Some US rebuilding money finally headed to Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE — The first portion of U.S. reconstruction money for Haiti is on its way more than seven months after it was promised to help the country rebuild from the Jan. 12 earthquake.

The U.S. government will transfer $120 million – about one-tenth of the total amount pledged – to the World Bank-run Haiti Reconstruction Fund in the next few days, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

``Having completed the process as outlined in the appropriation, we are now moving aggressively to commit that money to Haiti's reconstruction,'' Crowley said.

A State Department aide said money destined for the fund would go toward rubble removal, housing, a partial credit guarantee fund, support for an Inter-American Development Bank education reform plan and budget support for the Haitian government. The fund's projects must be endorsed by the reconstruction commission co-chaired by former President Bill Clinton.

The U.S. money will nearly double the current reconstruction fund, into which eight other countries have contributed $135 million. It is to arrive almost exactly 10 months after the earthquake destroyed most of Haiti's capital and surrounding areas and killed an estimated 230,000 to 300,000 people.

Crowley told reporters at a Tuesday briefing that the money had been sent from the State Department to the Treasury Department for delivery.

The funds are part of a $1.15 billion pledge made by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the March 31 U.N. donors conference for Haiti. Pledged for fiscal year 2010, which ended in September, the money has faced several delays.

It wasn't until July that Congress appropriated nearly the entire amount pledged, $917 million, in a bill signed by President Barack Obama. But without an authorization bill or an approved spending plan, none of it could not be released.

The authorization bill was blocked by Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. When his hold was reported by The Associated Press, the senator's office initially said he objected to a provision creating a U.S. policy coordinator position that would cost $5 million over five years. Later he said he objected to a lack of cuts in other programs to offset the money spent in Haiti. That bill has never been voted on.

The spending plan was given to congressional committees in September and approved in October, when it was held up amid checks to make sure the money would not be lost to corruption, the State Department told AP.

The United States spent more than $1.1 billion in humanitarian aid for Haiti this year, most in the first weeks after the disaster. The reconstruction pledge is a different pool of money, intended to support long-term rebuilding of the nation and its economy.

The Secretary of State told the U.N. conference in March that if the effort to rebuild was ``slow or insufficient, if it is marked by conflict, lack of coordination or lack of transparency, then the challenges that have plagued Haiti for years could erupt with regional and global consequences.''

Nearly all the countries present at that conference have been slow in delivering on their promises since.

Only 37.8 percent of the money pledged for 2010-11 has been delivered. Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland,
the Caribbean Development Bank – and, until the money arrives, the U.S. – have yet to give any of their promised funds, according to Bill Clinton's U.N. Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti.

Associated Press writer Bob Burns contributed from Washington.