Clinton to co-chair Haiti rebuilding authority

Published March 31, 2010

UNITED NATIONS – Former U.S. President Bill Clinton will co-chair a committee overseeing at least $3.8 billion in post-quake aid to Haiti, the ravaged country's prime minister said.

The announcement was made ahead of a critical donors conference Wednesday at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Haitian officials will ask representatives from more than 130 countries for reconstruction help at the meeting chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former president's wife, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

At the core of the quake-ravaged country's request for help is the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), an initial 23-member body tasked with coordinating and paying out the aid money expected to flow in. It is a key step to allaying donor concerns over Haiti's history of official corruption and political unrest who want assurances that the money will go where it is intended.

The commission will be co-chaired by Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and will also include two Haitian legislators, local authorities, union and business representatives, and a delegate from the 14-nation Caribbean Community trade bloc.

The board will also have a representative of each donor who is pledging at least $100 million over two years or $200 million of debt reduction — currently the United States, Canada, Brazil, France, Venezuela and European Union along with the Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank and United Nations.

The former U.S. president was tapped for the role earlier this week, Bellerive said. Clinton, who as U.N. special envoy to Haiti visited three times since the earthquake, will likely be spending much more time in the impoverished country in his new role.

"I was pleased to be invited by President Preval," Clinton said in an emailed statement. "The Haitians are committed to building back better — expanding economic opportunities, strengthening basic services, and increasing the capacity of government. They want to create a new future for themselves and I am committed to assisting them through the IHRC."

Cheryl Mills, the chief of staff to Hillary Clinton, said the aim is to have Haiti take over control of the reconstruction commission after 18 months.

But those living on Port-au-Prince's streets are skeptical that the conference will help anyone but Haiti's powerful.

"All this aid is coming in, but we are not the ones who are going to benefit from that money," said Alia Josef, 42, who lives in a tent near the airport. She was hopeful that international management of the aid would ensure it reaches those in need.

Representatives of more than 130 countries are expected to attend the one-day U.N. conference.

The $3.8 billion in aid being sought is the initial part of a $11.5 billion package Haiti wants to rebuild schools, hospitals, courthouses and neighborhoods destroyed on Jan. 12.

Haitian President Rene Preval's administration has detailed its plans for the money in a 55-page rebuilding plan that lays out the interim reconstruction committee. It includes requests for $350 million in direct budget support to the government, which Edmond Mulet, the top U.N. envoy in Haiti, said is crucial for the country's progress.

"There really is an effort in this conference to look at a transformed Haiti," said Jordan Ryan, a United Nations Development Program official helping to organize the conference.

The board Clinton will help lead is a source of consternation among some Haitian lawmakers, who are now considering a legislative package submitted by President Rene Preval to approve the commission's authority.

Opposition lawmakers are threatening to block the bill unless Preval's administration first publishes a report on how aid money was spent in the initial aftermath of the disaster.

However, passage is possible without them, as the president's newly formed Unity Party has the largest voting bloc in both houses.

The magnitude-7 earthquake struck just miles (kilometers) from Haiti's capital on Jan. 12 and destroyed its government and commercial center, home to nearly a third of the population. Varying government estimates — which have risen without explanation in the lead-up to the conference — put the death toll between 217,000 and 300,000 people.

An estimated 1.3 million people lost their homes. Hundreds of thousands are living on cracked streets and perilous hillsides under flimsy tarps, at risk for disease, floods and landslides with rains starting to pick up. There have been increasing reports of violence, including rape and sexual assault, in the camps which have little lighting and scant security at night.

Human rights advocates are demanding transparency, accountability and coordination that have been absent in the past. Several petitioned the Organization of American States on March 23 with arguments that $2.2 billion in immediate post-disaster aid had not helped most victims.

That group — which includes Deputy U.N. Special Envoy Paul Farmer's Partners in Health medical organization and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights — called Tuesday for an oversight commission including Haitian civil society and community-based organizations.

"I think there have been attempts made under difficult circumstances (to include them), but it's not sufficient," said RFK Center director Monika Kalra Varma.

A survey of 1,700 people funded by the international agency Oxfam and released Tuesday showed Haitians' most pressing needs after the disaster are jobs, schools and rebuilding homes. Those surveyed "expressed little confidence in their government's capacity" to organize the rebuilding, favoring plans to include Haitian civil society or a foreign government.

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Associated Press writer Evens Sanon contributed to this story from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Written by JONATHAN M. KATZ, Associated Press Writer

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