International Crisis Group
A series of crises in 2008 have increased the potential for serious trouble in Haiti this year. The politically motivated, violent April riots against high living costs caused widespread disruption and suffering, toppled the government of Prime Minister Jacques-Édouard Alexis and forced postponement of a donor conference. In August and September, four tropical storms and hurricanes killed 800, affected nearly one million, exacerbated food shortages and pushed yet more Haitians into poverty. Extensive damage was caused to infrastructure and agriculture. The global financial crisis is making it difficult for donors to meet commitments and reducing diaspora remittances. President René Préval and Prime Minister Michèle Pierre-Louis, who took office in September 2008, need to secure the support of donors and parliament quickly for a wide-ranging stabilisation strategy or risk political instability and violence. These are major challenges in a year in which parliamentary elections will be held and constitutional reform is on the agenda.
Almost half a year has passed since Pierre-Louis entered office, and Haitians are still waiting for an effective response to pervasive socio-economic, institutional and political challenges. There is an urgent need for broad political consensus and improved relations between the executive and legislative branches of government, as well as a government-donor-civil society partnership to kick-start a community-oriented reconstruction process. This includes building a social safety net for hurricane victims and jobs-oriented infrastructure projects that prioritise areas hard-hit by the floods, boosting agriculture and enhancing a longer-term poverty reduction and economic growth strategy.
The immediate focus should include:
-providing donors an operational reconstruction plan and then holding the long-postponed donors conference in April 2009 as planned. The plan should identify government-led, community-approved, high-impact and high-visibility projects to tackle key challenges such as food shortages and provide for close monitoring to ensure relevance, implementation and completion;
-building national ownership of reconstruction through active participation of the political and business sectors and civil society, particularly in the worst disaster-affected areas such as Gonaives, and doing a better job of holding non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the field accountable for the delivery of project results;
-boosting security sector reform by speedily completing police vetting, setting judicial standards, relieving jail overcrowding, responding to pleas for heli co pter interdiction of aerial drug smuggling and completing actions begun in 2008 to control Haiti’s porous borders and corrupt and inefficient ports;
-working closer with parliament and improving transparency in handling emergency funds and carrying out reconstruction, including by providing frequent updates on government action and better articulating policies and strategies domestically and abroad; and
-strengthening democratic institutions and stabilisation efforts by holding elections that include all major parties to fill one-third of the senate’s seats on 19 April and other elections in the timeframe foreseen by the constitution. Authorities should encourage the deployment as soon as possible of national and international observers to oversee not merely the polling but also pre-election preparations.