in an extraordinarily difficult environment and expect them to do it well. My competitors were all seasoned experts that I was competing against and the best I could do was become their sub, and I did, and I learned a lot about it. I learned about ethics. I learned about being honest, that if you are, people will depend on you and if you’re not, they won’t talk to you again. They won’t accuse you of being dishonest, they just won’t work with you again.
I wish I could tell you right now that it’s going to be easy. It won’t, but you’re going to get a hell of a lot of satisfaction out of working hard. If that doesn’t sound like music to your ears, get a tin can and go stand on the corner. It will be easier.
I can tell you right now, you’ll all succeed. I can tell you right now that you’re going to have to learn a lot of differences, and you’re going to have to ask a lot of people a lot of questions on whether you’re doing it right of not. Advice is free. Go to any successful person in town and they’ll walk you through it and talk you through it and help you. You can’t do it alone, and don’t try do it alone.
Most of you are just as bright as the rest of us. Some of us get luckier, some of us work harder, times come and go. Right now we’re going to go through some budget battles. So here you are struggling to start your business, the Congress is going through budget battles, they’re going through partisan battles, they’re going through ebbs and flows of funding. AID is at the other end trying to spend its money, trying to get its money, trying to deal with foreign governments that are really difficult to deal with, and then trying to deal with us as contractors. So find yourself useful. Make sure that you’ve got something to sell.
Let me just tell you, in the end it’s the best place in the world to work for minorities because there is more against the law in government contracting than any other capitalist industry in the world. That’s what you need for protection, is more things against the law -- cheating, lying stealing, discrimination, fraud, waste, abuse. You want that environment where there’s a lot of laws because it’s protecting you. Protecting you from predators.
So don’t be afraid. Call me if you need help. I’ll probably tell you the same story. Thanks for having me.
MR. LLOYD MITCHELL: That’s a hard act to follow.
I’d first of all like to thank you for inviting me to participate in this what I think is a good start for Haiti.
I’d like to first of all correct some information that’s in the presenter’s folder here. The Mitchell Group has been around now for 25 years. I think this one was used the last time -- it says 16. We’ve worked in 74 different countries for USAID. We currently have program offices in seven different countries for USAID. In 25 years we have completed more than 85 contracts or task orders for the agency. Our specialty has been financial management, grants management, primary education, and now we’re known as the firm that’s good at monitoring and evaluating USAID projects and programs. You might say how in the heck did you go down to monitoring and evaluating and do it? This is what happened.
The agency stopped requiring all of its 85 missions around the world to have subcontracting or contracting goals for small businesses. They depended on the larger firms to meet their goals for small business contracting. That’s like big sister having to take little brother on her first date to the movies. These large firms don’t need you. What do you bring to the table? But they have a requirement that they must contract ten percent out. So you have to come in with something they can really use.
I decided we’d be the experts on M&E work. Before I knew anything we had 12 subcontracts with larger firms to do nothing but monitor and evaluate their programs. Now with the current administration and the question of transparency and better reporting, I’m proud to say that we have almost 50 percent of the business in Sub-Saharan Africa to do nothing but M&# work.
What’s happened since 9/11 is your direct hire USAID people are almost like going to bunkers in the embassy, and just to get into an embassy or an AID mission somewhere around the world can be quite an ordeal. Like coming into security checks here. And the direct hires are sitting there in front of their computers not knowing what’s going on outside, maybe even two blocks from the embassy. It gives an opportunity for a firm to go in and tell them look, here’s what’s going on.
To give you an example, in Liberia there are 38 institutional contractors, so we have an office there that has two ex-pats and non-local hires to do nothing but visit these contract work sites, see what’s being done, and report quality information back to the mission. So we’re doing it there. Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania. It’s very interesting work to gather information. But I was told to tell you how we were able to get a contract in Haiti and how you can do it too.
I think the first thing you have to consider, and I heard Gary this morning say so there are 20 proposals on the table. All of you have looked at the request for proposal, so each one of the firms have gone down with a checklist and checked off everything and said well, we know this is going to be a winner. And our proposal is better than all others. We put sauce picante in it and it just even smells good and feels good and the price is right. Well, let’s be realistic about what happens when that proposal hits the table. It’s an elimination process. They can only select one firm out of the 20, right? So what’s the strongest support that you’re going to get? Somebody on that panel that knows you and has heard about your work or you have a good reputation already with the mission. And especially if there’s an incumbent contractor. How are you going to unseat this contractor?
I’ll tell you how The Mitchell Group got its first contract in Haiti. It was a purchase order. I have a philosophy of saying no job is too small. It was a $10,000 purchase order to go down to do an assessment of the education program in Haiti. Right away I took off to Port-au-Prince. But that $10,000 purchase order gave me a chance to spend time with people in the Haiti Mission.
Now you have to understand how missions are set up and organized now. They all have strategic objectives. You have the economic program office, then you have education, health, and they’re all teams. They have teams in the mission based on the goals and objectives for the program for that country. Most of the people that are on those teams are local hire. It’s such a shortage of direct hire people that they depend on the locals to operate those teams. So the best thing you can do is have coffee with a member of the team of the strategic objective that you’re looking in. I was looking in education.
So you go, you dance with them, you have beer, you get to know, let them know how good you are and what have you. Before I knew it there was an RAFP released that I had time to establish some friendship with the people who are going to be on that panel, I had associated The Mitchell Group with FANDEN, Foundacion Afghanistan for the Development of Education Nationale, and we had put together a good team. By having that contact with the people and somebody to know you, boom. You hit a contract to monitor a grants program of $20 million for kids going to private schools in Haiti, and we know that 95 percent of the kids in Haiti go to private schools.
What I’m trying to say is it’s understanding how that mission is set up, how it operates, and making a trip to that country or in this case Haiti and get to know people. Let’s face it. None of us want to do business with someone we don’t know. And it happens. But if you get there and you get your name around and you talk to people. They may not let you in the mission, but you meet them afterwards. Take them to lunch. Just get to know each other. And all of you have connections in Haiti. Use those connections. It’s networking. It’s networking.
Sure, if you don’t meet the basic standards with your company then tag on to another company, a firm, to get your foot in the door. Take some chances or risk. That way when they look at that proposal -- I was asked this morning, what’s the biggest assets that The Mitchell Group have? My first thought was wait a minute, it’s a balance sheet. No, no. Their seven direct hires working for USAID that pass through the doors of the Mitchell Group, they’re former employees of The Mitchell Group. Oh, boy, that’s pretty good. You start keeping in touch. It’s that contact. Network, network, network.
It’s not always easy. It’s challenging. You wanted to know why I started The Mitchell Group. The purpose was to get more of the money being spent by the U.S. Government to the intended recipient. Look, headlines in the local newspaper or wherever you are, and it says $25, $30 million being spent in this country X that’s going to do Y. You look at the budgets and you start going oh, my God, not much really trickles down. So if we can get two percent more of a large contract to the intended recipient then we’ve achieved something.
You can expect your profit margin working with USAID to be between four and five percent -- just enough to keep you going and to build up some reserves. But you can’t be in this business for money alone. You have to have feelings, wherever you’re working, no matter what. I’m very close to Haiti because my son married a girl from Jacmel, so I can’t get away from Haiti. It’s very close.
There’s a lot of work to be done, but I have to say that if you compare all the agencies in Washington, D.C. because you have to work with the government if you’re going to be in a city like Washington, DC, USAID is definitely high on the list of the best because they’re there to help people. And their hearts are in the right place. Not only that, they’re well traveled and good people to socialize with. Speak another language, eat different foods. But you go into Department of Agriculture, they move so slow you’d think they were waiting for something to grow before you can have lunch. Department of Energy, you go to a conference room, you have to clap your hands to keep the lights on, process paper. The worst one is IRS. It’s terrible. But USAID, people really care, there’s a lot of work to be done.
I hope that one day they’ll require all these 85 missions to have contracting goals for small businesses, but they always say the risk is too high for failure for small business. It’s not true. Well, we all know it’s not true. But we keep pushing, pushing to make that happen. They’re finally putting out a forecast, which is good, but there were many many years that nothing happened and you just had to go out there, and like I say, don’t quit, just keep going. When you know you can do something, it happens. There’s a lot to be done. We in the developed world are in the minority, and believe me, there are more problems than just what’s going on in Port-au-Prince and Haiti.
I’m very pleased, and I suppose we’ll answer any questions you might have. Let’s go to it.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENTON: That was a good panel. You had been hearing the government perspective before, and now you have practitioners here who actually are doing business in Haiti, and I like the diversity on this panel. We just need a woman.
QUESTION: Dr. Kader, I want to know where do you normally have coffee or go dancing so I can network with you?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENTON: She’s a go-getter.
QUESTION: If you remember back to when you were mainly starting off subcontracting, how did you find primary contractors who you could trust?
DR. KADER: You have to take chances, but the best way to do it is go in and interview and do your expectations early. I ended up with a contracts attorney, it was expensive but he was the best and he wrote all my subcontracts for me and they worked. You can shop around, there are lots of good contract lawyers. But even if you’re subbing to your sister, your mother, you get a contract lawyer. They spell it out specifically.
QUESTION: So you protect yourself on paper, is that what you’re saying?
DR. KADER: Both sides. When you’re hiring a sub and when you are a sub. Sometimes when you’re a sub they determine the contract, so you take the contract to a contracts lawyer and make sure that you’re covered in that regard.
The one part I didn’t mention when you’re in that sub and prime relationship, customer service is everything. You treat your employees like a customer, you treat your client, your prime, your sub. It goes a long way in relationships. You can’t afford lawyers to define “is” and “and”.
MR. MITCHELL: Just be careful. There are good primes and bad primes. We’ve had some good experiences, and I don’t want to talk about the bad. But it’s like he says, make sure you have a good contract when you sit down with the prime. That’s all I can say. Sometimes the prime expects more from you than the agency that you’re doing the work for.
MR. CHARLES: I think word of mouth is a good thing. You network and you get the referrals. For instance when we first started in Haiti I didn’t know who I would hire to do my geotechnical work. I tried with TPTC and of course they were taking forever to give me the results and I was against a deadline do I had to find an alternative until I came across this company that provides the same services that is certified by TPTC. So we’ve been about to bring them on.
It’s a matter of chemistry. What you feel when you talk to the person. The one thing is someone comes up to me and says he can do everything, then of course I will not pay attention. I need you to be specialized in specific areas and then we can do business in those areas. And you check on their credentials. They might say they have this or that, et cetera, but at the end of the day it’s their credentials, the chemistry, word of mouth, past performance, and experience.
QUESTION: Mr. Charles, I had the chance of visiting a school in the area of Thomazeau a couple of weeks ago and I’m wondering if your company was involved in the construction of that school or any other schools in Haiti?
MR. CHARLES: We are not involved in the construction of that school, and we don’t have any projects in Thomazeau. We bid on a project, on a roadway project in Thomazeau that we did not get and that’s the extent of it, but we are not involved in Thomazeau. But we hope to help the community of Thomazeau at some point.
QUESTION: My question is maybe kind of advice as a small new NGO. This past spring was my first experience trying to apply as a partner, not a prime, to a USAID contract. We had about four organization for big NGOs interested in including us as a partner and in the end only one really came through and actually included us. In the application, however, the other three organizations requested a letter of support from the organization because they still felt that we did bring something different to the table. But the letter of support, of course, was not binding. They did not want to bind to anything. So we struggled on whether or not it helped us in any way to actually write a letter of support. We did, because when you, it’s maybe better than anything.
So what are your suggestions in terms of when you encounter something like this, understanding that a letter of support may help the prime get a bid, but it doesn’t necessarily bind them to then include you if they are awarded the contract.
DR. KADER: When you get started on those, your letter agreements have to state that if you win this contract you will turn this teaming agreement into a subcontract, and you have to put the language in there. So you don’t give them the letter of endorsement unless in the letter they say if you win it you substitute this letter of teaming with a subcontract. It happens all the time. However, in more than one occasion I have bid a contract with a prime that they won and they never used me. I didn’t understand that until I won a contract and found out that the statement of work wasn’t suitable. So it wasn’t the work you were going to do. There just wasn’t work. So it’s a gamble.
Winning a contract’s a gamble. That doesn’t guarantee you. They have to have the right description for you. You don’t have time to sue everybody that insults you.
MR. CHARLES: You also need to be very specific on the scope. You can’t just leave it wide open. You working with a sub and you just get a lump sum bid which was not detailed what was for what item, and then when you actually get the contract and the scope is different than what was in the RFP so you want to make sure that you have everything you have, that you do request itemized bids to be able to make sure there’s a good understanding between all parties.
I also want to point out on the partnering issue and subcontractors, there are a lot of Haitians in the Diaspora, in the United States, Europe and Canada, that are very very qualified. In fact 83 percent of the Haitian professionals have left Haiti. I have used the help of a lot of them. There are Haitian-Americans that are willing to go to Haiti, to move there, they just don’t have the opportunity. I know that I’ve done my fair share. I’ve brought a lot on board that have worked in Haiti. Still working in Haiti. And also with the government of Haiti, one of the things I’m working on is to integrate Haitian firms from the Diaspora to participate in Haiti.
The one thing I must clarify is that you need to be qualified. It’s not because you’re Haitians, that you know that you automatically have to win this project. You have to go through a screening process. But the bottom line is that through what I’m doing on the side and what I’m doing with the government of Haiti, our mission is to bring you guys down there to do your best there.
QUESTION: We understand the development of Haiti is something regarding the Haitian people. That’s when the Haitian people need to change themselves. And foreigners bring the change. But as they [spread] international system and the government agenda, what do you think can be done to move Haiti forward, to take the people in the street, in the tent, to give them a better life?
MR. CHARLES: Moving the people out of the tents is the priority of the Martelly administration and in fact one of the projects that was submitted and voted on and passed was the 616 projects where we are moving six camps out into 16 neighborhoods. What people need to realize is that it is a long term and time-consuming process. You can’t just in the blink of an eye make [Plat St. Pierre] cleaned up. There needs to be planning involved, there needs to be study, there needs to be land acquisition, there needs to be the design of the project, there needs to be the construction phase of the project, then move the people in. I hope I answered your question.
DR. KADER: I have a Haitian employee, and he’s a valued employee. I couldn’t get him to come and work for me, he’s so valuable. He’s a programmer. It took me a year and a half to induce him to come, and I had to get him to do a signing bonus. When you talk about talent, Haitian talent is all here. Not much of it stayed. In most of these developing countries they go to where the jobs are. They go to where they can raise their families. So you’re right, it’s going to be hard to get them all to go back, just like many of you don’t want to go back except to help. Going back, it’s the history of emigration. Who emigrates? People with a lot of energy and vision and foresight. Who stays behind? The people who are too poor to leave. They have a hard time. They want to go but they can’t. We’re the lucky ones.
So there are a lot of talented ones. I know mine is very valuable. He’s been trying to get me to go to Haiti to work. I’m not smart enough to do it.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENTON: I doubt that’s true.
MR. MITCHELL: It’s an enormous amount of talent. I’ve had good experience and bad experience with people going back to their country to do work. They had more trouble adjusting than I had when I was living in Senegal. Now they can’t wait to get back to Washington. Everything is wrong with Senegal. So it works both ways, that’s all I can say.
QUESTION: Mr. Charles, to my understanding there was an international competition that involved I believe 600 firms to go into the area, to submit their architectural renderings. They were going to be about that were selected to build homes or exemplar units in [Zeaulanjeis] and there were somewhere in the neighborhood of maybe 60 units that were built. It’s to my understanding that a winner was going to be chosen from the original 600 to be the finalist that got their units, exemplar units built in [Zeaulanjeis], and from there ten winners would be selected. It is also to my understanding that initially it was said that these ten winners that would be selected would then to on to build about 2500 units in select areas of Haiti. Those winners will not be announced until sometime in November, but yet I understand there are projects that are going on in Haiti where a multitude of units, whether it’s 300 or 2500 or 3000 are being built in other areas of Haiti without these ten winners having been selected.
If the ten winners were supposed to be the exemplar units that would then be identified in terms of what Haiti was going to look like, how is it that we now have some units being built outside of the winners having been identified, and how many units are these winners going to actually get to build?
MR. CHARLES: I was not involved in that process from the very beginning, but what I can say is that the evaluation, the factors to select those ten winners are number one, they are Haitians, if they would employ Haitian labor, who would use the most locally made material. That’s where that evaluation process is. That was discussed at the last IHRC meeting, you remember that. So that’s where it is now.
In terms of the other housing units that are being built, I’m not involved, I’m not aware. It may be a separate program that the Haitian government is not directly involved in. I’m not exactly sure. I was not part of it. I was not involved in that process. I’ll find out. And I’d like to introduce Major Bernadel, he’s also an IHRC board member representing the Diaspora, and he’s been there before me.
MAJOR BERNADEL: Since I’m not a member of the panel, I’m not going to take the time, but I have the answer for you.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENTON: Go ahead and give that answer. Everyone would benefit from hearing that answer, so please.
MAJOR BERNADEL: First of all, the IHRC which we serve on the board was not part of that particular competition. This competition was conducted under the aegis of another government agency. So neither myself nor Mr. Charles that serve on IHRC can give the details. What we can tell you is what from our own knowledge that we have heard or participated in.
Second, you mentioned in your question that there were buildings and housing that are being built outside of the selection process. One of the things you did not mention is that those buildings are being built with funding that did not come from IHRC. Therefore people, like the [inaudible] or any other organization that finds within themselves the capacity to financially support their own desire to build homes are free to do so if they don’t come to the IHRC. But if they want to come to the IHRC then they have to go through the selection process.
That particular competition was being driven by Mr. [Delato’s] office at a particular time, then he went into plans and zoning. Right now because of the changes of government they have not articulated exactly what they’re going to do at that level.
So on the 4th of October we have an IHRC meeting in Port-au-Prince and it will be the second meeting attended by Harold and the team that are just coming into the government of Martelly. We don’t know whether at that time this particular competition will come to us to request money. If they do so, then they will have to go through [inaudible] that everybody goes through [inaudible].
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENTON: Thank you.
QUESTION: This question is for Mr. Charles. I live in Haiti, and last week I walked through the [Saint-Marc] and I took time to look around and observe the way those people live. It’s not tolerable. And I don’t understand why it would be a lengthy process to build shelter. Get those people’s names that are living there, move them out and put them somewhere else. This is filthy where they live. It is not acceptable for human beings to live in that condition, sir. Thank you.
MR. CHARLES: This is a situation that existed prior and we just came on board and we’ve done a lot of progress. We are in the process of securing funding. And as I explained earlier, there is a line acquisition process and you can’t move people in a house that does not exist. For that house to exist it needs to be planned, it needs to be designed, it needs to be constructed and this is why it’s a lengthy process.
But there are some activities there. Funding has not been released as it should have been. But we are on the right track and we’ll make it happen very soon.
QUESTION: Why don’t you build like three, four, five apartments with 500 people where can live in? I don’t agree we have to give Haitians everything for free. If we give them a house maybe we have to have a contract with them and say I give you the house for two years and then you have to make some payments. Let’s say you invest one million dollars and give them for free, but maybe next five years you can get some money and they can invest it somewhere else. We need to stop giving Haitians anything for free. They have to earn it and then we have to help them, you know, how to fish. If we hand everything to some Haitians, I think they will stay in the same conditions, nothing will change. I have my office in [Picherville] and the situation is terrible. I live in U.S. over 16 years, and I feel that you have to go there create jobs, I have no problem with that. But we cannot provide anything for free. We have to change the whole system. We have to give them a chance where they can earn it and then if we give them a house then in three or four years, you know what, I give it to you for three years for free, but everybody got to pay $50. I guarantee you they will find the money.
MR. CHARLES: That’s a good point. What I’d like to do is talk to you on the side and I can take your ideas to the proper channel.
QUESTION: I need to know what’s the best process to sell land to the government to build housing. Best process, who would be the best organizations. There are a lot of projects going on for housing. What will be the best way?
MR. CHARLES: It’s not my area of expertise. Real state is not what I do. I’m sorry, I don’t have an answer.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENTON: We ought to take that question. If you can put it on a card, it’s probably better directed toward one of the USAID folks or one of the government folks.
QUESTION: My question is the population of Port-au-Prince is about 2.5 million, correct?
MR. CHARLES: About three almost, yes.
QUESTION: About three million, so displacing them to, the real question I have is what is the base of the island? And my question is directed to the cholera issue, and redirecting the waste that gets directed to either a pond or a lagoon or a river, and to be able to displace that waste so that it’s not continuously putting a load on a critical life support resource supply system such as a river or pond or stream because that water has to be recirculated and reused just for the survival of the population. So I think I’m directing the question to you from an engineering standpoint, what’s being done and if nothing, what will be proposed, particularly in the form of a new wastewater treatment plant?
MR. CHARLES: There are lots of proposals that are on the table now that we’re evaluating. Water and sanitation projects. We’re also in the process of designing solid waste management program. We have just nominated the new Director of SMCIS and those projects are underway, they are being planned. But I’m not at liberty to provide too much detail at this point on that. If I get your information I will get back with you later on with more details.
QUESTION: My question was actually piggy-backing on the comment of handing out to Haitians. What we do in our non-profit organization is we provide permanent homes. I did a documentary where I found out the frustrations of Haitian people was living in the tents for more than 12 months. I’ve been traveling in Haiti for over 18 months. But as we provide permanent homes we ask for the community of Leogane which I believe is the epicenter of the quake is that the families that we are providing shelters to, that we ask for 25 percent of their cooperation, that is gathering rocks, water to help mix the cement and stuff. We’re not asking for payment, we’re asking for contribution in building the house. I believe that’s been worthy. There’s a lot of cost but we minus the cost by using Leogane construction companies. At the same time the communities have been receptive. We’ve built over five houses. Our goal is 100 homes. And we’ve done that in a short amount of time.
So I believe if we went about that process, if we’re talking about not giving out anything for free, if they put it in their hands together, [inaudible]. So I guess we’ve got to put our hands together and that would work. Do you think that’s a good idea?
MR. CHARLES: As far as I’m concerned I think that’s a good idea, but also as the government’s program, we are about to hopefully have a government pretty soon and we can look into that.
QUESTION: This is an excellent panel, by the way, and on that theme of how to do business with the U.S. Government, or working with the U.S. Government, and I’ve heard about priming, subbing, and some of that can be intimidating if you haven’t been in business. My sense of the people I’ve met here, and I’ve enjoyed meeting many of you, some of you are from Haiti, many of you are Haitian-Americans, at some point you came here, you grew up. Some of you have businesses, some of you may be a sole proprietorship, but many of you just would like to help your homeland, your country.
I was listening to Omar. I can relate to it as well. I’m an Armenian-American. I don’t know if you know where Armenia is, but 20 years ago it was one of the liberated Soviet republics. I had been there after Armenia’s earthquake which was a devastating earthquake if you remember, 1988. Because of that experience I went as a Fulbright, all of a sudden I started getting calls from USAID contractors. I had never heard of these names. PADCO, the Urban Institute, and others. ICMA. That’s the one I ultimately went with.
So an idea. If you really, and people always used to ask me, and we had sessions like this of the Diaspora, the Armenian Diaspora meaning Armenian-Americans. I’m from New Jersey, but I speak Armenian, I had something to offer, and I spent 15 years there.
So the funding level is high for Haiti. In Armenia in those days it was high, it was about $100 million a year which seems like a drop in the bucket today but that was a very large amount for a very small country about three million. I used to tell people, Armenian-Americans, if you really want to work in Haiti the good news is there’s a pipeline of funding.
So what I haven’t heard, and maybe I can throw out to the panel or to the moderator, I remember when I first went back to Armenia there was this sort of bias, what’s an Armenian-American, are they really going to be loyal, can they work for the United States first? I was applying for a job, you heard Kemonics and DIA, as a Chief of Party, is what they call it, which is the head of the project. And there was a policy, sort of underwritten, about we have to get a sense of who we would like in charge of our project.
I was the first one. I think because my last name is not typically, it’s not Kavorkian or Dukmajian, it’s Anlian, but maybe they didn’t recognize it. But over time I saw the State Department, USAID really understand and appreciate the value that the Diaspora can bring, and I think you’re already there. So you should also, and I’d like to see if you concur with this, look at an option. You hear these names for contractors. Maybe you’re not ready to go in as a business, or maybe you’re a sole proprietorship or maybe you yourself would just like to go to Haiti. There are really a couple of options. We heard the term FSN, that’s Foreign Service National, that’s really if you’re a Haitian national, but if you’re an American citizen and you’re Haitian-American there will be many opportunities. I can tell you, my firm would be very interested in meeting Haitian-Americans who speak the language, who would like to go and live in Haiti again or for the first time.
When I go down to Haiti I always meet Haitian-Americans that grew up in Brooklyn or they grew up some place and they’re just there making a contribution. So you should know that’s an option for you. You don’t have to form a business necessarily. You can still work with the U.S. Government from a development business perspective, and maybe it’s you, maybe you’re a Deputy Chief of Party or a Resident Advisor offering your skill -- whether it’s in engineering or accounting or what have you.
Is there a policy on that? Is that advice that you would agree with?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENTON: I certainly agree with that advice. What I want you to do is stay right there because you offered yourself. I know people will want to talk with you. But absolutely. And I saw Omar shaking his head. I think that’s a good piece of advice you just laid down.
How do we get involved? My question was going to be to the panel, what’s the next wave of need out there in Haiti?
QUESTION: How do you go about it, and you don’t necessarily call USAID. Look at the contractors and the grantees who are active in Haiti, who are applying for projects, who need to put names of key personnel, et cetera, on their proposals.
That’s what I say, look, you’re interested in Haiti. The first thing is there’s a pipeline of funding going there so there’s no reason why any of you who really just want to go to Haiti and work for a couple of years cannot do it. Number one. That would be difficult if you were in Belarus or some place, but Haiti is very important to this country.
Btu what you would do is look at the contractors, the grantees, and then you would get on their database or get on their radar screen. Boy, a Haitian-American speaks Creole, speaks French, has been there, can offer this particular skill. So that’s another avenue for some of you.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENTON: How many 8A firms are in here? Small. How many want to be 8A? This is your chance. These are people who started off as 8A. I would encourage you get to the microphone. Seriously, this is a treasure trove of information.
QUESTION: Do you have to be a U.S. citizen to be an 8A?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENTON: Yes. But some of you are U.S. citizens. I would encourage you, tap into these resources up here even if you do it on a sidebar after the Q&A.
QUESTION: My question is to Mr. Charles. Who is monitoring some of the materials that are being used as far as construction is concerned? The construction of houses and stuff like that.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENTON: To make sure they’re up to code, et cetera? That kind of thing?
MR. CHARLES: There are specifications and cut sheets that are required to be provided before you order the materials. For instance if it’s a chemical product then you have to give the MSDS, Material Safety Data Sheet. The cut sheets have to meet the specifications. For instance, if you have a design of a facility or a design of a roadway or a bridge, you have to submit what they call the material submittals, and it needs to be reviewed by the project manager. Once they agree it meets the specs then you receive the approval and at that time you go ahead and order the material.
For instance, one of the projects we have, we have a design/build project for a bridge in Haiti, and throughout the design phase of the project we were required to submit the design at different phases and it had to be reviewed not only by USAID technical team but also by TBTC. So both of them made their recommendations and they recommend this is the type of material they believe should be incorporated into the project. We as a contractor just go by that. So it’s monitored by the owner of the project.
QUESTION: So is it being controlled somewhat by the Haitian government?
MR. CHARLES: TBTC is the Haitian government. It’s the Ministry of Public Works. So in the projects that we are involved in as far as engineering and construction is concerned, TBTC is the primary Haitian government entity that we are required to follow directions from.
QUESTION: What is the status on [CEAO]? And how can smaller NGOs get access to some of those fundings?
MR. CHARLES: My friend here has been in [CEAO] longer than me, I’ll defer that to him.
Major Bernadel: [Inaudible] more slowly than we have right now. However, you can go outside and speak with me, but you can visit the web site of the [CEAO] to [inaudible]. We have just posted the most recent status report on the [CEAO], than [inaudible]. It’s very well-crafted and can have some of the answers. The web site is [inaudible]. It is both in English and in French. [IHRC or CEAO.HT for the country of Haiti].
QUESTION: I probably have to ask this to the panel. My question to the panel is if I was interested in knowing about public health info and cholera and what’s going on with the dumping feces in the fivers and all that would it be a good idea to look at the web site daily at www.Haiti.MPHISE.net, would that be a good idea so I could track all of the cholera and all of the issues about Haiti for a lot of people that are concerned about cholera?
I’m trying to actually get the information out, but you said I had to ask a question. So it is a good idea. I want to repeat that again. If I was interested in knowing about cholera on a daily basis, the web site would be www.Haiti.MPHISE.net
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENTON: That’s a good idea.
QUESTION: Good afternoon. We have been doing things in Haiti since 2004. For example, after the earthquake the [inaudible] was the first Haitian-American organization in Haiti with 25 doctors.
MR. CHARLES: Congratulations.
QUESTION: Also we have visited a lot of cities in Haiti, but last year we have decided to adopt the city of [Grand Goave] where we will really try to make an impact, and after that move to others cities.
My question to you, Mr. Charles and the two other panelists, as three people who have been very successful in Haiti, right now we have organized in order to really help the Haitian people, we cannot give them a piece of bread every day. We need to give them their own means to find money to pay for the bread. This is exactly what we, the [inaudible] Haiti, we want to do in [Grand Goave]. We plan to build a guest house in [Grand Goave] where we are going to bring tourism and bring agricultural school and other stuff in the city of [Grand Goave].
My question to you specifically Mr. Charles and the two other people with you, will you be willing to help us since right now I don’t have the money to build that guest house, and the thing is, also I think we Haitians, we really need to find ways to find our own means instead of asking people all the time to give us money. To use what we have. Like you, I am also an engineer. I also find other people that can giving like their free time. Will you be willing [inaudible] to help us build that guest house in [Grand Goave] where we will bring a lot of jobs in the city?
MR. CHARLES: Number one, I would like to congratulate you for the work that you’ve done, having been the first Haitian-American company to be on the ground and bringing the doctors to help the victims of the earthquake.
I think there are, secondly, I don’t know have any funding that I can give towards that but I can help you with my technical skills, I can help you to get through the process. I think in terms of funding there are ways to do it. For instance you write an unsolicited proposal to a funding agency, you present your project, you stress on how it will create jobs, how it will build capacity, what impact it will have on the priorities that are at stake now. That would be the route I would recommend that you try to get funding. But I can help you most definitely on a technical basis.
QUESTION: Our Armenian-American friend was the third to mention my company so I thought I’d introduce myself. My name is Kristy Martins, I work for DAI. I just wanted to offer to everyone in the room that on any given proposal or any given project we could possibly need you as much as you need us, so keep that in mind too, and please come speak to me at the break.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENTON: Thank you.
MR. CHARLES: DAI and Chemonics, they put contracts out in Haiti that are only open to Haitian firms based in Haiti.
QUESTION: When you asked us how many of us are contractors, very few have answered. Then you asked for other qualifications, even less have answered. That’s because the majority of us are really activists, organizers, passionate. So our government launched a call for this conference and I know that is very narrowly tailored around doing business and I really appreciate that and I hope that those of you who are doing business in Haiti benefit from this. But there is another aspect and I think that’s been missing in a lot of the work that we’ve been doing. A lot of the response of the U.S. Government, our government, to our nation has been to leave out approximately 2.5 million of us who live in this country who were born in Haiti and our 6 million sons and daughters that we have produced here in the United States. There is not a creative approach to unleash that initiative.
So Mr. Charles, as the person, one of the first I’ve heard who is advising the President on reconstruction, et cetera, et cetera, I think there’s got to be a call to the Diaspora. Build a home. We’ve got engaged in a public relations campaign to mobilize that tremendous resource that already sends $2 billion to Haiti a year and that increased the money after the earthquake. So the will and the passion is here to make a difference. I think we’ve got to look at the advocacy community to try to figure out, are there creative ideas?
I can tell you stuff we’ve been wrestling with over throughout the year. We’re in touch with, we entered into a relationship with potential contractors who want to bring construction factories in Haiti to do pre-fab, to do all kinds of stuff so there can be some sustainable economic development.
So I’m really calling on you and I’m calling on USAID to light a match in that direction, fan the flames, let’s open the door, open the floodgate of that creativity, of that passion, so we can bring ideas to the table and make a difference. Maybe we can talk to you again right after this, but I think that’s the general call that I’m trying to address.
MR. CHARLES: Thank you for your comment. The President has made it clear throughout his campaign that he wants the Diaspora to play, he wants to involve the Diaspora. He recognized that 83 percent of Haitian professionals have left the country. He also knows and understands that in Haiti presently you need Haitians from the Diaspora to come in and help us build capacity. In fact he was at your college yesterday and that’s exactly what he said. So he’s inviting the Diaspora to come in. I’m playing my part in the process. Major Bernadel who has just left is representing the Diaspora, the IHRC. Him and I, we’re working on plans to make it happen.
We’re about to get a government now and you will see changes.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENTON: I’d like to propose the State Department do a series of small roundtable discussions. The big conferences are nice, but to engage the activists and to hear from the activists on the best ways we can help you do your activism and what our foreign policy priorities are, not just in Haiti but in the entire Western Hemisphere, and how we can help you link into whether it’s talent here that can help you advance your agenda, networking opportunities, or just opportunities to hear about ways that we are trying to engage the Haitian Diaspora. I will make that commitment to you that we’ll try to put together a series of small roundtables and invite you in smaller groups so that we can have even a purer dialogue. Thank you.
QUESTION: Mrs. Benton, I know how you crack the whip, but will I be allowed to ask two questions?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENTON: Yes, sir. Go on.
QUESTION: I was at an event here at the State Department recently and one of the estimates that I heard was for Haiti to become sustainable. It will take about 20 to 30 years and I do understand there are many many different organizations here who would love to be engaged in Haiti. And I do feel that if there is a strategy to really involve all the people here that time can be slashed at least in half.
Is there a way to actually just engage us more, to really participate? Right now the [Bill Hady] foundation has a pilot project in northern Haiti and I can tell you the difference that we’re making is just incredible. And I’m pretty sure that engaging people here will pretty much just yield the exact same result.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENTON: I couldn’t agree with you more. I think that’s what we need to plan going forward. How do we put together the smaller groups that really break it down, slice it and dice it and say how best do you help your countrymen. We don’t have the solutions here. When I travel throughout Africa what I always say to the Africans is that your future is up to you. I would say that to Haitian-Americans, but there’s a different paradigm down in Haiti. It’s a place that has been so devastated that you need more than just yourselves. I think the international community is trying as best it can, but we do need to hear from you more regularly and more precisely. So that will be my commitment, to collaborate and figure out how we can engage each other better.
QUESTION: Mr. Charles, we do project management in the areas of agriculture, education and health care. We just completed a clinic, so we do understand for that to become sustainable we need to just pass it off to the community. Is there a way to coordinate with the President’s office to at least, or with the Department of Health to pass that on to them so they can be responsible for it while we continue to support it?
MR. CHARLES: Sure. What I would suggest that you do is if you could send it to me and I can present it at the next meeting that we’re having with the policy advisory group, then I can get back to you on what decision was made.
QUESTION: How do my company do subcontracting for your company? That’s one question.
MR. CHARLES: I can speak for myself. If you go to our web site then I have a page where subcontractors can fill out a questionnaire, you submit it and it gets evaluated and we talk to you and we proceed. CEEPCO.com
DR. KADER: We’re not in construction but I’d be happy to talk to you and you could teach me.
MR. MITCHELL: We’re not in construction.
QUESTION: For Mr. Charles, as an advisor to President Martelly, there is a program that just came on as the [inaudible], there’s $100 million supposedly set aside for that. The question is do you advise Mr. Martelly on who qualifies for these funds and what are the interest rates? I’ve checked with a bank in Haiti doing this project. The interest rate down there is 8 percent and that’s low compared to the United States, but normally it’s 25 or 29 percent. Do you advise him on whether to lower the interest rate? One. And how do the people in Haiti qualify for these funds because the requirements are much harder than going to a bank here looking for a mortgage.
MR. CHARLES: I’m the President’s advisor on technical matters. I am not involved in any financing advice to the President. But I can direct you to the proper channel.
QUESTION: I left Haiti an hour before the earthquake and I decided by the images I was seeing in the media that I wanted to go and do a documentary to show the strength and resiliency of the Haitian people as seen through the optic of the earthquake. That means I have to interview a lot of people from different socioeconomic classes. One thing that has been repetitive is the frustration that a lot of people in Haiti have towards NGOs. My question is, who regulates, there are about 15,000 NGOs operating in Haiti and a lot of people feel that they go to meetings after meetings after meetings after meetings and also as far as the funds are concerned. Is there are an entity that regulates the NGOS as they go about collecting money?
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENTON: I’m not aware if there is an umbrella organization, a regulatory body.
MR. CHARLES: This has been an ongoing problem and this is one of the things that this current administration is trying to address. The NGOs, they have not been reporting to the Haitian government. There is no connection. They just do their own thing. They don’t report to the government. There is a disconnect that we’re trying to address that.
QUESTION: It seems as if most, in everyone’s mind in here, landing the big contract so that we can help Haiti is the main purpose that we’re all here. Somehow the State Department has done a wonderful job in terms of getting us here. That means they have the means of getting a hold of each and every one of us. About five minutes ago I heard the Moderator Benton say we need to find a way to engage the Diaspora and to having these wonderful dialogues. At Color of Hope we have been doing so for approximately four years now, and prior to that we have been working within all the colleges and universities in terms of reaching out to the young Haitian-Americans.