BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
The Obama administration is quietly advocating a plan to reconstruct Haiti that could involve a central role for former President Bill Clinton.
The plan, designed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s staff and presented to top Haitian officials in recent days, calls for the creation of an Interim Haiti Recovery Commission to oversee the “urgent early recovery” over the next 18 months.
The commission’s top priority: create a Haitian Development Authority to plan and coordinate billions in foreign assistance for at least 10 years.
The plan, obtained by The Miami Herald, states that the commission could be co-chaired by the Haitian prime minister and “a distinguished senior international figure engaged in the recovery effort.”
Haiti observers believe the job description describes Clinton although he’s not named in the document. The United Nations has already named him to coordinate its reconstruction efforts.
“I think he’s a good choice if he can commit himself to doing the job,” said Robert Maguire, a Haiti expert who is a professor at Trinity Washington University and chair of the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Haiti Working Group. “He seems to be a logical choice, someone with a deep commitment, connections and the trust of most, if not all of the players.”
Clinton could not be reached for comment.
IN PREVAL’S HANDS
Sources familiar with the plan say it was presented to Haitian President René Préval during Clinton’s visit last weekend, and it was endorsed by Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills. Mills traveled to Haiti with Clinton in their second visit to the Caribbean nation since the Jan. 12 earthquake.
A State Department spokesman declined to comment, pointing instead to the secretary of state’s comments about the importance of transparency and accountability in Haiti’s reconstruction.
The administration’s plan is among several that have been floated over the last week to Haitian government officials. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive called a meeting of international partners in Haiti to discuss the various proposals.
Washington’s proposal comes a month before international donors are scheduled to meet in New York to raise billions to help rebuild a country that in less than a minute lost more than 250,000 buildings, including private homes, schools, hospitals and government offices.
The cost to rebuild Haiti remains elusive but economist Jeffrey Sachs estimated that the country’s recovery needs could tally about $3.5 billion annually over the next four to five years to cover reconstruction, social assistance, development, peacekeeping and justice.
In recent years, the country has received about $1.2 billion in foreign aid, half of which has gone to peacekeeping and just 25 percent — $30 per Haitian citizen — for development.
Led by Bellerive, the government is expected to present its development plan during the conference. Donor nations and financial institutions have been jockeying behind the scenes to influence the reconstruction blueprint. Their suggestions have included various versions of the Washington plan.
For example, Canada is considering advocating for a trust fund managed by the World Bank. The idea, also outlined in Washington’s proposal, calls for donors to channel funding through a single multidonor trust fund. Sachs, who does not support the Washington plan, is pushing for the Inter-American Development Bank to manage a similar trust fund.
“We should not see this as a U.S. political effort but a multilateral one,” he said. “It clearly should be the Haitian government alone. It shouldn’t have a mixed membership of the president and international figures.”
Préval has not publicly commented on the proposals although he made a vague reference to the Washington plan on Saturday to a group of visiting Caribbean leaders.
Bellerive, who has called for greater donor coordination on Haiti, told The Miami Herald that the Washington plan is “very close to what is needed to ensure transparency, efficiency and a leadership role of the Haitian government.”
But the final decision rests with Préval, who could form the interim recovery commission by decree.
The plan outlines the structure of the interim commission, which gives the Haitian president veto power. It also solicits advice from donors and experts in Haiti and the diaspora.
Maguire, who has not read the State Department document, said the plan sounds similar to an idea that Hillary Clinton was considering long before the earthquake. Her office has sought over the past several months to better coordinate assistance to Haiti, which remains impoverished despite billions of dollars in foreign aid.
“I think there is an approaching chaos of people getting involved in the reconstruction of Haiti, people who just want to make decisions on their own or people who want to profiteer from this,” Maguire said. “There is a desperate need for some sort of decision-making entity and it’s clear the government of Haiti needs reenforcement.”
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