Anti-corruption steps key at Haiti fund, says World Bank

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - World Bank officials promised public postings of construction spending and other anti-corruption measures while overseeing a multibillion-dollar rebuilding fund for quake-ravaged Haiti.

The newly appointed manager of the Haiti trust fund, Josef Leitmann, said he will apply the highest standards of financial management, as well as world-class procurement and environmental and social safeguards, while the World Bank acts as fiscal agent for the impoverished country’s reconstruction.

“We know that good governance is key to making sure that these funds are used effectively,” Leitmann said during a briefing on Saturday. “So transparency and accountability and fighting corruption will be very much a part of what we do.”

International donors last month pledged a total of $9.9 billion, including $5.3 billion in the next two years, to help rebuild Haiti after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in January that killed as many as 300,000 people and caused massive damage in the Caribbean country.

The World Bank director for the Caribbean, Yvonne Tsikata, announced anti-corruption measures -- including some already put in place by the Haitian government -- that are meant to ensure transparency and accountability.

“While one cannot obviously control every single aspect of corruption, I can say that we are putting in place systems that will help detect corruption and make sure that there is some recourse, if indeed that’s detected,” Tsikata said.

Tsikata said all the contracts and projects will be published and posted on the Haiti Reconstruction website and existing asset declarations, already required of the president and government ministers, will be extended to officials involved in the reconstruction process.

World Bank officials also announced creation of an anti-corruption unit within the Interim Commission for Haiti’s Reconstruction, which Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive co-chairs with former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Haiti had made remarkable progress in governance and the fight against corruption in the past few years, World Bank officials said.

The creation of a Haitian anti-corruption unit and a supreme audit institution, the passage of a national procurement bill and improvements of the budget process, the publication of monthly execution reports are considered positive steps by Haitian authorities toward fighting corruption, World Bank officials say.

“In 2005, 60 percent of budget expenditures occurred without prior approval, in 2009, that number was down to 3 percent,” Tsikata said. “These are very real improvements in economic governance in Haiti.”

The Trust fund is set up and ready to go, Leitmann said, but the World Bank is waiting for contributions to actually come in.

The first contract will be signed next week with a donor whose name was not revealed. Announcements about funds contributed will be made within the next two or three weeks, officials say.

“We’re not wasting time,” Leitmann said. “We’re going ahead with the design of individual investments and programs so that, when the money is in place, we can immediately move to finance and disburse.”

“We are in this for the long term. It is going to be a seven-year process of financing the reconstruction, implementing and again using grant resources,” Leitmann said.

World Bank officials say the Haitian government will chair the governing body of the trust fund and will drive the reconstruction process.

Editing by Michael Connor and Bill Trott