Haiti’s New Prime Minister Emphasizes the Need for Jobs

New York Times   October 5, 2011

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) — In Haiti, the Americas’ poorest state, the top priority of the incoming prime minister is no different from that of the leader of the world’s richest economy, the United States, just a two-hour flight away.

“Jobs, jobs, jobs,” the new prime minister, Garry Conille, said in an interview hours after the Haitian Senate ratified him as the new head of the government. He was nominated by President Michel Martelly.

The Senate’s confirmation late on Tuesday of Mr. Conille, 45, a doctor and a United Nations development expert, came as a relief to foreign governments and donors and followed the rejection by lawmakers of two previous nominations by Mr. Martelly, who won a presidential election runoff in March.

Donors have been eagerly awaiting the installation of a prime minister to tackle the reconstruction of Haiti after the devastating earthquake in January 2010 that killed more than 300,000 people and destroyed much of Port-au-Prince, the capital.

Haiti’s estimated unemployment rate last year was 41 percent, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, and more than two-thirds of Haitians who are of working age do not have formal jobs.

In addition, 80 percent of Haiti’s population lives under the poverty line, with 54 percent in abject poverty, according to the intelligence agency’s factbook.

Mr. Conille, who has worked on development projects in several African states for the United Nations, said he was confident that he could rally both Haitians and international donors behind a government program that he said he intended to submit to Parliament for approval.

“This will be a battle in some ways,” he said, adding that it will also represent “a unique and historical opportunity to put all Haitians together around a common program to rebuild their country.”

He said he planned to seek political diversity and inclusiveness in his cabinet, not always easy in a volatile nation often torn by fighting between political factions. “No sector will be excluded,” he said in the interview in his office in Port-au-Prince. “We will all share responsibilities around a common vision to get the country out of this difficult situation.”

Mr. Conille said he had no illusions about the enormousness of the task facing the government. Nearly 21 months after the earthquake, many Haitians are still homeless, jobless and destitute.

“Not only did the earthquake hit one of the poorest countries in the world, but it hit the center of the country’s activities, which is Port-au-Prince, crippling the government, private sector, businesses, banks,” he said.

Mr. Conille also served as chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton in Mr. Clinton’s role as special United Nations Haiti envoy.

Echoing pledges made by his political sponsor, Mr. Martelly, Mr. Conille said he would seek to spread the rebuilding and development efforts and resources evenly between the capital and rural Haiti, where half the population lives.

He acknowledged that the reconstruction process initiated by the government after the earthquake, bolstered by pledges of billions of dollars in aid from donors, had fallen short so far of the expectations and needs of the Haitian people.


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