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A continuing effort to answer an elusive, multi-billion-dollar question: "After Haiti's devastating earthquake, where did the aid money go?"

Haiti's politics of blame

As foreigners ask where aid money went, Haitians turn inward, demanding answers from their own government.

live before the earthquake sent her house tumbling down upon her five children. All of them survived the catastrophe, but a year later, her 5-year-old son Dudley died from an unknown sickness. Vilmeus’ remaining two school-age children had to stop attending class because she could not afford the fees, and she relied on donations from neighbors and friends to feed them.

“I just want to live here with my children in peace, without fear of them dying,” she had said.

This year, Vilmeus is still without a real home, though she managed to upgrade her tent to a small shack using money from a cousin. Sitting with her son Abraham on her lap, she says even though she still has no house or income, she’s encouraged by the fact that her children are once again attending school.

“They are going to school free thanks to Martelly. He’s helping lots of mothers by sending their children to school.”

Ask Haitians about Martelly’s biggest success, and most will point to his program to send tens or even hundreds of thousands of children — he says 903,000 — to school for free this year using revenue from a new tax on overseas phone calls and other resources. In a nation where 5,000 schools were damaged in the earthquake and where a predominantly private education system consumes a significant chunk of a families’ income, the program has garnered Martelly much popularity.

The president’s supporters point to his education scholarship program as a promised kept, and a sign that the president has the capacity to revitalize Haiti’s ailing economy as well.

Overseen by Prime Minister Conille, the government is working to improve the climate for foreign businesses by offering a 15-year tax holiday for certain businesses and developing its manufacturing sector through an industrial park that is expected to create 20,000 jobs.

Still, progress is slow. The Associated Press reported this week that only four of Haiti’s 10 largest reconstruction projects have broken ground.

Martelly’s defenders point out that the much of the power to reconstruct Haiti actually lies outside of Haitian government control.

A record of failure

Examples of failures within Haiti’s construction and development process are plentiful.

Last August, workers who had built an ostentatious new office for the Mayor of Delmas blocked entrance to it in protest because they had yet to be paid weeks after its completion.

But problems like these plagued Haiti long before the earthquake, and previous governments have made little headway in cutting government inefficiency and corruption.

When he took office, Martelly inherited a government that had lost all but one of its buildings and an estimated 20 to 40 percent of its civil servants in the earthquake.

And while foreign governments and individual donors have pledged an estimated $12 billion for reconstruction and relief efforts, the Haitian government received just a fraction of it. The US State Department spending plan approved by Congress in 2010 allocated only $12.5 of the initial $797 million — or 1.5 percent — as direct budget support to the Haitian government. Of the money disbursed to date by donor governments, just 10 percent went directly to the Haitian state. The rest is making its way through foreign-led reconstruction funds and the thousands of NGOs that many say have become Haiti’s de facto government.

“The prime minister was very clear. Ninety-nine percent of the money that’s coming in is going through NGOs and not through the Haitian government,” said Charles-Henri Baker, a Haitian manufacturing business owner and a contender in last year’s presidential election. “So therefore, what can we expect?”

Like the foreign press asking how billions of dollars of aid seem to have been spent with little progress, Haitians also place some of the blame for the pace of the reconstruction on foreign entities.

But if the current patriotic movement to restore the nation’s long-disbanded army and kick out the UN peacekeeping force is any indication, Haitians are desperate for autonomy and the ability to participate more directly in their nation’s affairs.

“Those people overseas, they have sent money here, and they want to know what happened to it,” said Valet. “The Haitian press, the priority is what our own government is doing. The concern for us is why the government sits by doing nothing while the NGOs run everything.”