PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti is “open for business” after its parliament approved a new government’s ambitious plan to relaunch the economy after last year’s catastrophic earthquake, Haitian leaders said on Saturday.
After an all-night session, the impoverished Caribbean country’s Chamber of Deputies overwhelmingly endorsed the program of Prime Minister Garry Conille and his new cabinet.
The Senate already had approved the program, which foresees boosting economic growth in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest state to more than 9 percent annually, from around 6 percent expected this year after the 2010 contraction inflicted by the crippling earthquake.
Hoping to attract foreign aid and investment in a tough international economic climate, Conille’s government plans to modernize infrastructure and technology and establish urban and rural development zones and industrial manufacturing parks to create 1.5 million jobs in five years.
“This strategy aims to create thousands of jobs, causing a revolution of inclusive growth,” Conille told the parliament, saying he would seek partnerships with the private sector in a program to reduce Haiti’s widespread chronic poverty.
The new cabinet headed by Conille, 45, a doctor and U.N. development expert, will be sworn in on Tuesday.
Parliament’s confirmation of Conille’s cabinet and its policy blueprint will be a relief to foreign governments and donors who have been awaiting the installation of the new administration to tackle Haiti’s huge reconstruction task following the January 12, 2010, earthquake.
Since President Michel Martelly took office in May vowing to “rebrand” Haiti from a development basket-case to a Caribbean success story, fractious lawmakers in parliament rejected his two previous picks for prime minister before Conille.
This raised fears among diplomats and donors that the same political squabbling and instability that have dogged Haiti for decades could torpedo Martelly’s ability to steer the country’s post-quake rebuilding.
On a visit to neighboring Dominican Republic on Saturday, Martelly, who won a presidential run-off in March, welcomed parliament’s endorsement of the government and its program.
“This is a signal to the world that Haiti is really open for business and that Haitians can put their differences behind them to work for the common good and interest of the Haitian people,” he told Reuters.
“If we had had a government earlier we could have done much more by now. It took time, but in the end it is better to take the time to do it right than do it fast but wrong,” he added.
Martelly, a former pop star whose election followed a turbulent U.N.-backed vote process, has moved to draw a line under Haiti’s frequently violent political past. He met former presidents this week to seek reconciliation.
But the aims of the Conille government program look ambitious for a small nation that is one of the planet’s poorest despite being a mere two hours flying time from the richest power, the United States.
The CIA’s “World Factbook” lists Haiti’s estimated 2010 unemployment rate at 40.6 percent and notes more than two- thirds of the Haitian labor force do not have formal jobs.
The agency adds that 80 percent of Haiti’s population live under the poverty line, with 54 percent in abject poverty.
In his speech to parliament, Conille also pledged to resettle the more than 600,000 homeless earthquake survivors still living in tent and tarpaulin camps in and around the quake-scarred capital of Port-au-Prince.
“By the end of President Martelly’s five-year-term, the issue of the displaced people will have been solved. There will be no forced evictions without a predetermined alternative,” the prime minister said, referring to evictions ordered by some landowners of some of the quake homeless camps.
Conille said his government would launch a national house-building program in a country where massive migration to the hilly capital had spawned sprawling shantytowns vulnerable to hurricanes, floods and mudslides.
The new government will be taking office as the United Nations is moving to reduce its peacekeeping force in the Caribbean state, because of what it says is an improved security situation.
Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Vicki Allen