PORT-AU-PRINCE Dec 4 The World Bank's special
envoy to Haiti voiced concern on Wednesday about how the
government was using public funds generated by cut-rate
Venezuelan petroleum imports, saying a lack of transparency was
the biggest obstacle to the country's economic development.
The surprising public criticism of the government's handling
of its finances came at a press luncheon in the capital. The
director of the World Bank's office in Haiti, Mary Barton-Dock,
cited Venezuela's Petrocaribe program, which allows
beneficiaries to buy fuel from the oil-rich South American
nation at favorable rates and easy payment plans.
Under Petrocaribe, Haiti pays only 40 percent of the oil
bills in the short term, while the rest are reimbursed over a
25-year period during which the government is free to spend the
funds more or less as it pleases.
The Petrocaribe funds, worth about $300 million a year to
Haiti, are one of the main sources of income for the Haitian
government, and "require a wise use," said Barton-Dock.
The World Bank would like to see better communication about
the use of Petrocaribe funds, said Barton-Dock, addressing
reporters in French.
"So far, transparency in the use of Petrocaribe funds is
minimal," she said, adding that the management of the
Petrocaribe investment budget needed to be improved as well as a
system of arbitration to determine the most profitable and
important investments for the country.
"We are very surprised by the comments of the special envoy,
who has never requested any documents regarding use of
Petrocaribe funds," said Salim Succar, special adviser to
Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe.
The envoy's comments are "out of touch and in complete
disregard of what this administration is and has been doing," he
told Reuters in an email.
"The donor country, Venezuela just completed an audit that
resulted in finding Haiti's management of that fund as being one
of the most transparent of all Petrocaribe member countries," he
Succar said all Petrocaribe funds were published online at
the Ministry of Finance website, www.mef.gouv.ht
A spokesman for the Venezuelan state-owned oil company,
PDVSA, was unavailable.
Barton-Dock said that since the country's devastating 2010
earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people, most government
contracts had not been open to competition. She said a lack of
competitive bidding resulted in the government paying a higher
price for contracts.
"In the past, the government justified this lack of
competitiveness by the urgency of investments. I think now, they
agree the need to strengthen the system of procurement and the
need for these contracts to be awarded according to the rules of
competition," she said.
But Succar said all non-emergency contracts already went
through a "rigorous" bidding process.
Barton-Dock's comments echoed growing criticism of the
administration of Haitian President Michel Martelly, and its use
of non-compete contracts, including accusations it distributes
public funds for partisan and populist goals.
Opposition protests have increased in recent weeks amid
complaints of government cronyism. Thousands of people marched
last Friday in Port-au-Prince to demand Martelly's resignation.
Some economists have warned that Haiti is too reliant on
Petrocaribe at a time when Venezuela is seeking to change its
financing arrangements because of domestic cash flow constraints
and product shortages.
Guatemala recently withdrew from the Petrocaribe oil
alliance after the Central American nation failed to negotiate
favorable rates for purchases and financing.
Haiti owes Petrocaribe more than $1 billion and has been
servicing the debt at only 1 per cent interest. When Haiti
joined Petrocaribe, it received a three-year grace period that
expires in 2014 when the country will begin to repay principal
on the debt.
Haiti ranked 163rd (out of 177 countries) on Transparency
International's annual Corruption Perception Index published on
Tuesday, two places higher than last year.
The World Bank has poured more than $500 million into Haiti
since the 2010 earthquake, including support for education,
agriculture, sanitation, and disaster risk management.
(Additional reporting by David Adams; Editing by David Adams
and Peter Cooney)