MONTREAL - Haiti's prime minister wants Ottawa to give his government more say in how Canadian aid is spent in his country as it struggles to rebuild after a devastating earthquake three years ago.
Laurent Lamothe spoke to The Canadian Press a few days after Canada's international co-operation minister said Ottawa had halted funding for new development projects in Haiti.
Julian Fantino said he was disappointed by the lack of progress and wanted to find a better way to help Haiti's reconstruction.
In an interview Monday, Lamothe agreed with Fantino, saying he had also hoped to see more improvements on the ground.
Lamothe is now urging Ottawa to allow his government to assume a bigger role — alongside Canada — in the decisions involved in rebuilding Haiti, particularly on infrastructure projects.
"For any future co-operation, when it's decided to resume, we will ask the Canadian government to focus on the priorities of the Haitian government," he said by telephone after meeting with Canada's ambassador to Haiti in the capital of Port-au-Prince.
"Basically, the development assistance, because of the perceived weakness of Haitian institutions, was routed directly to NGOs (non-government organizations) and Canadian firms...
"That weakened our institutions."
Lamothe's remarks came a few days before the third anniversary of the 7.0-magnitude quake that killed an estimated 300,000 people in Haiti, injured 300,000 and left 1.5 million homeless.
The prime minister, who took office last May after being nominated by President Michel Martelly, said the temblor on Jan. 12, 2010, destroyed 42 public buildings and inflicted $12.5 billion in damage across the impoverished Caribbean nation.
Following the quake, thousands in Haiti died from a deadly cholera outbreak. The island was also battered by the high winds and heavy rains of hurricane Sandy last fall.
"For any country, that would be a great disaster — for Haiti, it was magnified by 50," Lamothe said.
"So, we are struggling and we are doing our very best to improve the economy, to create jobs."
Fantino has said Canada has spent $1 billion on development in Haiti since 2006. His department, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), has announced funding for ongoing projects in Haiti will continue as it searches for a better way for the country to help itself.
The former head of the Ontario Provincial Police, who took over the CIDA portfolio from Bev Oda last year, told Montreal La Presse recently that Canada cannot take care of Haiti forever.
In a statement posted on CIDA's website Tuesday, Fantino said Canada's goal is to help countries help themselves.
''Canada's assistance will not be a blank cheque,'' he said.
Lamothe insists his government's hands are tied when it comes to development programs because it doesn't receive any of CIDA's aid. He wants Canada — and other donor countries — to work together to find a way to involve Haiti's institutions in the process.
"It's very difficult for us to be held accountable for progress or lack thereof," said Lamothe, adding he appreciates all the support Haiti has received from Canada over the years.
"We want the (Haitian) government to be consulted together (with Canada) and we'll do it in a transparent process... so that the Canadian taxpayer dollar is maximized to the best possible way."
It's unclear where Ottawa stands on opening up the process to the Haitian government. Fantino has declined interview requests by The Canadian Press and CIDA did not immediately respond to questions on the subject Tuesday.
In an interview broadcast Monday on an online radio show, Fantino said he expected to see more political leadership among Haitians.
"Canada expects transparency, accountability from the government of Haiti in exchange for future commitments," Fantino told an Ontario-based radio program called The Motts.
He also credited the work of NGOs in Haiti.
"We want to work our way out of having to continue the contributions," he said.
A spokesman for the Canada Haiti Action Network, a group dedicated to helping the country break away from its dependency on charities, said he agrees with Lamothe's request for a bigger role.
Roger Annis believes the more responsibilities given to Haiti, the better — so it can eventually stand on its own feet. He said leaving it up to NGOs to provide services typically delivered by public institutions undermines its national sovereignty.
"But in any serious discussion this government has not proven really any capacity to be able to do meaningful development," Annis added.
"That's the dilemma, the guy (Lamothe) is totally correct in theory."
Denise Byrnes, international program director for Oxfam-Quebec, said her organization has been working alongside Haitians, local governments and even Haiti's agricultural ministry on CIDA-funded projects in the country.
"So, there certainly is some, anyway, Canadian government funding that is being used and decided on with Haitian institutions," said Byrnes, who added that Oxfam-Quebec has received $12 million from CIDA over the last three years for its work in Haiti.
She said her organization's long-term goal is to build Haiti's capacity so the nation can eventually be self-sufficient.
That's what Lamothe wants his government to take part in.
"What we want is development assistance to put Haiti back on track with strong infrastructure projects and projects that will (position) us as an emerging country," he said.
One of those projects includes the country's need for better garbage cleanup, an issue Fantino has talked about since visiting Haiti.
The minister has said he was surprised by all the trash he saw in the country and has suggested that some of the many unemployed Haitians could clean it up.
"They're unfortunate," Lamothe said when asked about Fantino's comments.
"Of course, we have limited means and this is one area where Canadian co-operation could help Haiti, in terms of adding to waste-management infrastructure."