RAND report: Haiti must clear rubble, aid business

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A U.S.-based think tank is painting a grim picture of the earthquake recovery effort in Haiti, adding its voice to widespread accusations of ineffectual local leadership.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A U.S.-based think tank is painting a grim picture of the earthquake recovery effort in Haiti, adding its voice to widespread accusations of ineffectual local leadership.

The RAND Corp. report being released Friday ticks off a crushing litany of problems in the Caribbean nation, many predating the Jan. 12 earthquake — unqualified government workers, general lawlessness, horrific prisons, incapable police, an onerous business climate.

But it was the post-earthquake landscape that shocked James Dobbins, a former U.S. special envoy to Haiti and director of the RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center.

"Clearly the scale of the damage was surprising," he said. "We’re also somewhat surprised at the Haitian and international response. Not the humanitarian response, which was actually dramatically quick. But the second stage — so little of the rubble has been cleared, and so few of the basic decisions have been made."

Leaders of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee have portrayed Haitian President Rene Preval as an ineffectual leader who has hindered recovery from the quake and urged their colleagues to reconsider sending money to Haiti if reforms are not made.

That Haiti is in disarray comes as no surprise to Jill Marie Michel, a 33-year-old mother of two living in a tent in one of the dozens of sprawling camps for Haitians left homeless by the quake.

She joined about 100 people in a public protest Thursday in front of the collapsed presidential palace in Port-au-Prince. She and others said the government is failing on its promises to provide housing as private landowners pressure the camp residents to leave.

At a large tent camp across the street, naked children bathed in buckets wedged between the gutters and tents.

"I don’t know where that change is going to come from," said Michel, who also cares for an orphaned niece and goddaughter whose families died in the earthquake.

The report from the Santa Monica, California-based think tank gives recommendations on what the Haitian government and donor governments and groups should focus on in coming years, identifying key areas such as governance, education, health, security, justice and economic policies.

Donors, it says, should focus more on "state building" rather than rebuilding earthquake damaged structures.

The most important tasks, according to the report:

—Accelerate removal of rubble. The report calls that "the single most important step toward reconstruction of housing and infrastructure that the Haitian government and donors can take."

—Reduce the cost and time to open a business or obtain property. "Haiti is poor in great part because of its difficult environment for business," the report says.

—Build up the national police’s capacity and keep United Nations peacekeepers here for at least the next five years.

—Create a modern civil service. The report suggests Haiti’s government just monitor and regulate education and health services and not provide those services itself.

Dobbins said the current situation stems not only from hundreds of years of corruption and mismanagement but also from Preval’s inaction.

"Preval is well intended, but he’s characteristically indecisive," said Dobbins. "We’re seeing results of that."

Washington takes some of the blame in the report, and Dobbins recommends the Obama administration appoint a special envoy to Haiti.

"I think everyone has been moving too slowly," he said. "It’s time to get with it."

Not everything is bad news. Dobbins said that unlike other "fragile" countries, Haiti is not in a troubled region, there is no internal ethnic conflict, and Haitians living abroad are large in number, skilled and economically supportive.

"Daunting as the current challenges are — acute problems layered on chronic ones — the need for reconstruction and the likelihood of an infusion of international resources to fund it open up the possibility of laying a new foundation for stability and economic growth," the report says.

Before the earthquake, Haiti experienced five consecutive and unprecedented years of economic growth.

"Just to further underline what a low base we’re starting at, the current government we have is one of the best we’ve had in 200-plus years," Dobbins said.

Many in Haiti hope November elections may usher in change. Haiti’s next president is slated to oversee the spending of nearly $10 billion in reconstruction aid promised at a March U.N. donors conference — though less than 10 percent has been delivered so far.

Possible presidential candidates to succeed Preval include Haitian-American singer Wyclef Jean and former prime minister Jacques Edouard Alexis.

Associated Press Writer Evens Sanon contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Photo Caption: Residents of camps set up for people left homeless by the Jan. 12 earthquake demonstrate in front of the collapsed presidential palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti Aug 12. Demonstrators said the government is failing on its promises to provide housing as private landowners pressure the camp residents to leave. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

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