Originally: Forging Haiti’s Future

 Rick Reinhard

Haitian leaders meet today with donors in Washington for a high-level “pledging” session at which other nations will state their commitments to aid the recovery of my country. It is my fervent belief that we will forge not just a financial accord, but a new beginning.

Yes, some $900 million must be raised for Haiti’s needs over the next two years, but this is about much more than money. It is about putting in place the institutions, the practices, the accountability and the partnership to ensure that Haiti develops in the decades to come.

Never was such a partnership more needed. The recent political crisis and armed rebellion have taken a further heavy toll on what was already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The numbers are sobering. Behind each one lies a life just 700 miles from these shores, and yet so far removed as to be almost unimaginable. Five million people — two-thirds of the population — live on less than $1 a day. Four million cannot read and write. Half the population lives in cities with no access to clean water.

And yet contrast this bleak picture with the enormous potential of Haiti and its people. Those who attended the recent Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall had a chance to see just a small sample of that potential — in painting, sculpture, music, crafts and folklore, where Haitian culture is unsurpassed. Moreover, Haitians are not just artists; they are also hard-working people, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Read of Haiti today and you will read about the violence, the deforestation and the poverty. You will not read about the potential breadbasket in the northeast of the country, which, if it were connected to Port-au-Prince by a good road, could lower the cost of transporting produce and bring prosperity to a long-neglected area. You will not read of the coast near Jacmel that used to be a popular tourist destination, boasting some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean — and can be again. Nor will you read of every Haitian mother’s determination to save even what little she has to send her daughter to school. This is our promise and our potential.

Ultimately, Haiti’s destiny lies in Haitian hands. Our country needs free and fair elections, good and honest leaders, transparent and accountable government. This must be based on a new commitment to national dialogue and a new sense of security for every Haitian. In addition Haiti need good friends and neighbors and a new partnership with the international community.

Over the past two months, with donors, U.N. agencies, civil society and the private sector, Haitian leaders have begun identifying Haiti’s needs for the next two years. We discussed what lessons to take from the $2.5 billion in aid that went to Haiti over the past 10 years, with results far short of expectations. Our conclusions are remarkably similar: On the government’s part, there was too little commitment to political and economic governance, transparency, and the monitoring of programs and results. On the donors’ side, a laundry list of projects draped in donor flags, with no strategic focus. Donors turned on the spigot of aid and watched it pour out, only to turn it off again over the next four years. Development could not take place in that context.

Today a very different approach will be discussed. Haiti’s government has identified priority programs for the next two years, not as a series of feel-good projects for donors but as part of a national development plan designed by Haitians and led by Haitians. We will set up a committee on which the government, Haitian civil society and donors will be represented to monitor progress and results and hold both government and donors accountable. The focus will be on building institutions, developing communities, and putting in place the conditions for free and fair elections and respect for the rule of law. In the first 100 days of our leadership, we have demonstrated our ability to use our meager national resources wisely. We are deeply committed to ensuring that every penny disbursed by the international community in support of our national development plan will be spent effectively and accounted for.

During the transition period ahead, we will focus on delivering real benefits to Haitians. Quick-impact programs that we have identified for the next two months include the creation of 44,000 jobs; the collection and disposal of 50 percent of garbage in urban areas; the upgrading of 500 slum dwellings; and the doubling of electricity service, to 12 hours per day, in Port-au-Prince. Over the next two years, we have outlined programs to improve nutrition for more than 1 million poor children and their mothers, orphans, street children, and destitute elderly; to immunize 80 percent of children under age 1 against diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DPT3) in 15 key districts; and to rehabilitate 1,500 schools.

The partnership being forged today between Haiti and the international community holds the best promise of success my country has enjoyed for decades. I hope it will be a model for a new relationship between donors and sovereign states, in which we can work together to create a better future, not as givers and takers, but as equal partners.

The writer is interim prime minister of Haiti.