Monday, February 22, 2010

Watch this investment summit on Haiti

Concerns over two-day Miami event

Analysis by Rickey Singh

LAST week as the prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France were on separate visits to earthquake-ruined Haiti, there were concerns about a United States of America private sector-initiated "investment summit" in Miami next month that would focus on economic reconstruction in that Caribbean Community member state.

Scheduled for March 9-10, the organisers and sponsors claim to be working on "reconstruction principles" identified at last month's Montreal Conference on Haiti hosted by Prime Minister Harper.

However, Caricom, which participated in the Montreal Conference and which has been mandated by Haiti to function as its special advocate at international fora in relation to the country's post-earthquake reconstruction, received no invitation or official information about this upcoming summit.

At the time of writing two days ago, the indication given was that it was "most unlikely" that Caricom would have an official present at the scheduled investment summit.

Instead, the Community is immersed in preparations, in collaboration with the Haitian administration of President René Préval, for the United Nations Donors Conference on Haiti currently being organised for late next month in New York.

While the Miami investment summit will be focused on garnering private contracts with an eye on security-related development, the UN's upcoming conference on Haiti will reflect current concerns over "the scale and nature of the challenges we face not only on the relief side, but also the course for the recovery and development later on", according to Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes.

In contrast, promotion of the two-day investment summit being organised for next month has pointed to the benefits that could accrue to private corporations from private discussions.

Engaging in customary humanitarian rhetoric, the organisers of the summit - a number of whom are linked to some big names in private security operations, and not all with flattering credentials - state, for instance, on its promotion website ( the following:

"The summit benefits from a proven event model that includes plenary addresses on key areas with the opportunity for private discussions between attending companies and the various international delegations in attendance....

The Agenda

"The format is aimed at ensuring that attending companies have the opportunity to meet with leading stakeholders and demonstrate the important roles they have to play in the aid reconstruction and redevelopment of Haiti, essentially making for a mutually beneficial multilateral relation forum..."

For co-author of the book Capitalising on Catastrophe, Nandini Gunawardena (the other author is Mark Schuller), "the event seems to allow private corporations, in various disguises, to talk up international humanitarian agencies and convince them how they would be best placed to bring in various services and undertake reconstruction tasks, essentially to make no-bid contracts and deals (as in the past) which promise to wreak further disruption and disempowerment in the lives of Haitians..."

Linking last month's Montreal Conference on Haiti with the upcoming investment summit in Miami may be quite tactical on the part of the organisers. But are the objectives the same - to serve Haiti's best interest in its post-earthquake reconstruction?

Doubts, and even warnings, are already surfacing among those with reservations about sponsors like the security firm Sabre International, in conjunction with the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), described as a British "provider of business summits".

It is hoped that should Caricom governments and private sector representatives be among invited participants who turn up for this investment summit, they will be quite vigilant in honouring their own policies and mandates - in the best interest of Haiti and the wider Community.

In the meantime, as new human tragedies continue to plague Haitians - the latest being the collapse of a school from a mudslide that killed four children, amid warnings of further dislocation from expected heavy rains - varying estimates are emerging on the enormous scale of international aid required for reconstruction and redevelopment of Haiti.

France's "aid"

While the Montreal Conference on Haiti came up last month with a projected US$10-billion aid plan over five years, the Inter-American Development Bank, in its latest assessment, has declared that the level of economic assistance could require at least US$14 billion for what it has categorised as, proportionately, "the most destructive natural disaster of modern times".

During their respective visits to Haiti last week, Canadian Prime Minister Harper announced a US$555-million reconstruction aid package over five years, and France's President Sarkozy promised US$378 million in assistance.

That disclosure in Port-au-Prince prompted the Jamaica-born regional economist, Dr Norman Girvan, to juxtapose on his website that focuses on Caribbean political economy, Sarkozy's announced US$378-million aid with the estimated US$22 billion owed by France as compensation to Haiti for the demands made for recognition of Haiti's independence.

"The indemnity imposed by France," Girvan noted in a media statement to coincide with Sarkozy's visit to Haiti, "condemned the Haitian people to a cycle of indebtedness, environmental degradation and underdevelopment from which they have yet to recover.

"And if President Sarkozy were to make the restitution, in the name of all the decent people of the French republic, for this historic wrong, and support the efforts of the Haitian people to rebuild their shattered lives and economy, he would undoubtedly gain the respect of the entire world and be a prime candidate for the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010..."

Sarkozy does not seem to be in such a courageous mood. Just think of the announced US$338-million aid from Haiti's former ruthless coloniser compared with the level of interest shown and financial help already committed by, for example, Canada.

February 21, 2010