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HAITI: Caribbean Unites Behind Recovery Plans

Peter Richards

ROSEAU, Dominica , Mar 12 2010 (IPS) - As he travels back to his headquarters in Washington, World Bank president Robert Zoellick must be painfully aware that Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries have very strong feelings on the redevelopment of Haiti following the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Zoellick met with regional leaders on Thursday, the first of the two-day CARICOM intersessional summit. While Haitian President René Préval was not present, Caribbean leaders there pressed for a “designated development fund for Haiti where all the resources which have been pledged by various countries and institutions could be deposited into a special account”.

Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, chair of the 15-member regional integration grouping, stressed that it was critical the Haitian people not be sidelined in the recovery and rebuilding process.

“We want to ensure that Haiti continues to be at the centre of our agenda and that the international and regional communities do not forget Haiti now that the headlines are no longer on Haiti,” he said.

“We’re of like mind on this,” Zoellick told reporters, noting that shortly after the earthquake hit, the World Bank used some of its emergency resources, pledging a grant of 100 million dollars.

“We also proposed that we could work with the Inter-American Development Bank (and) the U.N. agencies to coordinate a multi-donor trust fund…the benefits of it are that no reconstruction or redevelopment project works in the local country doesn’t have ownership. So the Haitians have to be in the driver’s seat,” he said.

“But everyone knows that Haiti suffered terribly. It lost many of its civil servants and so there is limited capacity. So if one has one fund connected to the plans of the Haitians without having them to meet with 20 different donors with 20 different ideas and it can fit the Haitian strategy (that would help),” he added.

Even so, CARICOM has made it clear that it would not become a passenger on the aid bus taking Haiti in whatever direction others may choose.

“CARICOM must be the column or the steering wheel while Haiti must be in the driving seat, and we cannot and will not abnegate our responsibility in this hour of need,” warned former Jamaican prime minister PJ Patterson, who has been appointed CARICOM’s special representative to Haiti.

Two CARICOM leaders have also been openly critical of the international community.

Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo said developed countries were using the charges of corruption against Haiti as a pretext to deny it aid.

“The developed world institutions use corruption as an excuse. You can build strong systems through a series of audits, public procurement, international plus local teams’ evaluation, to prevent corruption when funds flow through agencies,” Jagdeo argued. Newly re-elected St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas accused some “unnamed members of the international community” of keeping the Caribbean out of the plans for re-developing Haiti.

“We have a plan for Haiti. We want to emphasise to the international community that we cannot be kept out. There seems to be some plan afoot for those who are dealing with Haiti to simply ‘dis’ the Caribbean. CARICOM cannot be excluded from the solutions and the long-term development of Haiti. Haiti has a capacity within CARICOM,” Douglas said on a radio programme.

Patterson, who addressed a public forum on Haiti in St. Lucia en route to Dominica, said that the earthquake provided an opportunity for the full integration of Haiti into CARICOM.

He said that while Haiti had not yet subscribed to the regime for the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) that allows for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and services across the region, President Préval himself had repeatedly indicated that Haiti’s future model of development must be one consistent with that of integration into CARICOM.

“Future policy and planning for the country must therefore take this into account and be geared towards helping it to become a full beneficial member of the CSME,” Patterson said.

Préval joins the leaders Friday, having gone to the United States to drum up financial and other support for this devastated country.

Zoellick has also offered to assist CARICOM countries, which are presently grappling with heavy debt burdens. He told them that the bank is prepared to send in teams to interested countries to assist in managing their debts and was not ruling out the possibility of securing debt relief based on past experiences with Jamaica and other regional states.

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