New Day! Haiti Confirms Former Clinton Aide As Prime Minister

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The long wait for Haiti to find a prime minister ended Tuesday after its Senate approved Garry Conille to run the government, hopefully jump-starting stalled earthquake reconstruction efforts.

President Michel Martelly’s two previous nominees for the post had been rejected by lawmakers and the absence of a fully functioning government had impeded his ability to govern since taking office in May.

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Senators voted 17-3 with nine abstentions for Conille, a gynecologist who served as an aide to Bill Clinton in the former U.S. President’s role as U.N. envoy to Haiti. Conille had worked for the U.N. since 1999 in countries such as Haiti, Ethiopia, and, for a few months this summer, in Niger.

“Congratulations to the senate that they ratified our choice,” Martelly spokesman Lucien Jura told The Associated Press. “There will be a government to implement the Martelly vision that the country needs. The senate made a decision that will improve the lives of the population.”

A prime minister is needed to install a Cabinet in Haiti and the rejections of Martelly’s candidates had accentuated the slow pace of reconstruction efforts following last year’s powerful quake.

The debate to ratify Conille, which lasted about six hours, centered around questions over his residency qualifications. Government officials in Haiti are required to have spent five consecutive years in Haiti under the constitution but French and Haitian Creole versions of the document don’t specify when the residency period begins. Conille’s job had taken him out of Haiti for years.

In the end, a group of senators from a majority coalition agreed Conille was eligible.

“(We’re) going to give Haiti a new prime minister,” Jean Joel Joseph, a member of the ruling Unity party, said before the senate voted.

In his new job, Conille will help lead reconstruction efforts in the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake and will assume responsibilities as co-chair of a recovery panel with his former boss, Clinton.

The panel, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, has drawn heavy criticism for making little visible progress since the disaster.

Conille now will have to present a government plan to both houses of parliament but he can make revisions to it if lawmakers have questions.

When reached by phone Tuesday night, Conille declined to comment, saying he had to speak to national television first so as to avoid the impression that he was favoring international media over Haitian media.

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