PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier pledged $555 million in fresh aid to Haiti on Friday, as he wrapped up a three-day visit to the impoverished Caribbean nation.
The funds, to be paid over the next five years, were earmarked to help build roads, police precincts and implement social and economic programs in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country, Bernier told reporters.
"Compared to other donor countries, our assistance to Haiti is one of the biggest per capita contributions," he said.
"We are proud to be able to help Haiti because we have in Quebec a Haitian community that has brought so much to Canada," said Bernier, adding that Canada will act according to aid priorities set by Haitian authorities.
Despite other pledges of foreign aid since President Rene Preval took office in May 2006, Haiti's government has faced growing complaints about a lack of effective action to deal with the high cost of living and widespread unemployment.
"The hunger is unbearable and no one really seems to care," said Marcfel Joseph, a father of three who has been jobless since 2004.
"The government seems more inclined to please International Monetary Fund obligations than taking necessary measures to turn the situation around," he said.
"The government has failed to act and has proved to lack creativity in dealing with the problem," said legislator Isidor Mercier.
Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis, who praised the Canadian cooperation, said the Haitian government was working toward increasing national production and creating the conditions for investment and job creation.
"Only an increased production of food and competition on the market can help lower food prices," said Alexis, adding that the country is now importing almost all bare necessities.
"If we gave tax cuts and subsidized gas prices, we would not have been able to fund social programs and invest in vital economic sectors," he said.
Editing by Chris Wilson