Haiti's al fresco cabinet counts its blessings

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The Independent US

The Cabinet holds meetings outdoors on an uncovered concrete slab under the broiling tropical sun. The communications office is a folding table beneath a tree, and the President greets dignitaries inside a drab, one-storey building.

The quake that destroyed the Haitian capital's most prominent institutions, including the presidential palace, has left the top layer of government operating in a tiny police station.

Struggling with a massive humanitarian crisis, officials say they barely notice the humble surroundings. "I am serving the nation. I don't have any time to make any comment about the location of the president's office," said Yves Mazile, chief of protocol.

A Haitian flag flies at half-mast on the driveway, one of the many reminders of the estimated 200,000 victims. A Foreign Ministry worker with a string of pearls around her neck smiles for visitors, keeping up appearances despite the loose ceiling panels and hanging wires in the concrete police building. The staff are busy with visits from Dominican, Korean and Israeli delegations, all coordinating aid.

The Haitian Cabinet meets outside because there is no room inside the cramped building. After President René Préval arrives, his visitors pass through the lobby of flaking blue paint for private meetings.

In a capital that is burying tens of thousands of people in mass graves, officials say they are grateful the Cabinet still is intact. "We are alive but each of us, like people across the country, have people in our lives who died," said Communications and Culture Minister Marie Laurence Jocelyn-Lassegue, attending to a couple of dozen reporters in one corner of the driveway.

Government officials say only their performance matters – not their office location – but some Haitians are uncomfortable that their leader is hidden away. "The president is not supposed to take refuge in a police station," said Henri Mentor, 35, who was waiting outside in the hope of finding work.