Canada's International Development Minister is asking Haiti's government to improve transparency and rule of law as Canada reviews its long-term funding plans for the Caribbean country.
Christian Paradis travelled to Haiti last week to meet with government officials and see the results of Canadian aid more than three years after a devastating earthquake struck the country. In an interview with The Globe and Mail on Wednesday, Mr. Paradis said he spoke frankly with Haitian officials during the visit about some of the challenges the country faces.
"What I said there to the government, and I said this with insistence, [is] that they have to make sure that the political actors are taking care of their issues. There are issues that have to be dealt with to make sure that it doesn't impede development in the future," Mr. Paradis said.
Canada is particularly concerned about lengthy delays in holding senatorial and local elections, he said. Haitians were initially expected to vote for one-third of the country's senators in late 2011, but those elections have still not occurred and the continuing delays threaten to destabilize the political process.
Internal documents obtained by The Globe and Mail show the former Canadian International Development Agency planned to significantly reduce aid to Haiti, indicating last fall that Canada had fulfilled its post-earthquake commitments and CIDA was ready to scale back future assistance to about $90-million per year. By comparison, Canada gave a total of about $205-million to Haiti in the year ending March, 2012.
It's not clear whether the $90-million would be for the entire Canadian commitment or just the programming run by the former CIDA.
Mr. Paradis said on Wednesday that no decisions will be made about the level of future aid for Haiti until the government's review is complete. But he noted that he saw significant signs of progress on his recent trip, including housing for thousands of people who were living in tents in a public park in Port-au-Prince after the earthquake. "Haitian people are very thankful [for] Canada's efforts. We've been a critical player in this," Mr. Paradis said.
He said Haiti remains a priority for Canada, adding that it was important for him to see signs of progress on his trip because "a lot of questions have been asked here, on the domestic point of view, which are legitimate questions."
Mr. Paradis is the former minister of industry but was moved to the international development and Francophonie portfolios in a cabinet shuffle this summer.
He will be responsible for helping to merge the former CIDA with Canada's foreign affairs and trade portfolios, a shift that began this year after the government announced the creation of a new Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.
François Gérin-Lajoie, head of a Canadian education group called the Paul Gérin-Lajoie Foundation, said non-governmental organizations that work in Haiti were informed last fall that Canadian funding to the country would be scaled back.
While some individual projects have shown good results, Mr. Gérin-Lajoie said overall progress has been weak in Haiti for a variety of reasons. Both donors and Haitian officials have changed their priorities at different times and international donors are concerned about transparency and the pace of reform in the Haitian government, he said.
"There's so many hidden decisions, that it makes the international community very skeptical," he said. "And on that, for sure, it's difficult to see what was the progress in that matter."
Foreign donors to Haiti have been criticized for channelling development aid through non-governmental organizations instead of the Haitian government.
Haiti's ambassador to Canada, Frantz Liautaud, said in an interview last week that his government should not be blamed for the country's limited progress because, "The reality is that you cannot be accountable for programs that you don't run." However, Mr. Liautaud said that he was encouraged by Mr. Paradis's trip to Haiti and the fact that Canada still considers the country to be a priority.