Wrangle over prime minister holds up Haiti recovery

PORT-AU-PRINCE,  (Reuters) – Two months after taking  office with a promise to “wake up” Haiti, President Michel  Martelly is battling to install a new government and the urgent  task of rebuilding from last year’s earthquake is on hold.

Michel Martelly

Lawmakers have opposed his choices for prime minister in an  early run-in with Haiti’s messy political reality for the  shaven-headed former pop star and novice president elected in  March. He has promised to rebrand his nation from a development  basket case into a Caribbean success story.

Diplomats and donors say the Western Hemisphere’s poorest  state desperately needs a new administration in place to  advance recovery from the 2010 quake that killed tens of  thousands and wrecked much of the capital Port-au-Prince.

“As long as there is not agreement on the prime minister we  are completely stuck,” said Roland Van Hauwermeirin, country  director in Haiti for international humanitarian agency Oxfam.

Oxfam says Haiti’s leaders urgently need to relocate more  than 600,000 quake survivors still living under tents and  tarpaulins. This requires swift decisions to resolve land  tenure obstacles and approve resettlement housing projects.

Other pressing tasks to be dealt with are a cholera  epidemic that has killed more than 5,500 people since October  and the threat of life-threatening winds, floods and landslides  as the annual hurricane season moves toward its active phase.

A parliament dominated by supporters of the country’s  previous president last month rejected Martelly’s first pick  for premier. Lawmakers are also opposing his second selection  — Bernard Gousse, a former justice minister.

Gousse, accused by critics of once leading a crackdown  against backers of ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was to  present his credentials to the Senate for review yesterday.

But 16 members of the 30-seat Senate have already signed a  public statement saying they oppose Gousse as prime minister.  Martelly said if Gousse was not accepted as premier, putting a  new government in place could take six months.

“We have the hurricane season and the cholera epidemic to  deal with. I need to deliver the promises I made to the  population,” Martelly said this week after cutting short a  visit to Europe to tackle the institutional impasse.

Huge expectations surrounded Martelly’s March 20 election  after his tough-talking populist campaign promises to improve  life for Haitians won over voters weary with Haiti’s crushing  widespread poverty and bickering, self-enriching politicians.

His whirlwind campaign was heavily driven by his popularity  as a successful star of Haiti’s catchy Konpa carnival music.

 DONORS DISMAYED      

“Now that Martelly is on the inside, he’s starting to see  how difficult it really is to govern Haiti,” Robert Maguire,  professor of international affairs at the Elliott School of  George Washington University in Washington, told Reuters. “When  you’re the ‘president of Konpa’ that’s one thing, when you’re  president of the country, that’s a different thing.”

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