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By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA (AlertNet) – Haitian President Michel Martelly’s struggle to build consensus among lawmakers has created a political deadlock that threatens already slow reconstruction efforts in the earthquake-shattered country.
A former pop star with no previous political experience, Martelly was elected in March on promises to turn Haiti around after decades of poverty, corruption and dictatorship.
But more than three months after taking office, Martelly still has not been able to form a government to begin the task of addressing the needs of 635,000 people who are still homeless after the quake and hundreds of thousands more who are desperate for jobs.
His failure to win parliamentary approval of two candidates for prime minister reflects what many analysts see as a growing paralysis in Haitian politics with Inite, the party of former president Rene Preval, dominating both houses of parliament.
“President Martelly does not have a force in parliament, he doesn’t have strength there,” said Bernice Robertson, senior Haiti analyst at International Crisis Group told AlertNet by phone from Port-au-Prince.
“Not much can be done without a new government,” she added. “The outgoing government remains in place but does not have the authority to make new decisions, implement new policy or present a budget, which needs to be presented and approved before the fiscal year ends in October.”
Although it was always going to be an uphill battle to wield over a polarized parliament made up of numerous factions –long a feature of Haitian politics – the charismatic Martelly has not shown enough leadership, analysts say.
“Parliament has never been an effective body in Haiti, there’s a lot of nepotism there,” said Peter Hakim, president emeritus of the Washington-based think tank, the Inter-American Dialogue.
“But the president has much more capacity than his is showing at the moment. We’re not getting much leadership from him. The blame has mostly to be pinned on him,” Hakim told AlertNet by phone.
While political infighting continues, the Caribbean nation is ill-prepared to cope with the annual hurricane season that stretches until November and a cholera epidemic that has killed around 6,000 people since it broke out last October.
Major decisions about how to rebuild Haiti have also been put on hold until a new government can be sworn in.
Hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors remain in makeshift tent cities scattered across the capital Port-au-Prince amid uncleared rubble that could fill 8,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to U.N. estimates.
“There is still a need for a government policy and a global strategy on how to close camps and resettle people. A large number of people want to leave the camps but don’t have the means to do so,” Roberston said.
The Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti (IHRC), which has been overseeing the rebuilding effort, has approved many projects but it has been criticised for having completed too few.
The commission’s mandate runs out in October, but whether it will be extended remains up in the air.
“President Martelly proposed on 22nd July to extend the IHRC for another year. But there is no new government to draft that decision into a bill and submit it to parliament for approval,” Robertson said.
Without a new government, analysts say, it is difficult for Martelly to deliver on his campaign promises that along with speeding up post-earthquake rebuilding included providing free primary education, building new homes and developing Haiti’s languishing agriculture sector.
It means Haitians, many of whom voted for Martelly on the hope of bringing change, have yet to see tangible improvements to their lives.
“There is a general sense of frustration left by decades of delays in improvement in the lives of Haitians, the slow pace of the reconstruction process many hoped would change that and now the inability of political leaders five months after the elections to put in place a government to speed up the rebuilding of the country,” said Roberston.
“That frustration can be manipulated by any side of the political realm as has happened in the past,” she added.
But whether such frustration will prompt Haitians to take to the streets in protest as they have done in the past, is not clear, analysts say.
“It’s hard to measure, but I don’t think we’re there yet,” said Hakim, who added that the international community needs to put more pressure on the Haitian government to move forward reconstruction efforts.
It is clear, though, that among local community and business leaders, patience is running out.
In an open letter published in the local press, Haiti LIBRE, in July, the Association of Haitian Industries (ADIH), vented its disappointment over the slow pace of recovery and the absence of a new government, which they say is causing ‘confusion,’ and could lead to instability.
“We therefore urge the president of the republic, members of parliament and all relevant sectors, to make every effort to reach an agreement to provide the country with a government in the shortest time, and avoid the nation of sliding back into instability,” the business leaders wrote.
They also raised concerns about the increasing problem of smuggling along the border with the Dominican Republic, delays in custom clearance at Haiti’s port and rising crime in the capital.
“Some industrial companies can barely function,” the letter said.
A large chunk of donor aid to Haiti is channelled directly through international aid and donor agencies and the myriad of foreign non-governmental organisations working in the Caribbean island.
Of the $2.43 billion committed or disbursed in humanitarian funding, just one percent ($25 million), has gone directly into the hands of the Haitian government, according to the United Nations.
While the Haitian authorities have little stake and control over donor aid, moving towards a full recovery phase remains remote, according to a June report by the U.N.’s Office for the Special Envoy to Haiti.
“With over 99 percent of relief funding circumventing Haitian public institutions, the already challenging task of moving from relief to recovery—which requires government leadership, above all—becomes almost impossible,” the report states.
Analysts argue that while a new government has yet to be sworn in, rethinking the way donor aid to Haiti is disbursed remains just another issue waiting to be resolved in the pipeline.
Taken from AlertNet