WASHINGTON — Two years after a massive earthquake, Haiti is even more vulnerable to natural catastrophes and still does not have the capacity to manage even small events, Haitian Prime Minister Garry Conille said Tuesday.
Conille was making the rounds in Washington as part of an official three-day visit. Instead of asking for money, he said, Haiti needs faster distribution of aid and better coordination among donors to help it rebuild. To that end, Conille and others in his group met with leaders at the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund and intergovernmental organizations such as the Organization of American States. A meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled for Wednesday.
"The international community has partnered now with Haiti for years," Conille said. "It's about time we all ask ourselves: What are we going to do differently? How are we going to get a more coordinated approach? How are we going to make sure we're building the capacity for Haitians to take over a lot of the support that we have from the international community?"
Among the problems: It'll take almost another year to begin replacing the quake-damaged State University hospital, according to the French and American backers of the project. More than a year ago, the international body charged with overseeing recovery efforts approved $65 million for a neighborhood reconstruction project, but the money hasn't been disbursed. Just 53 percent of the $4.5 billion pledged by donors has been disbursed, according to the Office of the U.N. Special Envoy.
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"All these partners have a disbursement that's between 15 and 20 percent over two years," Conille said.
Conille's visit comes amid ongoing criticism about the slow rebuilding in Haiti and questions about aid accountability since an earthquake hit the country in 2010.
Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., welcomed Conille's visit. But while commending President Michel Martelly's focus on education, Wilson said she remains deeply concerned about women and children in Haiti. She has sponsored legislation to help Haitians address gender-based violence - something she learned about firsthand from a visit to Haiti.
"I saw little girls walking around Haiti pregnant," she said. "I said, 'Excuse me?' This is unacceptable so close to the United States."
A former U.N. diplomat, Conille hasn't had an easy time since his October confirmation. Recently, Haitian lawmakers have questioned his leadership. Before arriving in the United States, Conille announced the formation of a commission to audit $300 million in contracts awarded by Haiti under a now-expired 18-month emergency law that guided post-quake recovery. The contracts were awarded by Conille's predecessor, former Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.
Both Haitian lawmakers and foreign diplomats have also raised questions over the contracts, questioning whether Bellerive circumvented Haiti's public procurement laws when he awarded contracts for rubble removal, housing and road construction and several soccer stadiums.
Bellerive, now an adviser to Martelly, defended his use of the emergency powers, and questioned Conille's motives behind the audit.
"Why does a prime minister with the administrative authority to cancel or revise any contract have to organize leaks and announce everywhere he is going to launch an audit?" Bellerive said.