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Haiti Struggles for Control Amid Confusion

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - To find Haiti's lawmakers, drive to the police academy, then hunt through the rows of corrugated tin shacks sitting on cement blocks. Inside some of them, members of parliament, whose headquarters collapsed, have been meeting in special session.

Many are seething because they have had no input into how the massive influx of earthquake aid is being allocated, says delegate Steven Benoit.

"We'd like a role in controlling and helping distribute the aid," said Benoit, an opponent of President Rene Preval from Petionville. "Our constituents are making demands. I'm getting five to six hundred calls a day."

Haiti's government has been decimated by the earthquake. Most official buildings - including the National Palace, collapsed. Many government officials were killed, and those who weren't were looking for missing family members or sorting through damaged property. The government has been unable to pay its remaining employees, though there was talk of salaries resuming, according to the environment minister.

"The state is bankrupt," said Jean-Robert Estime, the son of a former president and foreign affairs minister from 1979 to 1986. "There is no customs, there is no tax collection."

American and international officials have said repeatedly that they are working with the Haitian government in making aid decisions.

Just how close those consultations are, and where the Haiti government gets input on needs, is not clear. Preval has made only a handful of public appearances since the earthquake.

The communications minister, Marie Jocelyn-Lassegue, has been giving regular news conferences from the government's makeshift headquarters near the airport. But she is sometimes unaware of developments taking place within her own government.

"Really?" she said, when a reporter referred to another minister's comment that government salaries might be resuming soon. "That's great."

The minister of environment, Jean-Marie Germain, said that he has 30 staff members working in the capital out of his normal contingent of 238 workers. The others have been sent out of Port-au-Prince.

"The government was not ready for this," he said.

There have been meetings ongoing behind closed doors, Estime said, including one he attended at which a master plan for rebuilding Port-au-Prince was discussed involving the resettlement of 200,000 people north of the city. Benoit and other lawmakers - and regular Haitians on the street - say they know nothing of such plans.

"The government has no control," Benoit said. "The (aid agencies) are doing whatever they want. It's very chaotic."

Benoit wants lawmakers to have more input. Haitians from all walks of life, however, are skeptical of letting their own government - president, parliament, whomever - have a say in aid decisions.

"If you give it to the government, we won't get a single thing," said Marie Josephs, standing in a tent city in Cité Soleil, a slum where many residents say they still have not seen much help.

At the Energy Health Club in Petionville, where wealthy businessmen come to exercise, computer consultant Philippe Clerie said, "Somehow you have to change the government, or at least the way the government operates," if the rebuilding is to be successful.

Corruption has been a fact of life in Haiti, he and others said.

So is bureaucracy. At Haiti's general hospital, where Haitians have taken control of the storeroom full of medicines and supplies, "We have to wait for things even though they're stacked up in the warehouse," Rob Maddox, a doctor from Louisiana, told the Associated Press. "The situation is just madness."

Six hundred metric tons of cooking oil have been sitting in a warehouse at Haiti's port for two weeks because of "paperwork," said Barry Elkin, food security director for ACDI/VOCA, an aid group that works for USAID. "We're just waiting for them to release it," he said.

In Petionville, local officials intervened to stop a United Nations food distribution until they could have input into who gets the aid, according to Deputy Mayor Erick Louis. That prompted outrage. Demonstrators jogged through the neighborhood Wednesday, musically chanting, "They stole the rice! They stole the rice!"

"When you impose order on disorder, some people aren't happy," Louis said.

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