Haiti's new prime minister calls for support in 'precarious' situation

Haiti's Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe (L) and President Jovenel Moise stand for the national anthem at the end of Jouthe's inauguration ceremony in the National Palace of Port-au-Prince, Haiti March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haitian Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe said on Wednesday during his first public appearance since his appointment by presidential decree that he would focus on fighting insecurity and inequality while boosting the economy.

Jouthe, a trained civil engineer, who was appointed this week by President Jovenel Moise, is considered an experienced policymaker. He was environment minister and interim finance minister, and also worked for the humanitarian agencies.

“We’re living today in a very precarious socio-economic situation which could lead at any time to a humanitarian disaster, our country is in agony,” he said.

“My government reiterates its commitment to continue working to improve public finances in order to increase gross domestic product (GDP), reduce inflation, increase public revenues and, above all, fight corruption.”

Jouthe called on Haitians, the divided political class and international organizations to stand by him at a time of economic crisis.

The U.S. Embassy in Haiti said in a statement it would work with Moise and Jouthe but urged them to improve security and economic growth, and organize “free, fair and credible legislative elections as soon as technically feasible”.

Economic repercussions of a three-month countrywide lockdown are still unfolding in what was already the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, where around two-thirds of adults are estimated to be unemployed or underemployed.

Moise has been ruling Haiti by decree since January because the mandates of lower house deputies and most senators formally expired when no elections were held.

Jouthe replaces Jean Michel Lapin, who was acting prime minister since Moise appointed him in March last year until his resignation in July. Despite several attempts, his appointment was never approved.

Reporting by Andre Paultre in Port-au-Prince; Editing by Stefanie Eschenbacher, Robert Birsel