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President Clinton’s Address to the United Nations Security Council

(6 April 2011)

Let me first of all thank you, Mr. President, for having brought this issue before the Council and for Colombia’s genuine friendship with the people of Haiti. You mentioned the police officers from Colombia; they are part of a contingent of 49 nations providing police, and then there are the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) forces, about 18 nations. Your country has also disbursed 100 per cent of its pledged aid and helped the Haitian people to rebuild their economy, particularly through the work you have done through the coffee sector. For all that, we are very grateful.

I would also like to thank President Préval for many things, but one I think is important. Every day we pick up the newspaper with worry about what is happening in Côte d’Ivoire, or whether more civilians have been killed in Libya. Haiti, for all of its troubled past, is overseeing now the peaceful transfer of power, after a devastating earthquake which took out virtually 20 per cent of all the public employees of the entire country and devastated more than half its gross domestic product (GDP). Sometimes we focus so much on the problems that we forget to acknowledge the small miracles of human nature in concern for the future of a country. I personally believe that this is a remarkable thing, and I thank you, President Préval, and the people of Haiti for undertaking this election with hundreds of thousands of people living in tents and under tarps, with the almost impossible task of verifying where people live and getting their identification up. It is a remarkable thing.

On most days, I have been grateful to the Secretary-General for asking me to be the Special Envoy to Haiti, although it has turned out to be a more challenging task in the aftermath of the quake. I am very grateful to President Préval for asking me to serve as the co-Chair of the Reconstruction Commission, with his Prime Minister, Jean-Max Bellerive. I will do what I can if the new Government wishes me to continue, but my position on this has always been that the future of Haiti should be for the Haitian people to determine.

Having said that, let me make a few observations about the questions that have brought us here today.

We were making good progress on development after the Secretary-General asked me to work in Haiti, before the earthquake. Let me remind the Council that before the earthquake, there had been a series of hurricanes that had taken out about 15 per cent of Haiti’s GDP, which occasioned the involvement of the United Nations there and MINUSTAH before the quake. The quake was a dramatic setback to daily life and to development, but it also presented some new opportunities.

In a little less than eight months, the Reconstruction Commission established by the President and the Parliament has taken a number of important steps. First, for the members of the Security Council who have not followed this, this is really a unique body, because it is the only one, in my experience, in which one half of the members of the Commission represent every major element of Haitian society, including local governments, the private sector, the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the legal sector, and one half of the Commission represents the international community — the major national donors and the multinational donors.

The Commission seeks to approve all substantial projects that are a part of the reconstruction, including, voluntarily, the projects undertaken by NGOs in Haiti. There has never been any attempt before to coordinate the work of the Government of Haiti with that of the donors and the NGO community. We have approved more than 87 projects that, when completed, will help 2 million Haitians.

The idea is to take the Haitian Government’s own development plan and make sure that all the projects approved are consistent with that, then to offer transparency through a website that will show what projects have been approved, who is funding them, who got the money and what the progress of the project is, and offering a performance audit at the end of that. This is essentially modelled on what was done through the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (BRR) in Indonesia after the tsunami in South Asia. Because the burden imposed by the earthquake on the capacity of the Government of Haiti was so much greater, I think that, with all of its frustrations, it has worked pretty well.

The Commission does not have the authority to implement projects, only to approve them. There are several significant questions which, quite properly, have been left to the Haitian Government, for example how to resolve the land issues, which the Secretary-General mentioned, necessary to do large-scale housing construction outside the area impacted by the quake.

Other questions include: what will be the basic economic structures? What kind of energy sector will they have, what kind of education sector will they have, what kind of health-care sector will they have, what kind of array of ports and airports will they have? There are some other questions that I think are very important, for example, the granting of dual citizenship to the Haitian diaspora, which I believe would dramatically increase the level of investment and involvement in Haiti — something that President Préval has supported but which requires a specific and rather extended constitutional process.

I have worked on this through the office of Special Envoy, through the staff resources of my foundation, and through the fund I established at President Obama’s request with former President Bush. We have now, with the approval of the Haitian Government, established the beginnings of a mortgage process, which the Haitians have never had before, and a systematic small-business loan process. Haiti has had microcredit and big finance, but never really a vigorous small-business loan system. So my goal and that of President Bush is to make this work and then give it to the people of Haiti — give it to a bank, or whoever the Haitians determine after a couple of years.

Through the Global Initiative, we have a business group there headed by Denis O’Brien, the head of Digicel, who just funded the restoration of Haiti’s remarkable Iron Market. It was restored to the condition it was in in 1891, and there are now nearly 100 people who make a living there every day thanks to the support of the Government. You may think these are symbolic things, but it is quite a symbol. If you have seen it, it is a stark contrast to the abject difficulties people are facing.

We are also working with Partners in Health and the Ministry of Health to help Haiti rebuild its health system. I would say to all present that, notwithstanding the cholera epidemic, that Haiti is probably further along in building a sustainable health system than in any other major challenges, in terms of modernizing the educational system and making it universal and the energy system and doing some other things that have to be done. So I am very grateful for what has been done.

Mr. President, you wanted to talk about peacekeeping today. That is not my purview. I do want to say, however, that I think that MINUSTAH has done a great job, under the leadership of Brazil and supported by the Argentines and so many other countries. They have been great. I agree with you, Sir, that one cannot have peace over the long run without development. I leave it to others to decide how the allocation of responsibilities should be done, but I will say to Mr. Mulet and all the other people who work there on a daily basis that I think they have done remarkable things to try to help deal with the emergency situation.

I would like to offer a few brief recommendations before other speakers take the floor.

Once a new President is inaugurated and a new Administration has responsibility for reconstruction, I think it will be more important than ever that we keep up the coordination that President Préval has endorsed between the Haitian Government, donors, non governmental organizations and, increasingly, when we begin building houses, the many people who will have contracts to build them. It is very important that all this be done in a way that builds the long-term capacity of the Haitian Government and that includes the transparency set up by the Commission, so that donors have real confidence and the people of Haiti can see the houses going up, the Haitians being hired and the Haitian businesses being brought into partnership. This is an enormous opportunity to rebuild the Haitian economy even as we move people out of tents. But I think that it is important that we do it in a way that strengthens the capacity of the Government of Haiti and the confidence of people in the process.

That means that we also will need some more funding. As I have said, the Commission has approved 87 projects, which are valued at $3.26 billion. In fairness to donors, our goal has always been to have the Commission ahead of donors. Otherwise, we would be failing. If we could not do that, we could not coordinate, we could not give any direction to donors and we could not follow the lead of the Haitian economic plan. I am not being critical of the fact that we have approved more money than has been provided — that is what we are supposed to do. On the other hand, once it happens, we need the funding.

Participants should have before them a one-page document from the Office of the Special Envoy that states that 37.2 per cent of the money pledged more than a year ago here in New York has actually been disbursed. Now that there has been an election and the international community has accepted the results and verified and participated in the oversight of it, I think greater donor disbursements are important. I think they go a long way towards speeding up the reconstruction and delivering other improvements.

The Haitians have an education plan for the first time that would put all their children in school and give them one nutritious meal daily. In the past, no more than half the kids have gone to school. Many of those here today, and many Members of the United Nations, have talked to me over the years about the so-called restavec system, where Haitian children are in effect sold into labour for other families, often just so that poor families in Haiti can send the rest of their kids to school and feed them. If Members implement and fund this education programme, which the Haitian Government has recommended, 90 per cent of the restavec system will vanish in a matter of weeks. So we have to begin this.

There are other things that everyone is concerned about, such as housing. It always takes longer to address housing than anything else, but the Haitian Government has approved a process that includes a housing exposition. We have already had one big meeting on housing in Haiti. There will be an exposition in a few weeks’ time that will include actual demonstration homes, with priority on earthquake and hurricane resistance. This is the first time we have ever had a building code — ensuring energy efficiency; providing sanitation; looking at alternatives to centralized electricity and sanitation systems that work and that are more cost-effective; and making maximal use of recycled materials, including the rubble that is now being crushed neighbourhood by neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince.

All of this is going to be done. After the exposition is over and people have made their presentations according to the standards established by the Commission and the Government of Haiti, it will be very important that we begin to move. We can move hundreds of thousands of people out of tents in a hurry once the exposition is over and people are approved for final consideration as contractors. I urge that this be done.

Secondly, I would urge donors, insofar as they possibly can and consistent with their own policies, not to earmark the contributions that they make to the reconstruction fund, but to allow the Haitian Government to spend funds in support of the goals established in coordination with the Reconstruction Commission, which, as I said, includes all the major donors.

For example, debris management is not a particularly glamorous topic. This may be the first time that the Security Council has ever discussed it. But if one spends any time in Port-au-Prince, they will know that Haiti cannot bring the country back until all the rubble has been crushed and either used on site as a base to rebuild streets or homes, recycled as building material or carted away. We cannot build schools, organize the energy system or decide on the most cost-effective way to do good sanitation so that there will never be another cholera outbreak unless we get the rubble out of the way. As the Secretary-General has said, 2 million cubic metres have been removed, but we have a lot left to go. We can destroy it all much quicker than anybody thinks, and use it in the reconstruction process. But we have to have the machinery to do it. Bringing rubble to rock crushers also provides work for the people of Haiti, which we are trying to do on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis.

Thirdly, while most large non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been registering their projects with the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, I once again ask all NGOs to do so. NGO involvement in Haiti has been remarkable and a blessing in many ways, but also occasionally a curse, because the President has never had a comprehensive record of all NGO activities in Haiti.

The great thing that happened after the tsunami in Indonesia was that, for the first time, NGOs came forward to say, “Okay, we want to be helpful here, but we want it to be consistent with the Government’s plan”. I think that it is really important that the Commission is trying to leave the Haitian Government, when we are all gone, with the capacity to coordinate further NGO activities and adequately run the country and have in place a transparency system that the whole world accepts as not just adequate but good.

Finally, let me say that I think that donors, the Government, NGOs and United Nations agencies will have to continue to work together. I think we still do not know exactly how we are going to resolve all these questions. I am convinced, if one looks at the progress that has been made — the hospitals that are being built, the health networks that are being built out, the education plan that the Government has adopted and the options that Haiti actually has to set a model for the Caribbean when it comes to a mixed energy system that will be largely self-sufficient and less expensive — that these are really important things.

The Caribbean as a whole — and the members of the Security Council may find this surprising — has the highest electricity rates in the world, because it has no indigenous energy sources. But most Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico, which is part of the United States, where I have worked, and Anguilla, where I have helped people, and others, could almost all be energy self-sufficient. Haiti can lead the way. It has sunshine, wind and the capacity for biomass, which can all be employed.

I ask everyone here to think about this. We are not just helping Haiti here if we support the plan; we may be helping the developing countries of the world to imagine a whole different way of building sustainable economies. It could be relevant to Africa; it could be relevant to South-East Asia; it could be relevant to all kinds of places. And it is really important that we do it in a way that empowers both local communities as well as the national Government.

As I said, I think we are doing well with health care. They have a really good education plan, but it is not funded. They are doing much better with the economy. President Préval announced recently, along with the United States and a Korean company, the biggest investment in Haitian history and the first ever textile mill onsite in Haiti.

I think we can do much better with tourism and other things, but a good beginning has been made. None of this is going to happen unless we get rid of the rubble and start building the homes and clean out the tents. That will do more than anything else to empower people and to make them believe that this whole thing is real.

Again I say, the democratic transition of power, for any one who understands the history of Haiti, is a cause for celebration. And as we all see in Côte d’Ivoire, the people who are leaving probably deserve more credit than the people who are coming in.

I think that this Commission will work, but only if it is funded. If anyone has any suggestions for how we can do better, I would be glad to have them.