INTERVIEW-Quake cost one in five Haitian jobs- minister

25 Jan 2010 20:49:19 GMT

Source: Reuters

* Trade minister says 20 pct jobs gone

* Says Haiti created 28,000 jobs last year

* Haiti put years of corruption behind it- minister

By Patricia Zengerle

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan 25 (Reuters) - The earthquake that killed up to 200,000 Haitians and left millions homeless also had a devastating toll on the country's economy -- eliminating as many as one in five jobs, the trade minister said on Monday.

"We have maybe lost 20 percent," Trade and Industry Minister Josseline Colimon Fethiere said in an interview.

Haiti struggled with unemployment even before the disaster, with two out of three of its 9 million people without formal work and 70 percent of them living on less than $2 a day.

The quake came at a particularly bitter time for the hemisphere's poorest country because it had been enjoying a relative revival.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, U.N. special envoy to Haiti, declared at an investor conference last fall that the country was more stable than it had been in his lifetime.

On the afternoon of Jan. 12, Fethiere was at her desk in Port-au-Prince giving an interview to a newspaper from the Dominican Republic about recent improvements in the Haitian economy.

"I was telling them that since last year we had created 28,000 jobs, and had some new foreign investment, almost $100 million," she said.

"And 10 minutes after that was the earthquake."

As foreign donors met in Montreal to map out a rebuilding plan for the small Caribbean nation, Fethiere described how Haitian ministers were balancing their own losses - their offices were destroyed and many lost close relatives and homes - with the overwhelming needs of the population.

"Now we have to clean up. We have to ask the private sector, who spontaneously offered, to help; we have to rebuild the communications and the electricity," she said. "We have to give jobs to people. We have to open the businesses again."

She said she believed the country would do so, but that it would difficult.

And Fethiere, who took office only two months ago with the other members of Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive's government, insisted the country had put behind it the long years of corruption that had frustrated many international donors and angered the public.

Haiti suffered political instability for more than 200 years since a slave revolt threw off French rule and created the world's first black republic. Steps toward democracy began when the Duvalier dictatorship ended in 1986, and the last military junta was thrown off in 1994.

Transparency International's perceived global corruption index rates Haiti as one of the five most corrupt countries.

"After so big a catastrophe, that the money would not go where it needs to go would be impossible," she said.

"They (the people) need food, they need housing, they need to send their children to school, surely the government people would not be so bad as to take that money," she said. (Editing by Doina Chiacu)


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