International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino has stunned the biggest recipient of Canadian foreign aid, Haiti, by announcing via a newspaper interview that Ottawa has frozen new aid projects for the Caribbean nation.
Mr. Fantino, the former Ontario provincial police chief who is six months into the job as the minister responsible for foreign aid, told Montreal newspaper La Presse that he has put new assistance projects for Haiti "on ice" while he ponders a new approach because the aid is not getting the results "that Canadians have a right to expect."
Late Friday, the agency that Mr. Fantino oversees, the Canadian International Development Agency, issued a terse statement insisting that existing aid projects have not been frozen.
But it said Mr. Fantino is reviewing new aid to Haiti out of concerns for "the slow progress of development in Haiti due to its weak governing institutions and corruption." The statement said Canada continues "to make some progress" on areas of development it has previously committed to, and is ready to offer emergency aid if there is another crisis.
Canada is one of the largest aid donors to Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas, which was devastated by a major earthquake in 2010. Canada provided $250-million in aid in 2010-11, and since the earthquake, has insisted it is making a major, long-term commitment to rebuilding Haiti.
On Friday, Mr. Fantino's announcement of a freeze of new projects surprised Haiti's ambassador, Canada's ambassador to Haiti, as well as Canadian aid agencies that do work in Haiti.
Haiti's ambassador to Canada, Frantz Liautaud, said he heard about it through the news media.
"I've had no communication from CIDA so far, but I've asked right away for a meeting with Mr. Fantino," Mr. Liautaud said. He said he called Canada's ambassador to Port-au-Prince, who didn't know about it, either. "He also learned about it from the press," Mr. Liautaud said.
Canada currently funds dozens of aid projects in Haiti, from building a school for midwives, to money to provide school lunches, to its $31-million contribution to the Haiti Reconstruction Fund, the main international rebuilding find. Many are funded for two, three, or five years, but several are about to end.
Since taking over the portfolio in July, Mr. Fantino has not approved any new aid projects for Haiti, Mr. Liautaud said. But Mr. Liautaud thought that was part of a general slowdown for new aid to all countries since Mr. Fantino arrived in the job.
Just two months ago, in November, Mr. Fantino visited Haiti and had a meeting with President Michel Martelly, who discussed his priorities, Mr. Liautaud said. "And Minister Fantino, after the conversation, said, 'Listen, I will help you."
In his interview with La Presse, however, Mr. Fantino decried the fact that Canada had contributed $1-billion in aid. "Are we going to take care of their problems forever? They also have to take charge of themselves," he was quoted in French as saying.
Mr. Fantino provided few details on how long new aid will be frozen. Rosemary McCarney, the president of aid organization Plan Canada, which does work in Haiti that is not funded by the Canadian government, said a brief pause to assess how to improve aid can be good – but not a halt. "What we can't have is a stoppage, because work is under way, and when money stops flowing, the setbacks are real."
Canada's deep connections to Haiti, including a diaspora of about 90,000 Haitian-Canadians concentrated largely in Montreal, have over the past two decades led Ottawa to play a major diplomatic and aid role. Haiti's litany of disasters – the earthquake, several cholera outbreaks, Hurricane Sandy – hit a country that was already deeply poor, with weak government institutions long seen as rife with corruption.
He is not alone in questioning why billions in aid to Haiti haven't done more to lift the country out of deep dysfunction. But some say that after six months in office, Mr. Fantino should be outlining his new plans.
Haitian-Canadian computer engineering professor Samuel Pierre, head of a group that authored a report calling for the building of a "new Haiti," said it's obvious that a new approach to aid is needed. But he said Mr. Fantino has been in office for six months when not much has been happening, and still hasn't decided on new plans. "There has been a de facto freeze," Mr. Pierre said. "Not much has happened."
CIDA projects in Haiti
Canada funds dozens of aid projects in Haiti, with budgets raising from tens of thousands of dollars to tens of millions. It is one of the Caribbean nation's biggest donors, and the sums have increased since a 2010 earthquake devastated the country. Much of the aid funded by the Canadian International Development Agency is delivered through grants to aid organizations. Many of the projects are funded for two, three, or five years – but several are close to their end. Here are some examples of CIDA projects in Haiti:
1. Sustaining School Feeding in Haiti
Agency: World Food Programme
Goal: Helps provide one hot meal per day to primary school students.
2. Enabling Neighbourhood Revival
Agency: Habitat for Humanity Canada
Goal: Repair and retrofit close to 700 homes in Simon Pelé, a low-income, high-density area of Port-au-Prince.
3. Reinforcing Food Security in Haiti
Agency: Development and Peace
Goal: Improving land use for up to 20,000 rural families, including watershed management and increasing agricultural production by providing farm families with quality seeds and farming techniques.
4. Haiti Reconstruction Fund
Agency: World Bank
Goal: Canada's contribution to the main international reconstruction fund set up after the 2010 earthquake. Finances an array of activities including infrastructure building, basic services, and environmental clean-up.
5. Health Services for Women and Girls
Agency: United Nations Office for Project Services
Goal: Supports construction of Haiti's National School of Midwifery and of maternity clinics, as well of training of midwives and other health workers.
Source : Canadian International Development Agency (Project Browser website)