By Kim Ives, Haiti Liberte, June 16 - 22, 2010, Vol. 3, No. 48
After many delays, on Jun. 17, the Haitian government will finally announce the composition of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (CIRH), which will direct how billions of dollars in post-quake reconstruction aid will be spent. The original Commission, as outlined in the Haitian government's Action Plan presented at the Mar. 31 UN Conference, had 13 voting foreign members representing donor banks and nations with only 11 voting Haitians (and one Haitian diaspora observer). Recent reports suggest that the Commission to be announced may now be changed to 10 voting Haitians and 10 voting foreigners in the face of withering criticism.
Whatever the CIRH's final configuration, there is little doubt that most of the billions in its charge will go to foreign, and principally U.S., construction firms, particularly behemoths like Halliburton, DynCorp and Brown & Root. In a Jun. 7 piece entitled "Foreign firms in Haiti ready for construction boom," Associated Press writer Ben Fox detailed how "Pompano Beach, Florida-based AshBritt Inc. so far has invested $25 million in its Haitian reconstruction operation covering a soccer field." Now the company's owner, Randall Perkins, is just waiting for "a government contract to make his investment pay off."
"The future of Haiti is very bright, and Ceres looks forward to being a part of that future," David A. Preus, Ceres Environmental's Haiti operations project manager, told the AP. Minnesota-based Ceres Environmental was awarded nearly $500 million from the U.S. government to remove debris after Katrina, Fox reports, and is partnering with Yele Haiti, the charity founded by Haitian-born singer Wyclef Jean, to build 100 temporary wood-frame homes for quake survivors.
But pity the poor Haitian businessman trying to get a piece of the action. One Haitian entrepreneur spoke to Leslie Voltaire, the Haitian liaison between CIRH co-head Bill Clinton and the Haitian government.
"He told me that only 15% of the contracts will be going to Haitian contractors," the businessman, who requested anonymity, told Haiti Liberté. "That's not fair."
That leaves 85% of the deals for U.S. and other foreign contractors. This is why the "international community" insists on controlling the CIRH and establishing an 18-month "state of emergency" law which prohibits Haitian elected officials from overriding their takeover of Haiti's reconstruction.
The vulture capitalists are savvy, however, shunning the spotlight and finding Haitian frontmen. As Fox points out, "most of the companies seeking work in Haiti won't talk about it, in part to avoid seeming like they are capitalizing on catastrophe. There is also fierce competition for contracts to clear debris, carve new roads and drainage canals, restore the electrical grid and rebuild government offices. AshBritt is one of the more open. The company has formed a joint venture with the GB Group, a conglomerate run by one of Haiti's wealthiest men, Gilbert Bigio, and established partnerships with a number of smaller construction firms."
On Mar. 31 at the UN Conference in New York, some 60 nations pledged $9.9 billion for Haiti's reconstruction and on Jun. 2 in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, another conference pledged $7.8 billion. The funds are to be managed, not by the Haitian government, but by the World Bank. However, it appears that few countries have actually anted up their pledges.
So, "no one is doing anything yet. All the companies are waiting for the projects to be approved," said Manuel Estrella, president of Grupo Estrella, a Dominican construction firm.
But the spigot surely will be turned on this week when the CIRH is inaugurated.
Meanwhile, President René Préval has affirmed this week that he will not change the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) which he hand-picked late last year. Large demonstrations nationwide over the past month have called for replacement of the current CEP, presided over by Gaillot Dorsinvil, after it disqualified 15 parties from an uimpending national election last November, including Haiti's largest, former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas ("Lavalas Family")