Haitian government cabinet members hold a town hall meeting in the southern town of Jeremie
By Joe Colas
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (HCNN) -- An initiative to organize a series of town hall meetings in different regions of Haiti has created more proximity between the Caribbean country's government and communities which have engaged in an open dialogue over actions to be taken to meet people's real needs, officials say.
Haitian prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, said the initiative, called in Haitian Creole "Gouvènman Lakay ou" (The government is at your home), serves as a channel to allow local populations to have direct access to government highest authorities who may hear their complaints and respond accordingly.
"We do not believe we should only sit in an office in the capital Port-au-Prince and decide what all these communities need and want the most," Lamothe told HCNN on Saturday.
Lamothe, accompanied by government cabinet members, spoke to HCNN as he ended a town hall meeting attended by scores of community members, local government officials and leading representatives of local social and interest groups, in the southern town of Jeremie, in the Grande-Anse region.
"It makes such a difference when you go on the ground, hear firsthand the demands and the priorities expressed by those who are targeted by the government's actions," Lamothe said.
"And so you are sure you are doing something which will really and concretely impact positively the living conditions of the beneficiaries," he said.
The nationwide town hall meeting initiative was launched in September last year by President Michel Martelly and Lamothe in the very populated district of Carrefour, near the nation's capital, in the West department.
The local population in each host community usually shows appreciation for the initiative, which gives them a unique opportunity to voice their demands and grievances in the presence of so many senior government officials at the same time.
"I am 65-years-old and it is for the first time I've seen a whole government sitting with the population here and openly debating issues," said Marlene Francois, one of the participants.
Lamothe's chief of staff, Karl Jean-Louis, explained that the government usually takes advantage of such meetings to promote accountability, local governance, transparency and citizen participation.
"During such sessions, government officials listen to citizens and ask questions to local authorities while assessing the impact of various programs launched by the government," Jean-Louis told HCNN.
Jean-Louis said dozens of corrective actions have been taken through the meetings to solve various community issues related to access to education, to basic health services, security, small and medium-size business opportunities, community empowerment, and social assistance programs, among other things.
During the sixth meeting of the kind held on Saturday, Lamothe announced measures to support and help increase local agricultural production in Jeremie and surrounding districts, to increase police personnel, build more road infrastructure, hospitals, to set up community restaurants, computer labs, professional schools etc.
After each meeting, a follow-up commission is formed to make sure commitments made are materialized.