US Senate Report Says Haiti Rebuilding Has Stalled

US Senate Report Says Haiti Rebuilding Has Stalled

By Jonathan M. Katz, Associated Press Writer – Mon Jun 21, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Haiti has made little progress in rebuilding in the five months since its earthquake, because of an absence of leadership, disagreements among donors and general disorganization, a U.S. Senate report says.

Obtained Monday by The Associated Press, the eight-page report is meant to give Congress a picture of Haiti today as U.S. legislators consider authorizing $2 billion to support the country’s reconstruction.

That picture is grim: Millions displaced from their homes, rubble and collapsed buildings still dominating the landscape. Three weeks into hurricane season, with tropical rains lashing the capital daily, construction is being held up by land disputes and customs delays while plans for moving people out of tent-and-tarp settlements remain in “early draft form,” it says.

The report was written by staff of Sen. John Kerry, the Massachuetts Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and other Democrats who interviewed U.S., Haitian, United Nations and other officials and visited resettlement camps, hospitals and schools throughout the quake zone.

“While many immediate humanitarian relief priorities appear to have been met, there are troubling signs that the recovery and longer term rebuilding activities are flagging,” said the report, which is scheduled to be released Tuesday.

Three times it says the rebuilding process has “stalled” since the Jan. 12 disaster.

The report also criticizes the government of Haitian President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, saying it has “not done an effective job of communicating to Haitians that it is in charge and ready to lead the rebuilding effort.” The report calls on Preval to take a “more visible and active role, despite the difficulties.”

Bellerive responded to the criticism in a Monday interview with the AP. He said officials are working hard behind the scenes to ensure reconstruction does not simply mean the rebuilding of barely livable slums.

“We understand the impatience and we are the ones more frustrated than anybody,” the prime minister said. “It took some time. I believe four months (since a U.N. donors’ conference in March) to plan the refoundation from such a disaster is pretty acceptable.”

With a chuckle, he also said it is unfair for U.S. officials to take him to task when the Senate still has not approved aid money that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton promised at the donors’ conference.

“They ask me to move more projects when the money is still on hold,” Bellerive said.

In all, just 2 percent of the $5.3 billion in near-term aid pledges have actually been delivered, up from 1 percent last week.

The report expresses concerns that even once the money is in hand, it will not move quickly enough to help. The funds are managed by a 26-member reconstruction commission led by Bellerive and former U.S. President Bill Clinton that started its operations last week.

While the report calls the commission the “best near-term prospect for driving rebuilding,” it also says the panel “has the potential to dramatically slow things down through cumbersome bureaucratic obstacles at a time when Haiti cannot afford to delay.”

The report notes disagreements among donors over strategy, approach and priorities, saying the disputes “are undercutting recovery and rebuilding.”

The reconstruction panel includes representatives of donors who pledged at least $100 million in cash or $200 million of debt relief, including the United States, Venezuela, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank.

Bellerive said the report’s criticism that the panel has been too slow in organizing is already moot. “We had a meeting, we have an office, we have administrative support,” he said.

One thing on which all parties agree is the importance of November elections. The legislature has almost entirely dissolved after members’ terms expired because the quake forced the cancellation of February legislative elections. Preval’s five-year term ends next February; an attempt to prolong his term by several months if elections are not held resulted in protesters clashing with police in front of the ruins of the presidential palace.

Failing to hold the November elections on time, even despite the losses of the electoral commission’s headquarters and records, could imperil “Haiti’s fragile democracy,” the report says. But it expresses limited optimism that a plan for holding the vote is “apparently imminent.”