International donors Tuesday are set to promise several hundred million dollars in development assistance to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. A donors conference for Haiti got underway Monday in Washington.

The World Bank's senior economist for the Caribbean, Auguste Kouame, told several dozen Haitian officials and aid specialists that Haiti must prove that it can make good use of international assistance. He said the lesson of 10 years ago should not be lost. And that is when donors see a strong commitment to reform they are willing to provide financial support.

"We saw it happen in the mid-[19]90s when the emergency economic reform program donors were very keen on supporting the reform process," he said. "And we saw the reverse when the reforms slowed down and donors reduced their financing."

During the mid-1990s Haiti received $2.5 billion of aid. However, analysts agree much of that money was wasted and the aid projects failed to boost living standards. The current aid program is more modest, some $900 million.

In addition to officials from the World Bank, the Haiti donors conference also attracted representatives from the United Nations, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

A top official of the International Monetary Fund, Przemek Gajdeczka, told Haitian officials they should explain to the public at large what each department of government is trying to achieve.

"That means everybody knows what the ministry of finance does, what the various agencies do, what is the scope of their responsibilities, how they function, their objectives, and what the central bank does," he said.

This transparency in government operations, he said, will help the combat the theft and corruption that is so pervasive in Haiti.

Many of the donors say they are relatively optimistic. They believe that with a Brazilian-led force successfully keeping the peace in Haiti and a transitional government of technocrats in place, Haiti has a fresh chance at economic development in advance of parliamentary and presidential elections in 2005 and 2006.