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Clinton Urges Aid Groups To Strengthen Haiti's Self-Sufficiency

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NEW YORK — Former President Bill Clinton is urging the aid groups serving Haiti's devastated communities to help rebuild the country's government and ultimately put themselves out of business by fostering a self-sufficient nation.

Clinton, the United Nations special envoy to Haiti, spoke to representatives of the aid groups Thursday, ahead of a critical U.N. donors conference next week at which Haitian officials are expected to ask for $11.5 billion to rebuild.

"Every time we spend a dollar in Haiti from now on we have to ask ourselves, 'Does this have a long-term return? Are we helping them become more self-sufficient? ... Are we serious about working ourselves out of a job?'" Clinton said.

Haitian leaders have expressed frustration that billions of dollars in aid have bypassed the government and gone to U.N. agencies and to foreign non-governmental organizations, which operate independently and don't always coordinate with local authorities.

Clinton asked the groups Thursday to allocate 10 percent of their spending in Haiti for government salaries and employee training, to help the nation's agencies rebuild their decimated staffs.

He urged the aid groups to hire local staffers, consult with local authorities and structure their efforts around the Haitian government's plan, which is currently being finalized. Groups should make sure that the money they spend builds communities and infrastructure and creates local jobs, he said.

Efforts most focus outside the capital of Port-au-Prince, Clinton said, adding that Haitian President Rene Preval and others were eager to decentralize the country.

"For too long, Haiti has revolved around its capital city rather than just being supported by it," Clinton said.

The former president also urged the groups to participate in an online registry and make their expenditures transparent. And he warned that unless they take action to move refugees to higher ground, as many as 40,000 people could be killed if there are heavy rains.

Liz Blake, a senior vice president for Habitat for Humanity International, said that Clinton's words were inspiring and aid groups were willing to work with him, but what he was asking is difficult.

"Working yourself out of a job – which is working to strengthen the government of Haiti so that the support and work of a nonprofit is no longer needed – isn't a standard practice," she said.

But, she added, "All of us want to do what we can to support the Haitian people and work with the Haitian government, and do so even if we have to suspend our disbelief."