MONTREAL – Canada and the United States warned Haitian relief should be carefully tracked so it’s not squandered or stolen as the International Monetary Fund hinted at plans Monday to inject more funds into post-quake reconstruction efforts.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasized the importance of accountability in the roadmap that will come from Montreal’s planning sessions on Haiti’s longterm recovery from the Jan. 12 earthquake that left much of it in ruins.
“We bear a responsibility to our taxpayers to ensure that the money that our governments commit will be well spent, transparently, and with results on the ground for the Haitian people,” Clinton told Harper after their meeting.
“That is also true for all of the private donations that will be joined with government funds.”
Added Harper: “A big part of this is working through credible international organizations that are capable of co-ordinating donors, and also capable of tracking money.”
The declarations came as the IMF indicated it would announce a $100-million, interest-free loan for Haiti this week. Officials said it has no plans, however, to offer debt relief.
IMF spokeswoman Caroline Atkinson said Haiti would receive “emergency cash” directly into its central bank, and that the country will be given a five-year grace period before its first payment is due.
She said she expected the IMF board to approve the emergency loan on Wednesday.
“Debt relief is not a today issue, it’s a tomorrow issue,” she said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon hosted the one-day conference on rebuilding Haiti. He also attended the Clinton meeting.
International banking institutions, including IMF and the World Bank, were monitoring the talks involving more than a dozen foreign ministers to ensure accountability in future financial promises to the quake-stricken country.
Non-governmental organizations that were invited to one session of Monday’s talks said the bankers were tightlipped about their specific plans.
Harper told the gathering that it would likely take a decade to rebuild Haiti. He stressed that the money pledged by the international community should be spent properly.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that 10 years of hard work, at least, awaits the world in Haiti,” Harper said after participants observed a minute’s silence for quake victims.
“We must ensure that every resource committed – every relief worker, every vehicle, every dollar – is used as effectively as possible,” Harper said. “We need to focus on effectiveness. The Haitian people deserve that. Our own taxpayers expect it.”
Offering a long list of thank yous to the international community, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said his country will need “more and more and more aid” to complete the reconstruction.
“What we are speaking about is re-launching our country on a path of development. It is not a question of going back to the status quo,” Bellerive said.
Cannon told participants at the outset their meeting must result in a new set of principles and objectives for Haiti’s reconstruction.
He said a full-blown international conference on Haiti’s long-term reconstruction needs would be held in the coming months.
“We come together to support our friends the Haitian people as they seek a new and better future for a country that has already suffered more than we can imagine.”
Cannon reiterated the shared view of participants that Haitians take a leading role in rebuilding their country.
Bellerive told delegates his government has set up six committees to deal with the crisis, including ones on sanitation and energy. Each is headed by a Haitian and an international partner, he said.
Haiti is anxious to begin a long-term economic recovery after reopening banks this past week.
“We have to do more with less,” Bellerive said. “Throughout history our people have been marked by tragedy and catastrophe.
“Each and every time, it got back on its feet and made an attempt at reconstruction and this is what we will do now.”
Cannon has said technology will be an important element of bringing the Caribbean island country back from the disastrous earthquake. With Haiti virtually denuded of its forests, the minister said wind power could reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Cannon said planners could also look at the latest technologies in earthquake-resistant construction before rebuilding the devastated country.
He said Haiti and those helping in its reconstruction need to seize upon the opportunity to make the impoverished country something significantly more than it was.
The Red Cross sounded a note of optimism entering the talks.
“This is a huge opportunity to really build stronger indigenous Haitian organizations that can serve the Haitian people,” Susan Johnson, director general of international operations at the Canadian Red Cross, told The Canadian Press.
Cannon called the talks a “critical step on the road to recovery.” Actual dollars will be pledged at the next conference.
Some 200,000 are believed to have been killed in the quake, including at least 21 Canadians confirmed dead. Another 171 Canadians were listed as missing as of Monday.
Ottawa said Canadian aircraft had evacuated 2,424 people aboard 27 flights.
Haiti is the second-largest recipient of Canadian aid spending, after Afghanistan. Ottawa pledged $555 million over five years in 2006, and many expect that number to rise once the international roadmap for Haiti emerges after Monday’s opening round of talks. Canada committed $1.9 billion to Afghanistan for 2001-2011.