Haiti decrees long-awaited transition council, but several questions remain

   Haiti decrees long-awaited transition  council, but several questions remain

People walk past remains of vehicles near the presidential palace, after they were set on fire by gangs, as violence spreads and armed gangs expand their control over the capital, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 25. File photo credit Reuters/Ralph Tedy Erol.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti--Haiti's government formalised the creation of a nine-member transitional presidential council on Friday, a long-delayed move intended as the first step in restoring security to the gang-ravaged Caribbean country.

The decree, however, leaves many questions unanswered.

It does not name the new council members or establish a time frame for installing the council and replacing Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who pledged one month ago to step down once his successor was in place.

Indicating the unelected Henry will initially retain oversight of proceedings, the decree allows the current prime minister to make the "necessary arrangements" ahead of the new appointments. Those chosen must then "participate, in agreement with the prime minister, in the formation of an inclusive ministers' cabinet."

It calls on the council to help speed the deployment of international troops Henry requested in 2022 to aid police in their battles with armed and increasingly powerful gangs.

Nearly 95,000 people have fled the metropolitan area of the capital Port-au-Prince in the last month as armed gangs have cemented their control. Haitians are lacking basic goods as key ports remain closed, while the outgoing government remains absent.

The decree, published in Haiti's official gazette, names the nine political parties or social sectors to be represented on the council, including two non-voting observers, confirming an announcement made last month.

The transition plan was announced on March 11 as armed men mounted attacks on parts of Port-au-Prince they did not already control, while Henry remained stranded outside the country.

Friday's decree stipulates the council be headquartered in the National Palace in downtown Port-au-Prince, which has come under fire several times in the past weeks.

'Very difficult'

After the decree was published, local media reported more gunfire in parts of Port-au-Prince. Officer Pierre Fritz Chenet was shot dead while visiting relatives on the port side of the city, a police union spokesperson said.

The government said in a separate statement it had invited the designated council representatives to submit documents to prove their eligibility at government offices in the capital.

The transition plan was agreed on with the mediation of the Caribbean Community CARICOM. The nine groups named by CARICOM a month ago and in Friday's decree have all put forward council candidates, but their nominations have yet to be formalised despite frequent pledges that such an announcement was near.

Camille LeBlanc, a lawyer and former justice minister, said he thought some of the candidates put forward might be rejected and that it could take some time before the council is installed, given the difficulties of processing legal documents.

"It could be very difficult," LeBlanc told Reuters, adding that while he doubted the council's prospects, he supported it if it could move the country past the current deadlock, help reopen ports and bring essential food supplies to a country facing acute hunger.

"To declare the transition council must 'rapidly' name a prime minister is utopian," he added.

Port-au-Prince lawyer Camille Fievre said it was "utopian" to expect the council to "rapidly" appoint a prime minister.

"Perhaps a time frame ought to have been determined. In the meantime, Mr. Ariel Henry remains prime minister," Fievre said. "As it stands there is no guarantee the members already chosen will be retained, as no verifications have been carried out in this respect."

The delayed transition has prompted critics to accuse Henry's allies of hampering the process in order to hold onto power. The government has said it is working through legal and constitutional problems "as fast as possible."

CARICOM welcomed Friday's decree, reiterating the need for the new leaders to urgently address the security situation so schools and businesses can reopen and people can travel freely and access basic supplies. ~ Reuters ~

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