Haiti PM resignation threatens reconstruction

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haitian Prime Minister Garry Conille abruptly resigned Friday after less than five months on the job in a political setback for President Michel Martelly, whose struggle to fill the top government post has hampered earthquake reconstruction and other development efforts.

The government announced Conille’s resignation in a brief statement and said Martelly would address the nation in a live, televised speech later Friday. The president did not immediately announce his proposed replacement for the top administrative post in the government.

“I feel obliged to present to you my resignation as Prime Minister of the Government of the Republic of Haiti,” Conille wrote in a typed letter that was addressed to the president. “Please accept, Mr. President Of The Republic, the assurance of my patriotic sentiments.”

Conille’s resignation, which came after weeks of rumors of strife between him and other officials in the administration and in Parliament, poses a new challenge to a government struggling to rebuild much of the capital and surrounding region after a devastating January 2010 earthquake. The government has also sought to address the widespread poverty and weak civic structure that have long been hallmarks of the country.

The president of Haiti’s Senate, Simon Dieuseul Desras, warned that the loss of the prime minister would create a political vacuum.

“This is not what the population was waiting for, that the National Palace and president’s office are in conflict,” Desras told The Associated Press at Parliament. “Today is a waste of time. We must start all over again and we don’t know how long it will take to have another prime minister again.”

At least two candidates were being considered as a replacement, including Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Lamothe and Ann-Valerie Milfort, the interim head of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, according to a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

Conille, a physician who previously served as an aide to Bill Clinton in the former U.S. president’s role as U.N. envoy to Haiti, was ratified by the opposition-dominated Parliament in October after Martelly’s two previous picks for prime minister failed to win support from lawmakers.

The absence of a prime minister could discourage donors from fulfilling pledges to help Haiti rebuild from the 2010 earthquake, which could delay reconstruction efforts further. Donors promised $4.5 billion to help Haiti recover but only half of that amount has been released, according to the U.N. Office of the Special Envoy.

His resignation may have been prompted in part by a dispute among government officials over whether any of them have dual nationality, which the nation’s constitution prohibits for senior government officials. Many officials in Haiti and elsewhere in the Caribbean spend considerable time overseas.

A commission of lawmakers has been investigating allegations that Martelly administration officials may have citizenship in the U.S. or elsewhere. Conille and other officials have turned over their passports and other documents to the commission, but the findings of the investigation have not been announced.

Conille told The Associated Press after a news conference last week that he and Martelly were on good terms despite rumors to the contrary.

“I have a good working relationship with the president,” he said. “Haiti is a big country of rumors. I think we have a very frank and honest relationship where we discuss things. I think a lot of people sometimes have a vested interest in creating a distance between all members of government so you hear that we have problems. … I would basically think that it’s mostly rumors.”

Sen. Kely Bastien said Friday he saw signs of division between Conille and his government last week when the number two official went before Parliament to answer lawmakers’ questions about dual nationality but didn’t show up with his entire Cabinet.

“Prime Minister Conille showed that he didn’t have control over his government, and that’s why he resigned,” Bastien told The Associated Press.

Even though Conille said he was on good terms with Martelly and others, foreign diplomats raised concerns that he was at odds with other branches of government.

On Thursday, Mariano Fernandez, the head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti, issued a statement noting a “series of repeated crises between the executive and legislative powers that undermine the proper functioning of the institutions and the democratic process.”

“The political deadlock and institutional paralysis between the Government, Parliament and the President does not reflect the commitments they have undertaken vis-a-vis the Haitian people and are not likely” to help Haiti’s struggling economy, wrote Fernandez, who’s a special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General.

The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince on Friday said it “regret that Haiti will lose (Conille’s) service as Prime Minister,” citing a demonstration that he dedicated himself to improving living conditions for Haiti.

The Americans also stressed the need for Martelly and Parliament to work together to quickly name and approve a new prime minister.

Associated Press writer Evens Sanon contributed reporting.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.