POLITICS

Haitian PM meets with Fantino, hopes new Canadian aid projects will restart

04/19/2013 03:32 EDT | Updated 06/19/2013 05:12 EDT
Haiti's prime minister says he's hopeful his country is a step closer to once again welcoming new Canadian aid projects on the ground.

Laurent Lamothe met with Canadian cabinet minister Julian Fantino on Friday to search for better ways to produce results in Haiti through development assistance.

The get-together, which included international donor groups, came only a few months after Fantino made a controversial announcement that Canada had halted new aid projects in Haiti while Ottawa reviewed its program.

Canada's international co-operation minister said in January that he was disappointed with the lack of progress he saw during a visit to the impoverished country.

Lamothe spoke to The Canadian Press after Friday's meeting, which was held at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

No formal agreements were actually been reached at the gathering, but Lamothe said he hoped to see concrete decisions at next month's donor-co-ordination conference in the Haitian capital.

The prime minister said it's important that Canada relaunch its program to initiate new aid projects in Haiti.

"We hope to solve it at the upcoming... meeting where everything can be co-ordinated and everything can be started again," said Lamothe, whose country is still struggling to recover more than three years after a powerful earthquake killed more than 200,000 people.

"We have a huge undertaking in front of us and we need the support of everybody to succeed... We don't want to fail, so we'll need the Canadian government's support."

Fantino, however, did not offer a timetable Friday when asked when the Canadian International Development Agency might lift its freeze on new projects in Haiti.

"I want to emphasize the fact that we never, ever said (we would) — nor did we ever — pull out of programs in Haiti that were well underway," Fantino said in his reply to a reporter's question that also asked for an update on his agency's review of the Haiti program.

"In fairness, (Haitians) have been doing a great job to deal with some of the issues and some of the concerns that have been raised in the past."

When asked to share what he thought were the most-impressive examples of progress raised Friday by Lamothe, Fantino did not go into detail.

"I was very, very impressed when he enumerated some of the things that are going on in Haiti now," he said of Lamothe.

"But even more importantly, some of the leadership activities and initiatives that the government is taking in regards to ensuring that we're all the same page, the need to work co-operatively and co-ordinate the efforts of non-government agencies."

Fantino had called for the gathering, which assembled officials from international donor groups, including governments. Participants were already in Washington for conferences of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Ottawa has spent $1 billion on development and humanitarian assistance in Haiti since 2006, making the island nation one of the biggest recipients of Canadian foreign aid.

Following Friday's meeting, Fantino's office announced it would spend another $4.875 million on humanitarian aid in Haiti, for needs such as health care and drinking-water access.

But in terms of new development projects, Fantino stressed the importance of reassessing Canada's development program in Haiti.

"We just want to do things a little bit better," he said.

"And we also want to ensure that Canadians' tax dollars are spent in the most efficient and effective way."

Fantino's January announcement that Canada would take a break from starting new aid projects in Haiti appeared to catch international partners off guard.

The pause, which first emerged in comments Fantino made to a Montreal newspaper, drew criticism from the U.S. State Department and the United Nations.

The meeting on Friday was the first time Fantino met with Lamothe in person since he called into question aid efforts in the Caribbean nation.

Lamothe said the main topics of discussion during the gathering were accountability and transparency.

"We want to be completely transparent, we want to be completely accountable, but we want also the donors to be accountable and transparent with us," Lamothe said.

"We feel that we had a major step forward in the donor co-ordination with Haiti."

He said he reiterated his request that Haiti's government be more involved in decision-making during the rebuilding process.

Lamothe also extended a personal invitation to Fantino to come back to Haiti to see some of the country's rebuilding achievements.