Wake-up call for Haiti

Just in time for the third anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, Canada’s principal foreign aid minister, Julian Fantino, delivered a wake-up call to that country’s government by declaring that he was placing future foreign aid to Haiti “on ice” because he was not satisfied with its progress toward recovery.

Given that Haiti would collapse without foreign assistance, his comments got the immediate attention of the government and Haiti’s international partners.

Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe pointed out that the magnitude of the disaster was so great — 42 public buildings destroyed, more than 300,000 killed, and total damages of about $12.5 billion — that recovery was bound to be a slow and painful process.

In many ways, Mr. Lamothe is right. Mr. Fantino’s judgment doesn’t give Haitians enough credit for what they’ve accomplished under the most trying circumstances. The government has neither received nor spent most of the international aid destined for that country; non-government organizations got most of it. And only about half of the $5.3 billion in promised funding from international donors has been delivered.

Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy inflicted more damage on the island in 2012, even as the government continued to fight the spread of a cholera epidemic.

More important, Haiti has indeed made undeniable progress in some areas.

Port-au-Prince has been cleaned up, the government says more than 1 million children are in school, vital new projects, many of them in tourism, have been started. Some of the most visible tent cities have finally closed down, replaced by spruced up parks in some cases. The crumbling palace has finally been razed.

Still, Mr. Fantino’s remarks served a useful purpose. His comments hinted at what many other friends of Haiti only whisper in private — that the government’s own performance leaves a lot to be desired and runs the risk of exhausting the patience of donors who won’t stand to see their aid money wasted.

Progress in Haiti is often thwarted by personal feuds and political infighting.

Transparency and accountability don’t seem to matter. Orderly planning and follow-through are largely absent. The government led by President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Lamothe needs to do a lot more to win the international community’s trust — and its continued financial support.

They can start by easing the way for the Electoral Council to hold long-overdue elections for mayors and local offices and fill 10 vacant seats in the Senate.

This would be the surest and easiest way to get the government off to a fresh start and disarm its critics.

They also need to focus on employment, which remains at appalling levels, well over 50 percent by most estimates. At the start of 2012, economic growth was projected at 7 percent or more, but came in at a disappointing 2.5 percent. A sharper focus by the government on finding productive job for Haitians is needed.

The U.S. government can do its part by speeding up the family reunification process. Homeland Security has already approved family-based visa petitions for 106,312 Haitians, but the waiting period to enter this country of 2 ½ to 12 years makes little sense.

Expediting the process would lessen the misery in Haiti and possibly save lives. Haitians could receive no better news than this from the U.S. on this third anniversary of the devastating earthquake.