By Jacqueline Charles and Aaron Morrison, The Miami Herald
UNITED NATIONS — Haitian President Michel Martelly used his appearance before a gathering of world leaders Wednesday to uphold himself as a champion of democracy, saying that Haiti under his leadership has worked to strengthen institutions and change the fate of its long-suffering people.
“The ideal space for peace in the world, for prosperity and for the fight against poverty remains the democratic framework,” Martelly said during a 12-minute speech in French.
“Haiti under my leadership understands this and works at it actively by strengthening local institutions, which are considered weak or not functioning,” he said. “Haiti … has understood that only a real democracy can produce stability.”
Martelly’s remarks came amid calls by U.N. Special Envoy for Haiti and former U.S. President Bill Clinton for donors to live up to the $5.33 billion in pledges they promised after Haiti’s devastating January 2010 earthquake.
At home Martelly is facing rising tensions over his leadership, and double-digit price increases in wheat and rice have made life more difficult in the impoverished nation. Frustrations have boiled over into tire burning and protests in several Haitian cities.
Foreign diplomats and government advisers have said the protests are orchestrated. But critics say rising food prices, a protracted political battle over the creation of a permanent electoral council to oversee elections, the delay in the school year by a month despite a telecom tax on international calls by the government to fund free schooling; and allegations of government corruption are all fueling discord.
In response to the worsening socio-economic panorama, Martelly has pleaded for calm and patience telling his countrymen before he left for New York, he didn’t possess “a magic wand.”
Earlier Wednesday U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon met with Martelly. Ban, according to a statement from the meeting, commended Martelly “for his leadership in advancing reconstruction and stabilization efforts” but pointed out the need to finish creation of “a permanent electoral council so that the long overdue local and legislative elections are held in a credible and transparent manner.”
A senior State Department official discussing Haiti ahead of a donors meeting Thursday on future cooperation called the overdue elections “the biggest challenge right now confronting Haiti.”
“To have an election effectively, they have to be able to step through what it means to actually appoint an electoral council board,” said the unnamed U.S. official.
But aside from the electoral critique, there was no mention of the protests or the other worries facing Haiti.
The Thursday meeting, the official said, will be a chance for the Haitian government to share its vision with donors “now that Martelly is fully ensconced as president” and has a prime minister with whom he’s working closely.
“It’s an opportunity for them to say to the donors for the first time we are actually in the driver’s seat and we are looking to be able to coordinate (with) you in a fundamentally different way and be able to ensure that our leadership actually produces results,” the official said.
One of the ways in which Haiti is expected to do this is by announcing the creation of a Haiti-led commission focusing on the government’s priorities in the rebuilding effort. It will replace the defunct Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission.
The IHRC was created in the devastating days and weeks after the quake, and its two-year mandate expired in October. Since then, new reconstruction programs have virtually stalled.
However, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported progress in clearing tent cities that sprang up after the quake. It said tent dwellers have declined from 1.5 million to 370,000. But concerns linger about quake victims who continue to live in precarious conditions as reconstruction drags.
This week, the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti reported that a little more than half of the $5.33 billion pledged by donors to help rebuild Haiti had been disbursed.
There has been a significant drop in aid post-2010, down from an estimated $4 billion in 2010 to $438 million so far this year.
According to an analysis of the pledges, only 10 percent of the funds actually went directly to the Haitian government.
“In countries like Haiti that are most reliant on foreign aid, donors often avoid investing directly in the government, wary of perceived levels of corruption and institutional incapacity,” said Deputy U.N. Special Envoy Paul Farmer. “Such legitimate concerns should not preclude investment in important public institutions, but rather should be linked to investments in technologies and systems that might enable the government of Haiti to be accountable, both to its own citizens and to its donors.”
Still, some are hopeful that funds and reconstruction will increase as donors’ confidence in the government grows.
“A lot of long-standing decisions have been taken in the last few weeks that have allowed a number of activities to move forward,” said Hasan Tuluy, World Bank vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Officials of the World Bank are seeking approval from their board for a two-year Haitian strategy that will focus more on long-term sustainable programs.
“We have seen substantial progress” in Haiti, Tuluy said, but added, “much more needs to be done to accelerate the reconstruction.”
Martelly’s speech stayed within the theme of promoting peace and dialogue that was highlighted by most leaders who spoke Wednesday at the General Assembly.
“The establishment of the Untied Nations gave our people the hope that things could be different. We cannot let those hopes die,” he said.