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Haiti’s slow recovery leading to discontent

                                            Haiti’s slow recovery leading to discontent

WASHINGTON – The slow pace of rebuilding in Haiti two years after a devastating earthquake has demoralized Haitians and could destabilize the country, Prime Minister Garry Conille said Thursday.

“The greatest risk to us right now is the sentiment of inertia, the feeling among Haitians that they’ve been left behind,” Conille said.

Conille, Senate President Simon Desras, and top government officials on a three-day trip to Washington visited international aid groups, met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and fielded questions from members of Congress in a pitch to boost the flow of money to the government for development projects.

The catastrophic magnitude-7.0 earthquake that struck 15 miles west of Haiti’s densely populated capital Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010 killed more than 300,000 people and left more than 1 million people homeless. Two years later, nearly 500,000 people still live in squalid tent camps.

“I believe the longer the victims of the earthquake are living in these precarious conditions, the more they will be discontented,” Desras said. “That could lead to destabilization.”

A truck accident Jan. 17 that killed 26 people and injured 57 others overwhelmed Port-au-Prince’s hospital and emergency services, illustrating that the country does not “have the capacity to handle what in most countries would be considered a relatively minor crisis,” Conille said.

Less than half the $4.5 billion pledged by international donors following the quake has been paid out to various projects, the United Nations said in a January report. The vast majority of the money disbursed has gone to non-governmental aid groups that operate in the country, rather than through the government, which is widely perceived as corrupt.

Transparency International, a global civil society organization that helps countries identify and root out corruption, ranks Haiti among the most corrupt nations — 175 out of 182 countries — in its latest Corruption Perception Index published in December.

International donors must “pressure the Haitian government to act transparently, to be accountable to its citizens,” Marilyn Allien, president of the Haitian chapter of Transparency International wrote in January. “Aid agencies and investors alike must work with national and local authorities, while insisting that their relationship is transparent, especially when money changes hands.”

Haitians elected a new president Michel Martelly who took office May 14. Conille assumed office Oct. 18.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said Haiti should focus on building strong government.

“The government should have a plan and should be able to implement a plan,” she said. “Once you put your systems in place, then you can roll out the support.”

The U.S. should help Haiti build its democracy while also financing the basic infrastructure, said Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., whose district in Brooklyn includes a large Haitian-American population.

“The situation that exists currently is untenable. At some point, we have to be prepared to support the Haitian government,” she said. “The nation will not rebuild itself by diverting direct support from the government.”

But she said the U.S. and other international donors will demand accountability from the government.

“We’re not going to turn a blind eye to corruption under any circumstance, if it exists and where it exists,” Clarke said.

Many of the projects stall when Haiti cannot meet an organization’s procedural requirements because the country’s governmental institutions are weak, Conille said. Haiti needs technical help and financial support to establish the systems that would ensure accountability and transparency, he said.

“Some ministries haven’t been audited in five years and to me, that’s unacceptable,” Conille said.

Conille recently formed a commission to review the contracts for rubble removal and other recovery efforts signed in the first 18 months following the quake under the supervision of Conille’s predecessor Jean-Max Bellerive.