UN envoy says Haiti 'not yet' open for business

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A U.N. envoy in Haiti said Friday that the Caribbean nation is "not yet" ready for foreign investment.

The remarks by U.N. Acting Special Representative Nigel Fisher challenged a mantra often championed by Haitian President Michel Martelly's government. The slogan "Haiti is open for business" has been a rallying cry for the government as it seeks outside investors to help the country rebuild from the devastating 2010 earthquake.

"We can blame external partners for their slowness to pay the promised assistance," Fisher said at his first news conference since taking his post earlier this month. "But the problem is much broader. When friends of Haiti and potential investors are wondering if 'Haiti is open for business,' ... some say, yes. But the majority, after a period of reflection, is saying, 'Not yet.'"

Fisher cited the bidding process for contracts, not enough transparency to ensure healthy competition and concerns about an independent justice system as reasons for outsiders to hesitate in doing business in Haiti.

He also said Martelly has identified areas that require reform but that those efforts are only in process.

Haiti's economy has not improved as many had hoped. The gross national product grew about 2.5 percent last year, compared to a projected 8 percent, Fisher said.

Fisher also reiterated concerns within the international community that Haitian authorities have yet to organize legislative and local elections that were supposed to have been held in November 2011. The delay stems from an inability for government officials to agree on the composition of the electoral body.

The U.N., United States and European Union have stepped up pressure in recent weeks for Haiti to hold the vote before year's end.

The vote seeks to fill 10 seats in the 30-member Senate and hundreds of seats at the local level, an election almost certain to be fraught with political tension. The Senate has been working at a third of its capacity and the government has appointed an unknown number of mayors to fill vacancies at the municipal level.

Martelly said at a news conference Friday on the grounds of the National Palace that he has been meeting with lawmakers to figure out how the country can hold elections. The European Union would contribute 5 million euros ($6.7 million) for the vote, he said.

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Associated Press videographer Pierre-Richard Luxama contributed to this report.

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