Haiti vows expense cuts, deeper probe of oil scandal amid protests

The Haitian government vowed to deepen the investigation into alleged corruption in the PetroCaribe oil program and to reduce its expenses, seeking to meet some of protestors' demands as demonstrations roil the country.

During a televised address on Saturday night, Prime Minister Jean-Henry Céant announced nine measures aimed at alleviating the country's economic crisis. Céant said the government will reduce its expenses by 30 per cent, meet with the private sector to try to raise the minimum wage and appoint a new director to intensify the investigation into alleged corruption by PetroCaribe.

"I and the members of the government listen to [the opposition's] voice, we hear his cry, we understand his anger and indignation," Céant said.

Since Feb. 7, thousands of demonstrators have called for President Jovenel Moïse and Céant to resign and for an independent probe into the whereabouts of funds from the PetroCaribe agreement, an alliance between Caribbean countries and Venezuela.

The agreement's preferential terms for energy purchases were meant to help free up funds to aid development in Haiti, which has been hammered by natural disasters and is ranked as the poorest country in the Americas, according to the World Bank.

Céant warned that the protests risked touching off a humanitarian crisis.

People are seem at a burning barricade during anti-government protests in the Haitian capital on Sunday. (Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)

"The population suffers a lot, because blocked roads cannot deliver water to drink, food, gasoline. It is almost impossible to have electricity," said Céant, who had previously kept silent during the protests, which have reportedly killed several people and injured many more.

Since the protests broke out, several foreign governments, including the United States and Canada, have urged citizens to avoid travel to Haiti.

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Demonstrations are expected to resume this week.

To address the economic crisis, the government will trim expenses by reducing trips abroad and the hiring of advisers, Céant said. The government will also do more to seek foreign investment to re-energize the economy, he added.

Moïse also urged dialogue between government and the opposition during a speech on Thursday.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the Economic Forum of the Private Sector, a Haitian business group, welcomed the government's calls for dialogue but said the crisis was the result of Moïse's "lack of leadership."

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