06/13/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Aid money goes to security profiteers

Each month, a handful of UN Agencies and a score of of international NGOs pay $1000 for each of hundreds of posts requiring 24/7 surveillance by Port au Prince Sécurité. But only 20% of that money goes to the security guards themselves.
Each assignment is typically covered by two security guards working in 12-hour shifts, rain or shine, 6 days a week, with the remaining 2 shifts covered by a stand-in. Occasionally, the stand-in will not show, in which case guards are expected to stand a 24-hour shift. Figuring 26 12-hour shifts in a month, PaP guards start at 28 cents an hour.
The base salary for a guard at PaP Sécurité, a company with over 2000 employees, is 3500 Gourdes, or $86.96. Subtract 1500 Gourdes for two uniforms, and 200 Gourdes for health insurance (keep in mind that PaP Sécurité's guards are all required to carry guns), and you are left with 1800 Gourdes, $44.72. Now subtract an average for 25 gourdes twice a day for public transportation to and from work (PaP Sécurité guards do not have the luxury of placements close to home), or roughly 1300 Gourdes a month, and you are left with 500 Gourdes, or twelve dollars and forty-two cents. If you play it right, this should be just enough to buy a hard-boiled egg and a banana, or a few pieces of boiled cassava to eat during each of the 26 shifts you will work in your first month.
In your second month, of course, you will not need to buy uniforms. So, assuming you starve yourself at work and buy nothing except Tap-Tap fare across town each day, you will have a good chunk of money to spend on food and clothing for your family, school fees, rent, and so on: 2000 gourdes, or just shy of $50.
It's lucky that your boss, owner of Signal FM and erstwhile candidate for Haitian senate Mario Viau, has a foundation to--"Haiti Secours." Perhaps that's where the rest of the $1000 fee goes. If so, maybe he can give you some food, or a tarp, or anything else you won't be able to afford on his salary.
Port-au-Prince, as we've read over and over, is not a very safe place. In UN lingo, it's a "Phase 3". At rock bottom, in December 2005, there were nearly 250 kidnappings in a single month. Security is an important issue here. But it wouldn't be unfair to wonder how much life-risking commitment one could expect from a man making less than thirty cents an hour, and indeed, it wouldn't be unfair of him to offer none at all.
For foreigners to offer employment in the midst of such scarcity is unequivocally good. To offer employment in line with local wages is defensible. But to do so while paying ten times as much to someone who is not doing the work, and in the midst of an intervention that purports to bring help to the needy, is the basest form of hypocrisy.
With the amount of money that international organizations are "bringing to Haiti" (most of it will be spent elsewhere), they could apply tremendous pressure on companies like PaP Sécurité to pay better wages, or at the very least, not to charge such exorbitant fees while continuing to pay employees a pittance. To give business to companies like PaP Sécurité simply because it is the most convenient option is a policy that will only reproduce the inequities humanitarian groups claim they are here to redress.