PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Former U.S. President Bill Clinton officially inaugurated the commission overseeing Haiti’s post-earthquake reconstruction last Thursday, pledging to accelerate and organize a process that has raised less than 1 percent of the money promised by international donors.
The Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission aims to oversee every rebuilding dollar that comes to Haiti through next year. The hope is that it will ensure transparency and encourage investment, helping transform a dysfunctional, cripplingly poor country crushed by the Jan. 12 earthquake into a self-sustaining nation with a prosperous middle class.
“The prime minister and I have made a commitment to the people of Haiti and the people of the world to make this process both transparent and accountable,” Clinton told reporters before the meeting.
Outside the cracked, upscale hotel where it met in a convention room, a better future seems a long way off. More than five months after Port-au-Prince shook, collapsed buildings line the streets and families live under leaky tarps at risk from floods, hunger and disease. Rebuilding has been hampered by organizational problems, government disfunction and the scale of the disaster itself.
Long-term money has also been slow to arrive. Some $3 billion has been committed to humanitarian aid such as immediate post-disaster rescue, medical care, emergency shelter and food, according to the United Nations.
But despite international pledges of some $5.3 billion over two years at the United Nations donors’ conference for Haiti in March, only a fraction has actually been delivered — just $40 million from Brazil. Though other pledges are expected to be delivered soon, much of that to be held in a Multi-Donor Trust Fund administered by the World Bank, Haitians are growing restless.
Enter the commission. The 26-member body was empowered under an 18-month emergency declaration by Parliament passed shortly before most members’ terms expired and the body essentially dissolved last month.
Half its voting members are Haitian officials, the rest representatives of each donor pledging at least $100 million or $200 million of debt relief: the United States, Canada, Brazil, Spain, France, Norway, Venezuela, Japan, European Union, Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank. President René Préval has a veto.
The concept is that the commission will oversee the spending of every donation above $500,000 to Haiti. Organizations will present their projects to the fund, needing its approval to get government and other support to move forward. The process will be tracked on the commission’s website.
Last Thursday, Clinton and Bellerive announced the commission’s first approved spending projects:
— $45 million from Brazil and Norway in direct funds for the Haitian government, closing a quarter of its estimated $170 million budget shortfall.
— $1 million from the Clinton Foundation for buildings that can be used as storm shelters in the quake-ravaged towns of Leogane and Jacmel, which are often in the path of Atlantic hurricanes.
— A $20 million fund to provide loans to small- and medium-sized Haitian businesses, provided by Mexican communications magnate Carlos Slim and Canadian mining investor Frank Guistra.