By Jean H Charles
On Saturday, May 14, 2011, Joseph Michel Martelly was sworn in as the 56th president of the nation of Haiti. It has been a transition fought for and earned by the people of the country against all odds, national and international. The first round was mired with irregularities that only popular anger forced corrective measures to put Michel Martelly on the next round of the balloting.
The second round was enmeshed with allegations of corruption by and in favour of the legislators affiliated with Unity, the government sponsored political party. President Martelly has a cry of heart, begging the electoral board not to derail the beginning phase of his lobbying effort to tell the world that Haiti, free of political strife, is once again open for business!
This island nation, well known now all over the world, because of the devastating earthquake that destroyed its capital on January 12, 2010, has been languishing in economic stagnation for the past sixty years because of poor at best, corrupt and criminal governance at worst.
The first one hundred days will indicate the new direction of the Martelly government. The masses deprived of the most rudimentary indices of amenities – water, electricity, decent roads -- have high expectations from the new regime.
The recent earthquake has brought into the country widespread devastation, and it has brought also universal cooperation from the most obscure to the well known international service agency. To the naked eye as well as to the astute observer, it seems as though such massive outpouring of help went into the country as a flood pours into an open field.
Haiti is the best field study of the axiom that “those who can, will not, and those who will, cannot.” The government of Michel Martelly wants to prove that those who will can turn things around very quickly if there is a convergence of the right actors with the right policies. A day before the inauguration of his mandate he energized a million men and above all women to take a broom to clean the streets in a mass movement of voluntarism.
The right policies include turning around the two parts of the head that form the nation to make it look at the same vision of the future for each citizen. This operation demands an affirmative action on behalf of those who are the most deprived of financial incubation to create products with plus value to increase their wealth. It demands also reaching out to those who already have, with tax incentives to build a national economy that will satisfy the expectation of a 10 million strong population with growing purchasing power.
The right policies called for the (re)building of the infrastructure of the nation, starting with the smaller rural counties to the capital. For the past two hundred years in the life of the nation, no rural county, nay no town or city, has received a minimum annual earmarked funding for the building or the upkeep of essential services such roads, sewers and waste disposal, potable water, electricity and internet services.
The Preval government created the CNE (National Center of Equipment) to build and maintain local roads. That instrument was transformed into an electoral machine, turned sometimes into a criminal enterprise at the service of one man instead of the nation.
The Martelly government will need to revamp this institution to supplement and intensify the contribution of the EU – European Community – in infrastructure support to Haiti.
The new government is very friendly to the concept of PPP -- public-private partnerships -- to circle the country with all the modern infrastructural apparatus -- transportation, fiber optics, ferry services, electricity, and communications, etc.
Efficient international trade requires, as said Alan Beattie in False Economy, good communications, cheap and reliable transport, as well as certainty about getting the goods on time to the customer along with the certainty that the exporter will get paid on time. Haiti is too close to the largest market in the world (the United States) not to take advantage of that opportunity.
The institutions in Haiti in the Preval government have been either an instrument of propaganda with minimum service delivery or a private fief of someone close to those in power to distribute favors, exact pay offs and humiliate and frustrate the ordinary citizen. To obtain a passport, pay domestic taxation, or receive a certified copy of one’s birth certificate, you must visit the capital, stay in a long line and sometimes pay a corrupt broker to obtain service that should be in the regular line of business of each county.
The Martelly government will need to institute in its first one hundred days the culture of hospitality in the delivery of services. That culture should be extended also to the coordination of the international organizations so they can become more effective in their mission as well as the mission of the government in becoming a state friendly to its citizens.
Last but not least the Martelly government will need to extend a hand to the Diaspora so it can energize the reconstruction of the country. He has done so at a gala given by the Diaspora in his honor. He told the crowd, at last “the Diaspora has its own government.” The new amended constitution gives the voting power to the Diaspora. With rights comes also responsibility. I have demonstrated in an earlier essay that the Diaspora as a tool for nation building can be organized only from the home country. The Haitian government must be the moving force incubating the regional organizations to make them effective tools of the Haitian recovery.
The input of the Diaspora has been so far as fragmented as the support of the international organizations in Haiti: a flood spreading into an open field. The sustainable effect has been minimal at best. The forthcoming Diaspora sponsored civil society plan to provide each town with an endowment of 3 million dollars per year for infrastructure and institution building should receive the full blessing of the Haitian government.
The energy of the new president, Michel Joseph Martelly, gives the possibility of forecasting the dawn of a new era of Haitian leadership in the Caribbean. The big international issues, such as the smooth insertion and the re-education of the criminal returnees, the free flowing of services and labor throughout the region, the control and the management of the illegal drug business will find a firm hand in securing the Caribbean basin for growth and development.
Last but not least, the last time there was some muscle (for the best or for the worst) engagement from the big brother (the United States) in the financial situation of the Caribbean was during the governance of Ronald Reagan. The Obama government will have to look at its neighbour, the Caribbean area, and provide at least the 3 billion dollars annual aid that Ronald Reagan, thirty five years ago, provided to the region. Haiti will provide the leadership for such engagement!
May 16, 2011