WHO IS CALLING THE SHOTS IN HAITI?
(Jamaica Observer) - By Winsome Trudy
If there was any doubt about who is calling the shots in terms of the direction of Haiti's recovery plans and programmes, last Tuesday's meeting of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) would have removed such lingering uncertainty.
In recent weeks, several social and political commentators have been implying that Caricom leaders in general and especially the special representative on Haiti, PJ Patterson, could be doing much more to advance the plans and programmes for Haiti's recovery. Co-chair Bill Clinton, however, made it very clear, when the Caricom special representative pointed out, among several other things, that there were members of the commission who still did not know how and on what basis projects were submitted and accepted.
Mr Clinton was pellucid in explaining that the projects submitted were by the big donors, mainly the multilateral and bilateral entities. So much for those of us who felt that the IHRC was structured to ensure that the process would be Haitian-led and globally transparent. Tuesday's meeting reportedly approved some $430 million in projects.
Given the civil unrest in Haiti, the meeting was held in Santo Domingo. The first thing that would have caught the attention of participants was that co-chair, Haiti's Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, was a no-show because of a meeting of the Haiti Electoral Commission or Conseil Electoral Provisoire (CEP), which was also convened on Tuesday in Haiti.
He had to be there in his capacity as head of security/defence. The idea was for him to participate via teleconference, but this too did not really work and had to be abandoned.
Naturally, in his absence co-chair Bill Clinton officiated. Initially scheduled to begin at 1:30 pm and so facilitate movement of members in and out of the country, the meeting was instead rescheduled to start at 5:00 pm. Obviously, some of the participants would have been forced to miss chunks of the proceedings.
However, several interesting things emerged, especially from the perspective of the Caribbean Community (Caricom). As reported in the Florida-based US press the following morning, Mr Patterson apparently got the attention of the commission. In recent weeks, the former Jamaica prime minister had been showing signs of growing frustration with the slow progress of the development plans and the worsening plight of the Haitians.
It must have been especially irritating to Mr Patterson to be seen to be part of the foot-dragging that has appeared to characterise Haiti's rebuilding programme. I recall hearing and/or reading in sections of the media suggestions and assertions by some of our analysts that Patterson should "take charge" if things were not moving as they should in Haiti.
In addition, Patterson's advice and guidance are constantly sought by many in our region and the general Diaspora who have their eye on investment projects in Haiti. Supreme diplomat that he is, he would have tried direct consultation with the IHRC and Haitian leaders before the meeting on Tuesday, seeking answers to some of the burning questions about several areas of concern regarding progress in Haiti and decisions by the IHRC.
Assuming he did, and I have good reason to believe that that was the case, he most likely would have been left in the dark like the rest of the leadership in Caricom. As the information which emerged on Tuesday suggests, those in the Caribbean Community were not the only ones in the dark.
At Tuesday's meeting, Mr Patterson used the opportunity to outline some of his concerns about the way the IHRC was operating. Among the several issues he highlighted were the lack of information being provided to IHRC members about projects, the submission and acceptance process, the general lack of visible progress, the continued existence of mountains of rubble deposited by the earthquake, the plight of the persons in tents, response to the outbreak of cholera and the general lack of urgency in addressing key issues.
It seems that Patterson opened the proverbial Pandora's Box as, following his remarks, Suze Percy Filippine from President Rene Preval's office spoke passionately on behalf of the 12 Haitian members on the IHRC. She said they felt like mannequins, also unappreciated and at times disrespected. She referred to their attendance at a meeting in September where there were no seats provided for them at the table!!
They, too, expressed concern about the lack of information and the slow progress on the ground.
The IHRC executive was called on to respond to some of the latter charges, but the day was closing fast and my sources had to catch a flight out of Santo Domingo; so too it seems did several other participants seen in the airport departure lounge. However, last week the Miami Herald reported that the 12 representatives signed a letter that aired their frustrations with the recovery process. "The Haitian members don't even know the names of the firms that are working for the [commission] and what they are doing," said Suze Filippine. "We are just figureheads to rubber-stamp decisions when they are taken by the commission."
Meanwhile, back in Haiti, nothing has changed fundamentally. However, there has been some resumption of commercial life since December 11. The weekend calm appears to be holding, albeit uneasily. In the meantime there have been several negotiations and initiatives in an effort to resolve the election stalemate, but nothing has so far gained traction.