A high-ranking Canadian politician will meet with Haiti’s prime minister for the first time since he called into question aid efforts in the Caribbean nation.
Julian Fantino, Canada’s international co-operation minister, will sit down Friday in Washington, D.C., with Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and officials from several international donors, The Canadian Press has learned.
It will be the first face-to-face talks between Fantino and Lamothe since the former Ontario Provincial Police chief made a surprise announcement in January that Ottawa had halted funding for new development projects in Haiti.
Fantino said his office would not initiate new projects until it had reviewed its Haiti assistance program. He stated that Canadian aid would not be a “blank cheque.”
The announcement followed Fantino’s November visit to the impoverished nation, where he said he left disappointed over the lack of progress. Fantino has said he wants to find a better way to help Haiti’s reconstruction.
The Washington meeting on Friday will examine “donor co-ordination” and “mechanisms to ensure greater accountability” with the Haitian government, Fantino says.
“So that Canadian tax dollars are achieving lasting results for the people of Haiti,” Fantino said, in an email sent by his office.
“Canada continues to make progress on areas of long-term development that we have previously committed to, and we will continue to support the people of Haiti during times of humanitarian crisis.”
A government source said Fantino convened the get-together — which is expected to include representatives from the United States, France, Spain, Brazil, United Nations, the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank.
The gathering comes as government officials from around the world meet in Washington for International Monetary Fund and World Bank conferences.
The Canadian government has spent $1 billion on development and humanitarian assistance in Haiti since 2006, and the island nation is one of the biggest recipients of Canada’s foreign aid.
The Ontario MP’s January announcement that Canada would take a break from starting new aid projects appeared to catch international partners off guard.
The pause, which first surfaced in comments Fantino made to the Montreal La Presse newspaper, drew criticism from the U.S. State Department and the United Nations.
One of the U.S. State Department’s top Haiti officials said it viewed Canada as a valued partner in the country and didn’t want it to change any of its programs.
A senior Haiti official for the United Nations Development Program said there was more going on in Haiti than Fantino might have noticed during his first trip to the country.
Fantino’s Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has announced that funding for ongoing projects in Haiti would continue during the review which, meanwhile, has put a halt on new projects.
In the La Presse interview, Fantino also compared Haiti’s terrible state with much-better conditions in the neighbouring Dominican Republic. The two nations share the island of Hispaniola.
He remarked about the filth and garbage he saw and he wondered how a country with so many unemployed people had not found a way to clean it up.
Fantino’s remarks were published just days before the third anniversary of the powerful earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people in Haiti and left more than 1.5 million homeless. Haiti is still struggling to rebuild from the January 2010 disaster.
Following the quake, a deadly cholera outbreak in Haiti killed thousands of people. The island was also battered by the high winds and heavy rains of hurricane Sandy last fall.
In response to Fantino’s announcement, Haiti’s prime minister urged Ottawa to allow his government to assume a bigger role in reconstruction decisions.
Lamothe, who acknowledged he was also disappointed with the slow rebuilding process, said he would ask Ottawa to focus on Haitian government priorities once co-operation between the two countries resumed.
He said the ongoing approach of funnelling most international aid directly to non-government organizations — skirting the Haitian government — further weakens the country’s institutions.
A Canadian expert on international aid said he agrees with Ottawa’s decision to review its commitments to Haiti, even though he believes many projects there have produced excellent results.
“I think it’s... important to be sure that we don’t invest this much money in Haiti without having some kind of assessment,” said Francois Audet, scientific director of the Canadian Research Institute on Humanitarian Crisis and Aid.
Audet, however, thinks Ottawa should have consulted with its partners first, including the Haitian government, before making the sudden announcement.
“I think that was a mistake, mainly,” said Audet, a professor at Universite du Quebec a Montreal.
Moving forward, he said it’s time the international community considered going beyond the status quo in its rebuilding plans for Haiti.
The key is finding the best way to do it, he said.
Experts, Audet added, are divided on whether reconstruction responsibilities should be handed over to the Haitian government or whether an international presence should remain on the ground.
He said he has frequently changed his own mind on this very question.
“If I had an easy response, I would probably win the Nobel Prize,” said Audet, a former humanitarian worker who spent years in Haiti.
Government corruption is often cited in the debate over whether to allow Haiti to oversee how international-development cash is spent on its soil.
Audet noted that while it likely remains a problem in Haiti, he doubts any money skimmed by high-level officials there could be blamed for the poor overall results.
He added that corruption isn’t just a Haitian problem, but more of a human problem.
“With what we are looking (at) now in Montreal, I don’t think we have any lessons to give to any country around the world right now,” he said, referring to corruption and collusion scandals that have emerged recently in Quebec.