Saturday, March 12, 2011

Rene Preval, the Haitian president, an evaluation, five years later

By Jean H Charles

Five years ago, as President Rene Preval was being inaugurated for a second, non-consecutive term, my sister Maggie, who went to school with the president (albeit her junior) at the George Marc Institute, commented around the kitchen table that it will be a disaster for the country of Haiti in the next five years. I argued instead that she should wait at least for six months to pass such a judgment. Five years later, using the lowest standard of evaluation, Rene Preval is one of the most inept and callous heads of government that Haiti has ever had in the modern, post democracy era!

Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: 
I will hasten to say that the positive side of this characterization is that I dare to write this column, having its publication in Haiti, the Caribbean and in the rest of the world without the fear of being persecuted or thrown into jail.

I will hasten to say also that his ineptness is shared by most if not all the members of his government. If the president is himself indecisive, no one is on the way of his minister of tourism of being an active minister instead of one with only a draft master plan still at the stage of a draft, five years later.

The prime minister, who doubles his portfolio with one of minister of planning, one year after the earthquake has not understood that a junior minister of coordination for the activities of the NGOs (his director at the ministry of planning would be an excellent choice) is crucial and fundamental for a minimum effectiveness in the delivery of services by the international organizations.

Rene Preval offered no plan in his campaign. He ran his government on an ad hoc basis, pulling a solution out of his sleeve, with no follow up and no evaluation. He had, though, his lion’s share of disaster that befell the country during his term: inundation and flood in Gonaives and in Mapou, earthquake in Port au Prince, Jacmel and Petit Goave and cholera epidemic brought into the Artibonite region by the United Nations.

He has also received an avalanche of support from all corners of the world. This support is completely wasted, bringing no impact or, rather, a negative impact to the people of Haiti because the president and his government did not use positive leadership to channel and synergize the assistance.

I have in a previous column shone a light into the leadership capacity or the lack thereof of the president. In addressing an evaluation de fin de régime, it is proper to revisit Rene Preval in his inner workings.

A student of the Belgium state university, President Preval is surrounded by classmates or friends of his time in Belgium: Paul Denis (his minister of Justice), Dr Alex Larsen (his minister of health and population), amongst others.

The Belgium cultural legacy in the former colonies is one of divisiveness. The colonial empire it amassed through the centuries, especially in Africa, has turned into a legacy of failed nations (Congo Brazzaville), filled with hatred and racism that produced genocide in Rwanda, famine and fragmentation in Burundi. The country of Belgium, albeit the seat of the European Community, is a land divided amongst itself, where the concept of nation is a hollow one.

Rene Preval has brought into Haiti from Belgium the culture of a political animal, where politics is used as an instrument or scientific tool to reward friends and remain in power on the front or on the backside as long as possible. Nihilism is elevated to the standard of excellence.

Rene Preval is also the embodiment of the Haitian ethos well encapsulated in the story of Bouqui and ti malice. Bouqui is the naïve brother who puts all his faith in the cunning and malicious ti malice. He uses all the artifices such as lies, deception, disguised affection to get the lion’s share of the family legacy, leaving his brother (Bouqui) in extreme misery.

The international community has found a fertile incubator in this government to create a land of make believe in Haiti. Amidst massive outpouring of assistance, the individual or the collective repercussion is minimal at best, negative at worst.

Item: the car rental business is one of the fastest growing enterprises in the country because of the need of each international worker to have his own car with his own driver. Uncontrolled drug money recycled into the rental car sector has killed the mom and pop storefront.

Reviewing all the sectors of the economy, Rene Preval has registered an F or a failure rate. An agronomist by training, the environment has not indicated any incremental stop in its degradation. With the exception of the north and the extreme south of Haiti, the remaining forest land (2 percent) is in an accelerated slide towards desertification.

In the area of agriculture and agro-business, the Dominican Republic has become the food basket of the Republic of Haiti. Eggs (1 million units per day), plantain, even coconut water are imported for resale in Haiti. One hundred large trailers filled with cement are brought into Haiti every day from the Dominican Republic.

The security segment has exhibited a significant improvement from its low point of poor morale, recurring kidnapping and lack of policing. Yet the large majority of the hinterland operates without a police presence. There is no discussion or timetable in terms of building Haiti’s own military force for the protection of its border, enhancing its environment and securing its population against disaster and drug contraband.

Creating a culture of the rule of law was Preval’s leitmotiv in assuming power. Five years later, he failed (allegedly for lack of time) in naming a chief of the Supreme Court. At election time, the government deployed with strength the power of the state, as a bandit use his arsenal of resources and munitions for his own candidates. To his credit, the president as a man and his government in general is unobtrusive. Social peace, although tenuous, is maintained, even favoured.

In health and public hygiene, a cholera epidemic brought into the country by a UN contingent has tested the strength of the health apparatus. The collection of garbage is still a subject of contention between the mayors of the large cities (including the capital), deprived of the means to do so, and a callous centralized government more inclined to do politics with the resources instead of caring for the welfare of its citizens.

The best characterization of Rene Preval and its governance is one of a Teflon president turning the country into a Teflon nation.

Item: to keep the men off his back, he promoted during the World Cup the soccer mania in the country. All day, Barcelona vs. Real Madrid and nonstop commentary about Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo is now the rule in Haiti. Industrial and administrative production is at a low point -- a soccer game between Real Madrid and Barcelona takes precedence over the business of the state.

Item: road building has been the government panacea. The result five years later is unfinished roads to nowhere and a woman pre-eminently promoted on the tractor as the way to the future. Yet the crowded streets of the Port au Prince need repairs that could unclog the daily giant traffic bottleneck, leaving adults and children under stress more customary in the western capitals.

Item: the Preval government has created a new class of well endowed citizens. They are the public employees at the policy level. They have at their disposal the national and the international resources, used with arrogance for their own benefit not for the benefit of the ordinary citizen.

The international community, in particular the MINUSTAH, with the resources of the whole world in their hands, taking its cue from the government, has perfected the Teflon culture to its limit. I am still awaiting one nation from the pack that would become a conscientious objector in helping the world shed a light into the big scam of the mission of stabilization. OXFAM, from my empirical observation one of the best NGOs in Haiti, is leaving this summer. Is it a signal that the Teflon culture and corruption is choking the best and the brightest?

On March 20, 2011, the people of Haiti will go back to the polls to elect a new president and a new government. Will it be a break from the past or will the Preval culture of squalor and ti malice over hospitality for all continue to haunt Haiti for another twenty years?

March 12, 2011