PORT-AU-PRINCE Haiti's parliament has approved the creation of a commission that will allow foreign donors to participate in deciding how to rebuild the poor Caribbean nation after its devastating January 12 earthquake.
The bill approving the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, which was set up by an international donors conference on March 31, was passed by the Haitian Senate late on Thursday after the national assembly's lower house had also endorsed it.
The assembly also extended a post-quake state of emergency for 18 months, corresponding to the commission's tenure.
The joint commission, to be co-chaired by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy for Haiti, and by Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, will determine which reconstruction projects will receive backing from multibillion-dollar funding pledged by foreign donors.
President Rene Preval is due to sign the bill into law and the president will have final veto over rebuilding projects.
Even before the catastrophic quake, which shattered the fragile and impoverished Haitian economy and killed more than 300,000 people, Haiti had a reputation for high levels of government corruption. Donors had called for guarantees of oversight and accountability in the rebuilding process.
Sitting on the commission, under the joint chair, will be an equal number of Haitian and non-Haitian representatives. The latter include officials of international organizations, multilateral lenders and major donors.
The body will operate for 18 months before handing over to a government redevelopment authority.
Thirteen senators voted for the bill, one voted against, and two abstained, but in preceding debates, Preval's administration had to overcome arguments from some lawmakers who said the quake-hit nation was ceding sovereignty by agreeing to a foreign donor role in decision-making.
"I could not vote this law because it is against the country's constitution and it violates our sovereignty," said Senator Youri Latortue, who refused to back the bill.
Rejecting these fears, Preval told Haitians the operation of the commission would facilitate the release of massive reconstruction financing that will be administered through a Multi-Donor Trust Fund, to be supervised by the World Bank.
"Do we lose our sovereignty because of the creation of this commission? I think the answer is no," Preval said recently.
MANY HAITIANS MISTRUST GOVERNMENT
At the March 31 donors' conference in New York, foreign governments, multilateral institutions and non-governmental organizations from around the world pledged a total of $9.9 billion for Haiti's reconstruction, $5.3 billion for the next two years alone.
The emergency measures accompanying the creation of the recovery commission authorize the Haitian government to use funds and take other measures needed for reconstruction without prior approval by parliament, and also allow it to avoid some legal and constitutional constraints.
Many Haitians have criticized what they say was the Preval government's slow and ineffective response to the natural disaster. A poll funded last month by the international charity Oxfam showed that only 6.6 percent of Haitians believed their government alone should be left to rebuild the country.
But government supporters said the commission would help to get the reconstruction underway quicker. "We want this law to take effect as soon as possible so the population may see the concrete results of commitments made by the government and the international community," Senator Joseph Lambert said.
International aid workers are striving to care for more than 1 million homeless Haitian quake survivors who are camped out in makeshift tent and shelter communities sprawled across the wrecked capital and in other damaged towns.
Aid workers say that unless safer, more secure shelter is found for the hundreds of thousands of homeless quake victims, the imminent rains, and the hurricane season starting on June 1, could cause another humanitarian catastrophe.
(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Eric Beech)