Secretary-General's press conference with former US President Bill Clinton and Foreign Minister of Haiti Alrich Nicolas
New York, 15 June 2009Michèle Montas, Secretary-General's Spokesperson: Good morning, all. We'll start with a few remarks by the Secretary-General and then President Clinton will speak of his programme for Haiti. And we'll have the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Haiti, Mr. Alrich Nicolas, who will also make some remarks.
SG: Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen, President Clinton, Foreign Minister [Alrich] Nicolas, It is a great pleasure to be with you today.
This March, President Clinton and I went on a tremendously productive and meaningful trip to Haiti. As you know Haiti is at a turning point. It has a real chance for stability and potential prosperity.
President Clinton and I wanted to support the efforts of President Préval and Prime Minister Pierre-Louis. And we wanted to send a message to the international community: Haiti needs and deserves our help.
The UN Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH) has helped guarantee physical security and political stability. Now the people of Haiti need job opportunities and access to basic services.
We must act together, now.
At the donor conference in Washington, D.C., Governments pledged $353 million. The challenge now is to convert these pledges into contributions.
This is why I have asked President Clinton to serve as special envoy for the early recovery of Haiti. No one is better placed for this mission. He knows the country. He loves the people. They love him. This is the strong wish of the Haitian people and the Haitian Government and myself, as Secretary-General.
Having seen how [his] dynamic leadership has mobilized and [was] demonstrated in the wake of the tsunami in 2004 and 2005, the whole international community greatly appreciated Mr. President's leadership role.
We need your support and leadership at this time for the people and government of Haiti. In fact the Clinton Global Initiative is already working for Haiti. It is feeding school children. It is working to improve urban health. It is building regional solidarity through student exchanges.
President Clinton is committed to Haiti's future.
So I thank you, in the name of the United Nations, Mr. President, for taking on this important mission, and I count on your leadership. Thank you very much, and thank you Mr. Foreign Minister for joining us. We will work together with you.
Now, without further ado, I would like to invite President Clinton to give you his vision of the way ahead. Thank you very much.
United Nations Special Envoy for Haiti, William J. Clinton: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary-General. Foreign Minister Nicolas, thank you so much for coming today. Ladies and Gentlemen.
Some of you may know, maybe all of you may know by now that I have been interested in Haiti for a very long time. I said when the Secretary-General and I returned from our trip in March, and I'll say again, that I think that Haiti, not withstanding the total devastation of the four storms last year, has the best chance to escape the darker aspects of its history in the 35 years that I have been going there, including the period following the United States efforts to restore President [Jean Bertrand] Aristide and replace a military dictator in the early 1990's, and the efforts we made after that.
Why do I say that? First: because of the leadership of President [René] Préval and Prime Minister [Michèle] Pierre-Louis. Second: because of the work of the United Nations peacekeeping and police forces. Now, no effort like that is without controversy or incident, but they have basically done a good job. I was there in the streets of Cite Soliel. I saw the children walking without fear Third: because of the passage of the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act (HOPE II) last year by the United States Congress, which will give extraordinary access to American markets by Haitian products for eight more years. And finally: because of the Secretary-General's interest and the first donor conference that we had in Washington.
What I want to do is first follow the plan that Haiti has laid out for its recovery and its future. After the Secretary-General asked for Dr. [Paul] Collier to prepare an analysis of Haiti and a set of recommendations for its way forward, we met with the leaders of the Haitian Government and asked them to respond to the Collier report with their own plan. We said there's no point in any of us trying to do something based on what we think is right-we have to do what you think is right and what you believe the people need.
They produced, I thought, a very impressive programme called “Haiti; A New Paradigm,” and we intend to follow that. Secondly, we want to make sure that as we do, we attempt to do what the United Nations attempted to do when I worked in the tsunami areas: to build back better, to leave things better than they were before the natural disasters.
I will be accountable in this work to the Secretary-General and the United Nations, and to the people of Haiti and their Governmental leaders. I saw some reports in the Haitian press speculating that this dollar-a-year job I took was somehow an imperialist plot to take over Haiti. All I want to do is help the Haitians take over control of their own destiny. That's all I have ever wanted for Haiti. That's all the Secretary-General wants.
This job, as I see it, will involve the following elements. First, have to support the Government in the implementation of its programme, “Haiti: A New Paradigm” to generate new jobs and enhance the delivery of basic services. Second, we have to assist the recovery effort with the same fervour that was brought to the tsunami-affected nations to build back better. That is to say, better schools; better hospitals; better housing; better public facilities; better infrastructure. And, we have to do a better job of disaster prevention and mitigation.
I'm encouraged that I've had a number of people who know a lot about this call and offer their services just to try to help. We know from experience in other places that we can do a lot to mitigate disasters, and we can do a lot in Haiti. We're about to face another storm season without that sort of mitigation and I don't want go another year without it.
Third: we want to encourage more international private sector investment in Haiti and to make Haiti more competitive to attract such investment. When the Secretary-General and I visited the industrial park, for example, the people we talked to said this is a really good place to do business, the people work like crazy and their very productive, but because there's not a broad based revenue collection system and because the power system is unreliable, it costs too much to get into the industrial park and the power is too expensive. We can fix that. And I intend to do everything I can to do that.
Fourth: we want to encourage the donors to honour the commitments they have already made at the donors' conference. We'll do just what we did before: I'll have a grid, and we'll match the donors to the Haitian plan and the work that needs to be done. It'll be a totally transparent process so all of you can keep up with what is going on as we go forward. We also want to do everything we can to make sure these donor commitments are aligned as closely as possible with the Haitian programme we have been given.
Some of the donor money has already been pledged for specific purposes, and as nearly as I can determine, all of those purposes are consistent with the urgent need to rebuild the country. So there's no problem with that. But we will attempt to not only collect the money and spend it where the donors want it to go in a way that is transparent and totally above board, but to do it in a way that is consistent with the priorities and plans that the Haitians themselves have outlined.
Next, we want to encourage philanthropists, NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and civil society operations generally to work together more and to provide additional badly needed resources. There are lost of us involved in Haiti now. Last year, my Foundation directly did a lot of work to try to help develop the AIDS plan and to try and get inexpensive AIDS medicines there.
As the Secretary-General said, at the Clinton Global Initiative, we had one of our so-called “mega-commitments” where, I don't know, eight or nine different groups pledged $130 million worth of assistance over the next couple of years. But as nearly as I can determine, there is no registry of every NGO that is doing something in Haiti and I will attempt to get a combined list of that, because there is a lot of wonderful work being done there now. Then, we will attempt to establish some sort of coordinating mechanism to make sure that all of us who work there in the non-governmental capacity, are also, insofar as we possibly can, work in harmony with the Haitian Government's plans for the future, and in a way that maximizes the rebuilding.
I will next attempt to deal with the energy crisis and to accelerate what is being done in clean energy there. There are a couple of wind energy projects going on there, but we believe that there's a lot of economically viable opportunity yet untapped for clean energy and also for energy efficiency, particularly in manufacturing facilities, and in the way homes, schools, hospitals and public buildings that have to be rebuild are rebuilt. We have seen in a lot of the work that I do in Africa how clean energy, which many people think is just an indulgence for rich countries, can actually be an economic salvation for poor communities and can lift the quality of life and the real standard of living. SO we will do some more work on that.
And finally, I hope that in the process of doing all this, we will continue to elevate awareness of both the pain and the promise of Haiti in the international community, and that there are real, genuine economic opportunities there, particularly as we deal with the Government's priorities in rebuilding the infrastructure and reconstructing the agricultural capacity. So, I am very hopeful about this. I'll do my best. It's a formidable task. I'll say again: in all my years going there, this is the best chance the Haitians have ever had to escape the darker parts of their past and claim the promise of the future. And I hope that the substantial Haitian Diaspora, particularly in the United States, Canada and France, where the numbers are largest, will see this as a opportunity also to do whatever they can to help their native land and to believe that many of that factors that caused them to leave can now be erased if we all do this together. Thank you very much.
Ms. Montas: I invite now the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Haiti, Alrich Nicolas, who has a message from President René Préval.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Haiti, Alrich Nicolas: I am pleased to read the message of President Preval to this press conference:
I would like to express once more my gratitude to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for appointing former US President William J. Clinton as the United Nations Special Envoy for Haiti.
This appointment is a critical step, Mr. Secretary-General, in your relentless efforts, in the last few months, to focus attention and galvanize the energy and political will of the international community on the urgent needs of Haiti.
Mr. Secretary-General, you have expressed your commitment when you visited Haiti twice, the second time with President Clinton. You have expressed your solidarity at the Donors conference in Washington and we know of your constant personal and behind the scene efforts to support Haiti. I would like to add here how much we appreciate the steady and invaluable assistance of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH and the UN country team, who have played a critical role in supporting the Haitian people through very difficult times.
Today, we thank President Bill Clinton who has accepted to serve as the UN Special Envoy for Haiti. Our country and our people could not hope for a better friend and advocate than President Bill Clinton. He has been extensively engaged with Haiti for many years.
Mr. President, during my first term as President of Haiti, and while you were serving as President of the United States, we developed an excellent working relationship and I truly appreciated then, as I do now, your support for Haiti and its people. More recently, a year ago, you launched your Call to Action on Haiti at the Clinton Global Initiative.
I warmly welcome your appointment today on behalf of the government and people of Haiti and we are looking forward to work closely with you. Your support will be a vital boost in our efforts to generate jobs and improve the lives of Haitians, to rebuild our roads, our irrigation systems, our schools and our hospitals, to attract needed private investments and encourage our international partners to honour their commitments to Haiti.
Today Haiti remains very fragile with poverty levels unacceptably high and the prevailing economic and social conditions generating risks of constant instability. The task ahead is daunting, as we attempt not only to repair the damage done, but to lay the foundations for long term sustainable development, to support food security and sustainable agriculture, to reduce our vulnerability to natural disasters, to modernize our institutions, to systematically uproot corruption, to create the conditions that will encourage private investment and, above all, to improve basic services to all Haitians.
We need friends we can trust. We know, Mr. President Clinton, that you will be such a friend. As we often say in Haiti “Men anpil, chay pa lou”, a helping hand, in this case a strong one, lightens the load. Thank you.
Ms. Montas: We'll take your questions now. The first question goes to the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA), Edie Lederer. Please identify yourselves before asking your questions.
Question: Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, Mr. Foreign Minister, welcome to you all on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association. Mr. President, you've outlined a very, very long and ambitious programme and the first thing I thought was that it sounds more like a full time job than a part-time, dollar-a-year job. When are you going to Haiti and what are your top priorities going to be when you get there? In terms of these priorities, how concerned are you that the current financial crisis and the fallout from it are going to have a really detrimental impact on getting the donors to pay up and really trying to bring up the economy?
Special Envoy Clinton: Well, the first thing I'm going to do is, over the next couple of days finish the work of trying to put together a very small staff here at the United Nations. The Secretary-General has already delegated to me two of the young people who worked with me in the tsunami efforts and they're in the back of the room making sure I don't mess up right now. So I have to pick a deputy, as I did then. I had two –- Erskine Bowles and Eric Schwartz – and the deputy will be here on a full time basis. I'll be helped by the fact that my office is just right up the street in Harlem. I hope to go pretty soon.
I think that because we didn't have the donors' conference until April, I believe that the commitments the donors made were made with an understanding of where they all are in this global economic crisis. Therefore, I think its more likely than not that they, at least as of today, all both intend to meet their commitments and can meet their commitments. Now, if it gets worse and something happens, we'll decide what to do then.
What I'm more concerned about is getting the money that can be delivered early out early into the places where, number one, reflects the Haitian Government's priorities and, number two, can be most effectively spent, so the people in Haiti see the benefits and so the donors themselves can see the money is being well spent. I think that will maximize the chances that we can get one hundred per cent of the commitments met and get more money if we need it.
Q: President Clinton, what do you see as being the main difference between the plan the Haitian Government has come up with and the Collier report, which was the focus of that trip?
Special Envoy Clinton: Well, if you read them side by side, there are a lot of similarities, but the Haitians focused a little more specifically on first what they need to get back to zero; what they need to get back to where they were before natural disaster struck. Then they delineate in slightly different from and somewhat more specifically what they want to do with transportation and agriculture and energy. That's my general response to reading them both. I haven't put them side by side, but I read the Collier report very carefully and I thought it was well done. But the Haitians sort of made clearer what their priorities were and in what order. They made it clear?you know, they've still got thousands of people who are out of their homes and kids that don't have any schools to attend. If you're there trying to hold a country together, and you know, as the current Government of Haiti has clearly demonstrated, you have to build systems that work, that give predictability to life in order to lift a country out of extreme poverty. That has to be done first. That was the thing that I got out of it, that the Haitian plan is, well, as it should have been, clear as can be about what their priorities are and in what order.
Q: I wonder if I could ask you both?you both talked about the need to convert pledges into dollars in hand. I'm wondering if, in the context of Haiti and the world at large, if you are seeing a falloff in donations to the poorest people in the poorest countries because of the global economic crisis? Are you worried about it? What can be done about it?
SG: The pledges and donors contributions can be one of the ways to help the Haitian people. There are some other ways. President Clinton can do and we can encourage the Haitian Government to do their own. Fully utilizing the very generous offer -- the administrative and legal mechanism provided by the American Government and Congress -- for free access as well as duty free, quota free trade benefits and incentives, will be great incentive for other potential investors to fully utilize [these mechanisms]. The Haitian Government should also reach out to many potential investors to make use of that.
Of course, I was very much encouraged, together with President Clinton, by the firm commitment and zeal for education among the young generation in Haiti to remain in their own country and work for their own country. That can be a driving force, together with financial and economic and social support by the United Nations and the international community as a whole. So, there should be some sort of comprehensive approach by the Special Envoy, by the United Nations, the Haitian Government and other donors, particularly investors.
Special Envoy Clinton: I have to say that I don't know the answer to your question about the Governments. I just don't know. But my impression is that when they made those commitments, they had already taken into account, what their likely budget would be in this fiscal year and the next. Some of them, I think, planned to divide their commitment between this year and next and what they thought was going to be their revenue. And I think that since foreign assistance is a relatively small percentage of the budget in most countries, I think most of them think they can make it.
I can tell you from my experience in the non-governmental world running our AIDS programmes and climate change programme and things that my foundation does around the world, where we have a claim on both public and private money, that public money is just sort of a pass through to primarily buy medicines. My experience is that we had a much bigger falloff in the private donations after the financial collapse began in America on 15 September with the collapse of Lehman brothers. So far, I'd say we're in pretty good shape with the donors.
Q: President Clinton, since you have a relative at the State Department, and since you said one of the objectives of your job is to bring in outside financial investment, including from the US, I suppose, did you have to go through some kind of approval process at the State Department to make sure there was no national or financial conflict of interest?
Special Envoy Clinton: When the Secretary-General talked to me about this position, I asked for an opinion from both the State Department and the White House. I didn't what to do anything that would complicate America's role in Haiti because we can't possibly do this without American financial assistance. I think the annual assistance to Haiti now for all UN functions and bilateral aid is up to somewhere around $600 million a year. So I would not have done this otherwise. I would not be able, under my general agreement, be able to lobby the State Department for more money, but since the Secretary of State has been going to Haiti as long as I have, I would presume that I don't need to say much.
Q: What about financial disclosure both at State and at the UN?
Special Envoy Clinton: My financial disclosure, both from my foundation and my personal records -- from Hillary's position in the Senate, then as a presidential candidate and now as Secretary of State -- I think, exceeds that of any other former President. I believe it exceeds the requirements that the UN has. If there's anything else I'm supposed to disclose that I haven't, I will, but I think our preliminary review indicated that the stuff I have on record meets the standards that the Secretary-General has announced. But if it hasn't, I'll meet them.
Q: President Clinton, you had mentioned the registration of NGOs in Haiti. But there are parts of the country where babies' births are not being registered. We are told this leads to illegal adoptions, something called the restavek system of forced labour and even of trade in organs. This is something that one of the Ambassadors on the recent Security Council trip there raised. I am wondering, what, as part of your work, you can do? And also on the theme of, first do no harm, recently more than 100 Sri Lankan peacekeepers were repatriated from Haiti under charges of sexual abuse and exploitation. Thus far, the UN hasn't announced what happened to them once they got back to [Sri Lanka], whether any discipline was imposed. Do you think the UN should release that kind of information, and what do you think of that? Will part of your job involve making the UN either more transparent or more accountable, including to the people in Haiti?
Special Envoy Clinton: Well, first, I think the Secretary-General should answer the question about the peacekeepers. But I will answer the other questions.
The restavek system is one of several kinds of mechanisms around the world where desperately poor people earn money by, in effect, by putting their children in conditions of involuntary servitude of all kinds. In Haiti, much of it was originally pitched as “I'll send your kid to school if your child will work in my home”, but as we all know, more often than not, it doesn't work out that way. I believe the most important thing that we can do is to raise the economic conditions in those areas, increase the reporting and the accountability, and then encourage the Haitian Government to take appropriate legal action. But, I am sad to say, we have even had the example of restavek children being found in the United States, in Haitian communities. And so, yes, it's one of those things I know about. I care a lot about it. I am going to do what I can to create the conditions in which we can bring an end to it, and the other abuses that you mention.
But, I think it is important for those of us who have never been there. Keep in mind that this country is close to the United States. It is in our hemisphere. It is a Caribbean country. But its per capita income is quite low. Probably one of the 35 lowest in the world, and in the rural areas, even though it is not a large country comparatively, there are almost no systems of the kind that you and I take for granted, even in other relatively low income Central American countries to stop these kinds of things from happening. So, we have go to build out these systems, and I am very aware of all this. I will do what I can to help end it. But I assure you, most Haitians would like to end it too. We just have to give them the power to do so. I can't comment on the Sri Lankan soldiers; I don't know, maybe?
SG: On the second portion of your question, it is a consistent policy of the United Nations, when those soldiers commit crimes, they are repatriated to their own homes. We demand the national authorities of the countries concerned to take administrative and judiciary punishment, procedures, corresponding to the seriousness of the crimes. This is exactly what we did in the case of the Sri Lankan peacekeepers. I understand that they have taken the necessary domestic measures.
Q: [inaudible] Government of Haiti was told what happened with the peacekeepers that were repatriated. Because I know that here it was never said how many were convicted, or what discipline was imposed.
Foreign Minister Nicolas: It is the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Planification and Cooperation are working on that.
Q: [inaudible on the Middle East]
Special Envoy Clinton: First of all, I have not gotten my talking points from the State Department this morning. I am speaking only for myself. I think it is a good thing that he [Mr. Netanyahu] is on record with this coalition, being explicitly open to any sort of two-state solution. I think the details are still completely unacceptable to the government in the West Bank, to the Fatah government, and obviously would not attract anybody from Hamas to give up violence and to try to join the coalition government. So, we are a long way from where we need to be.
On the other hand, let me remind all of you, for all the problems that Israeli politics are more fractured than Palestinian politics and are more fractured than they were when I was there. Ok? That's the bad news. The good news is that this Saudi peace initiative has the support of the entire Arab world, save Syria, and other Muslim countries. The long-term trends have not changed. The Palestinians are growing younger, larger, angrier and poorer. Right? And sooner or later those missiles are going to have GPS positioning systems on them, and therefore it is in the interests of both the Palestinians and the Israelis to resolve this, and therefore, you should see this as opening moves. Don't over react too much. He showed, based on my experience of Mr. Netanyahu, he did what he thought he had to do to keep the ball rolling, and not completely alienate the United States' initiative. I think President Obama and the Secretary of State and George Mitchell are basically taking the right position in trying to work through this in the right way, and what would have been a disaster is if Netanyahu had not embraced the possibility of a two-state solution. There is no reasonable alternative to that that respects the Palestinians and their integrity. So, I think, on balance you should feel pretty good about it, even though the conditions would be completely unacceptable to the Palestinians at the moment. This is the opening play. This is his response to the Obama administration's first move. It is just the beginning, and it is a drama that will have a few more acts.
Off-the-Cuff on 15 June 2009