In blueprint for Haiti, U.S. takes new approach to aid

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 30, 2010; 6:28 PM

An internal Obama administration assessment concludes that the U.S. government has provided $4 billion in aid to Haiti since 1990 but "struggled to demonstrate lasting impact," according to a summary of the review, which has not been publicly released.

On Wednesday, at an international donor conference, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to outline U.S. plans to spend an additional $1 billion or so to rebuild the earthquake-devastated nation.

This time, U.S. officials say, they will do things differently.

The most dramatic change is an effort to build up Haiti's fragile government, instead of working around it. In an emergency spending request sent to Congress last week, the administration says it will help reconstruct the Haitian government, paying for new ministry offices. More broadly, the goal is to develop the framework of a modern state -- spending money to help Haiti create building codes, regulatory systems and anticorruption standards. U.S. funds would be used to train and pay Haitian officials.

"We are completely focused on how to build the capacity of the Haitian government effectively," said Cheryl Mills, Clinton's chief of staff. "That is something everyone has recognized as being one of the failures of aid in the past."

For the U.S. government, which has spent billions of dollars on nation-building efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Haiti presents a new and complex test. Even before the earthquake, the country's government was dysfunctional and notoriously corrupt. Now, all but one of its ministries are in ruins. Nearly 17 percent of Haiti's civil servants died in the disaster, including many senior managers, according to the aid request to Congress.

The Obama administration insists that its plan will help the Haitian government with its own priorities -- not impose a U.S. vision. The plan, however, allots $48 million to housing and offices for up to 300 short- and long-term U.S. personnel.

Meanwhile, former president Bill Clinton is expected to co-chair a commission of Haitian officials and donors that will oversee the spending of billions of dollars in foreign aid. Clinton is the U.N. special envoy to Haiti.

"The U.S. government is playing a leading role. It's not by accident Mr. Clinton is down there," said Ciro de Falco, head of the Haiti task force established by the Inter-American Development Bank. "They are committed to seeing this earthquake turn into an opportunity."

Under the emerging plans, U.S. aid would be part of a vast international effort to rebuild parts of the Haitian state. Canada and France, for example, would help reconstruct the school system, officials said.

Congressional aides briefed on the new plan praised the emphasis on good governance, but still worried about waste.

"It's an overwhelming sort of venture. This is a lot of money. And you've got to make sure it's used the right way," said one senior aide, who was not authorized to comment.

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