Taiwan signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Haiti over a US$15.8 million (NT$472 million) donation to post-earthquake reconstruction efforts when the upcoming visit by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to Taiwan’s Caribbean ally was being arranged, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed on Friday.
The memorandum was signed by Ambassador to Haiti Liu Bang-zyh (劉邦治) and Haitian Chancellor Pierre-Richard Casimir on July 9, the ministry said.
Under the MOU, which had gone largely unnoticed, Taiwan commits to donate US$15.8 million for a new building housing the Court of Cassation, Haiti’s highest judicial body, Florencia Hsieh (謝妙宏), deputy director-general of the Department of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs, said by telephone on Friday.
Hsieh said Ma and Haitian President Michel Martelly will preside over a ceremony to commemorate the laying of the building’s first stone in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.
Ma is to arrive in Haiti on Tuesday on the first leg of a five-nation tour, which includes Paraguay, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Saint Kitts and Nevis.
The president will also make transit stops en route to Haiti and on his way back to Taiwan in New York and Los Angeles respectively.
The project will be carried out by the Panama-based Overseas Engineering & Construction Co (OECC) and is to be completed in 24 months, Hsieh said.
The OECC is a subsidiary of the Overseas Investment & Development Corp, a Taiwanese incorporation of major public and private enterprises, groups and financial institutions established by the late banking magnate Jeffrey Koo Sr (辜濂松) in response to the government’s call to assist in overseas public infrastructure projects to enhance relations with the nation’s allies.
The project is to be funded from a budget allocated for foreign assistance programs and payments will be provided progressively over the course of the construction in direct relation to how much work has been completed, Hsieh said.
According to the ministry’s budget statement this year, the budget allocation for such programs in all 12 of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies in Latin America and the Caribbean stood at NT$3.4 billion, in addition to NT$440 million allotted for confidential expenses in the region.
The court project came up during discussions held between the two countries on what Taiwan could do to continue to help earthquake victims in Haiti after the completion of several humanitarian relief projects to provide vocational training, medical care and education, Hsieh said.
Three years after the earthquake, hundreds of thousands of people continue to suffer its effects. According to UNICEF, about 357,785 people — 138,000 of whom are children — are still living in crowded temporary settlements, are dependent on aid and are at a higher risk of exposure to abuse and exploitation.
In January, UNICEF requested US$11.65 million to meet its annual humanitarian goals to tackle the prolonged displacement, persistent cholera epidemic and food insecurity plaguing Haiti, problems that were all augmented by Hurricane Sandy last year.
Ma is to become the first Republic of China (ROC) president to visit Haiti since the two countries established diplomatic ties in 1956.
First lady Chow Mei-ching (周美青) visited the Caribbean country when she participated in efforts by NGOs to provide humanitarian aid to the country in August 2010.
During former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) tenure in office from 2000 to 2008, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration made several failed attempts to have Chen visit Haiti, including a last-ditch effort by then-minister of foreign affairs James Huang (黃志芳) in December 2007, a source familiar with the situation said.
The source said that the most difficult barrier to realizing Chen’s visits was the possibility that it would provoke an angry response from China, which as a permanent member of the UN Security Council has the power to veto continuing the deployment of UN peacekeeping troops in Haiti. The country relies heavily on the UN force to maintain public order and security.
In 2006, then-premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), who had been designated as Chen’s special envoy to attend the inauguration of then-Haitian president Rene Preval, was scheduled to depart from Taiwan on May 12, but Taipei was told by Haiti on April 29 that the trip had to be canceled.
If Ma pays a high-profile visit to Haiti, it could be depicted as a vindication of his policy of rapprochement with China, said Antonio Hsiang (向駿), director of Center of Latin American Studies at Chihlee Institute of Technology.
However, a former official with the previous DPP administration, who wished to remain anonymous, held a different view.
China has not been the only factor behind Chen’s failure to visit Haiti, nor was it the only factor contributing to the success or failure of Ma’s planned visit to Haiti, he said.
“The instability in Haiti at the time [of Chen’s administration] was causing security problems in arranging the visit, while the 2010 earthquake and ensuing humanitarian aid delivered by Taiwan to Haiti have made it more justifiable to arrange a presidential visit to Haiti,” he said.
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