By Peter Richards, IPS News
MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica, Jul 7, 2010 (IPS) – They descended in droves after the Jan. 12 earthquake devastated the French-speaking Caribbean Community (Caricom) country, killing an estimated 300,000 people and leaving more than one million homeless.
Now, six months later, the 15-member Caricom grouping is appealing to the United Nations to help bring about some “level of order” among the hundreds of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that they fear could undermine the fragile democracy in Haiti.
Caricom leaders, including Haitian President René Préval, met on Monday – the first day of their 31st annual summit taking place in this tourist resort city – with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. When they emerged, Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said that they had asked Ban to use his influence to help bring about some level of coordination among the NGOs.
“With respect to the NGOs operating out of Haiti, we called on the U.N. secretary-general to do all that he can to bring some level of order to the situation, because while we speak about maintaining democracy in Haiti we can’t at the same time be affording NGOs to undermine the democratic institutions in Haiti,” said Skerrit, the outgoing Caricom chair.
He described the discussions with Ban as “very prolonged” given the number of issues confronting the Haitian government.
“One of them is the fact that you have several hundreds of NGOs operating in Haiti and basically doing what they want. There is no regard to the wishes of the government of Haiti,” Skerrit said.
“We are saying if you do not put an end to it now, bring some semblance of order to it, the tremendous strides which we have made in Haiti with regards to building the democratic institutions would be undermined, particularly taking into consideration that we must hold elections by February 2011.”
“We call on the international institutions and government to cease and desist from putting the resources into the NGOs,” he said, adding that some donors were raising questions about transparency and accountability as a pretext for bypassing the government and dealing directly with the NGOs.
Skerrit said the regional leaders told Ban there were many ways of addressing such concerns, such as using financial and multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago to funnel funds to Port- au-Prince instead of going directly to the NGOs.
Caribbean countries are also upset that Haiti has not received support to meet obligations such as payment of salaries to teachers, nurses and police officers. For example, Haiti has so far received only three-quarters of the 150 million dollars it had requested in budgetary assistance.
Ban said that it was also important for countries that promised financial and other assistance to the earthquake battered country to keep their commitments “since we have an enormous task ahead”.
Préval also called on the international community to make good on its promises.
“It’s like several Hiroshima bombs hit Haiti,” he said. “It is necessary to rebuild Haiti, to refine Haiti and also to decentralise the country. This should be done thanks to the interim commission that has been set up and also the promise of 10 billion dollars made which we hope will be disbursed very quickly.”
Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding, the incoming Caricom chair, said that the reconstruction of Haiti is the grouping’s “most urgent priority”.
While pleased with the pledges from the donor countries, he said there was also need to “impress upon the international community the urgency with which actions must follow these commitments, especially in strengthening the institutional capacity of Haiti to undertake the mammoth task at hand.”
“Caricom will continue to do everything it can to ensure that the Haitian people are not only put back on their feet, but on a firm path to sustained growth,” Golding said.
Haiti is also preparing for presidential and legislative elections on Nov. 28 and Ban said it was important for the polls to be both “transparent and credible”.
“The upcoming November elections will also be fundamental for ensuring Haiti’s democratic future. It is essential that they are transparent and credible,” said Ban, the first U.N. secretary-general to address the regional grouping’s annual summit.
But Préval told IPS that he is not worried about the credibility of the polls, since “elections should be transparent in all countries”.
He said that the institution organising the elections comprises “people that were picked by the Catholic Church, the Voodoo Church, the Protestant Church, the trade unions, women organisations etc”.
He recalled that the day before the earthquake, Haitians were preparing to vote for 12 seats in the Senate with a total of 95 candidates representing 52 political parties registered.
Moreover, Préval said that international organizations, including the U.N., had carried out a survey to determine whether or not the polls could really take place in November.
“They came back with an answer and said it could be done,” said Préval, whose five-year presidential term ends next February.
The Haitian Parliament recently voted to allow him to remain in office until May 14, 2011, exactly five years after he took office, should his successor not be chosen by the constitutional deadline of Feb. 7.
However, opposition leaders have been calling for Préval to step down by February, arguing that an interim government could organise the elections, which could run to 44 million dollars.
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