By TRENTON DANIEL
The Associated Press
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The new Haitian government said late Wednesday it wants to discuss ways to improve an earthquake reconstruction commission co-chaired by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, backing off an earlier statement from the businessman nominated to be prime minister that the much-criticized commission should be scrapped.
The office of newly elected President Michel Martelly issued a statement insisting he and the prime minister nominee, Daniel-Gerard Rouzier, are “very open and willing to begin discussions” with Clinton and the international community about the commission to “make it more efficient” as its members seek to rebuild Haiti from the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Earlier, Rouzier told The Associated Press that the 27-member commission was “dysfunctional” and should be replaced by a government reconstruction agency.
“What I can tell you is that the (commission) as it exists today will not continue,” Rouzier said in a videotaped interview with the AP. “I don’t mean to crucify the people who came up with the concept. But sometimes when something doesn’t work you have to fix it.”
Rouzier, who has never before held public office, was nominated by Martelly to be prime minister. But he must be confirmed by the Senate, which is controlled by the opposition and where there is deep resentment over the foreign-controlled commission.
International donors insisted on the creation of the commission to manage the multibillion-dollar reconstruction after the earthquake because they wanted assurances that the process would be orderly and free of the corruption that has long plagued Haiti. But it has been criticized for slow progress. It includes representatives of the U.S. government, France, Japan and other members of the international community that have contributed the most toward rebuilding Haiti.
In the AP interview, Rouzier did not provide details of his proposal for a new reconstruction agency. But he said it would be more responsive to the needs of the Haitian people and still accountable to international donors.
He said he hoped Clinton, a special U.N. envoy to Haiti who has made many trips to the country to preside over commission meetings, would remain active in reconstruction from the January 2010 earthquake, which the government says killed more than 300,000 people as it left much of the capital in ruins.
“When you have someone of Clinton’s caliber — this is a man of tremendous vision … we have to pick his brain and make sure that we have the right strategy,” Rouzier said.
The former U.S. president did not respond to requests for comment.
Commission spokeswoman Florence St-Leger Liautaud defended the panel’s record, issuing a statement saying it has approved 87 projects that are “already benefiting thousands of Haitian families.” She said the commission will “continue to work, in close coordination with the Government of Haiti, donors, (aid groups) and the private sector … until further decisions are made by the Haitian Government and Parliament.”
Clinton has been co-chairman of the commission along with Jean-Max Bellerive, the outgoing Haitian prime minister. They have presided over long meetings to discuss the details of proposals to clear rubble, build housing and try to create jobs in a country that had severe problems long before the earthquake.
The commission has approved projects that would require $3.2 billion in funding but Haiti does not yet have all the money and many people have complained about the lack of apparent progress.
A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office criticized the commission for delays in hiring staff and a lack of transparency and for not meeting reconstruction goals.
The commission’s mandate is scheduled to end in October but it could be renewed by the Haitian government.
Rouzier, ran a family-owned car dealership in Haiti and was a power company executive before he was nominated to be prime minister by Martelly. His criticism of the commission plays into long-standing resentment of foreign influence in Haiti and could help in his confirmation vote.
Joseph Lambert, a senator and coordinator of the Unity political party, which has a majority in the Senate, predicted that Rouzier would likely be approved.