Haiti lawmakers OK Clinton-led rebuilding panel

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti's soon-to-expire parliament has approved the creation of a commission co-chaired by former U.S. President Bill Clinton to oversee billions in post-quake reconstruction aid, the Ministry of Communications said Friday.

The vote was widely sought by international donors who want a high degree of foreign control over an estimated $5.3 billion pledged for 2010-11 at a March 31 United Nations conference.

Thirteen senators voted for the legislative package in a late session Thursday night, Communications Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said. Already approved by the lower house, it now goes to President Rene Preval for enactment.

The vote extends Haiti's post-earthquake state of emergency for 18 months, leaving the billions delivered in that time to be overseen by the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission led by Clinton, who is the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.

Preval will have veto power over the commission's decisions. His support was key: Twelve of the 13 yes-votes came from members of his newly formed Unity Party. One senator voted against the package and two abstained. Eleven senators were absent.

It is likely the last significant action parliament will take before most senators' and deputies' terms expire next month. Elections planned for February were canceled because of the earthquake and have not been rescheduled.

The commission is envisioned as a check on mismanagement and corruption, which a recent U.S. State Department report called "severe ... in all branches of government."

The report cited a lack of corruption prosecutions and limited filing of asset disclosures — though some of its accusations concerned officials who are no longer in government.

A survey of more than 1,700 Haitians released this week by the international aid group Oxfam said less than 7 percent wanted their government to manage reconstruction on its own, though nearly 25 percent thought it could work together with local authorities and community organizations.

Nearly 40 percent wanted control to fall to a foreign government. Yet in a separate question, less than half of respondents thought the international community would follow through on its pledges.

The commission will also include Haitian legislators, other officials and union and business representatives, along with foreign delegates from the U.S., Canada, Brazil, France, Venezuela, the European Union, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the United Nations and the Caribbean Community trade bloc.