Tue | Sep 28, 2021

David Salmon | Is international aid stifling Haiti?

Published:Sunday | July 25, 2021 | 12:15 PM
Supporters of slain Haitian President Jovenel Moïse are blocked from attending Moïse’s funeral outside the former leader’s family home as they call for justice in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, Friday, July 23.
David Salmon
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Haiti represents an unfortunate conundrum for the Caribbean as it has long been plagued by instability. To date, no clear solution has emerged on how to address the nation’s challenges. Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, increased attention has been placed on formulating long- term solutions to the crisis of confidence in Haiti’s leadership.

While many individuals are proposing that an invited United States presence is needed to tackle lawlessness, this measure is almost certainly doomed to failure. There are many reasons for this, but the most prominent factor that hinders success is the historical relationship between Haiti and the United States.

Others argue that a United Nations (UN) presence is preferable. Although peacekeepers have a chequered record in the country. The UN admitted that its peacekeepers were responsible for the cholera epidemic that killed 10,000 Haitians. These forces have also been implicated in sexually exploiting vulnerable women. As a result, any invited presence would not have the domestic support of Haitians.

Long-term solutions require Haiti to strengthen its governance institutions, reduce its reliance on economic aid, and pursue meaningful international partnerships.

REFORMS TO GOVERNANCE

It is important to distinguish between the constitutional reforms the late President Moïse sought to implement and the actions he took to achieve it. Moïse attempted to tackle Haiti’s governance model, which has been a major hindrance to its stability.

Several measures suggested are in fact commendable such as establishing a unicameral legislature by abolishing the Senate. The presidential term limit would also have been modified to allow an individual to serve two successive terms instead of two non-consecutive terms separated by five years. These measures would reduce the wastage of resources and ensure improved consistency in the implementation of policy.

Additionally, the post of prime minister would be abolished and replaced with a vice president. This would limit potential friction that arises from disagreements between the prime minister and president. To quote Haitian attorney Clément Jude Charles, “The absence of a prime minister and the abolition of the Senate could allow a president to start working the day after taking office. Thus, he would be spared the long process of appointing the prime minister.” These reforms should not be discarded.

President Moïse erred in attempting to use a referendum to achieve these reforms as this is explicitly prohibited by Article 284-3 of the constitution. Therefore, any amendments would need the support of the National Assembly and consensus among the public.

An even more pressing issue that should be addressed is the strengthening of public-sector institutions. The cancer of corruption has plagued the nation for decades. For example, President Michel Martelly was accused of widespread mismanagement of up to $2 billion of PetroCaribe funds geared at reconstruction.

His successor, President Moïse, has also been indicted in this scandal after coming to office following a controversial election. Compounding this issue is the political gridlock within the country as politicians have turned to organised crime to intimidate opponents.

That is why CARICOM should play a major role in assisting the country with improving its governance and electoral institutions. The Gleaner editorial of July 13 said, “CARICOM, especially Jamaica, has expertise in reforming a corrupt and dysfunctional electoral process into one with high public trust.” Without this focus on public administration, challenges that impede Haiti’s success will go unaddressed.

ROLE OF INTERNATIONAL AID

Support for Haiti also includes re-establishing public administration within the country. The divide between the government and its citizens has largely occurred due to international aid. This aid has been used as a cat’s paw for Advancing the Interests of Developed states (AID). The involvement of the United States in Haiti’s affairs illustrates this point.

In his book, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, journalist Jonathan Katz examined the pernicious impact of US aid. In the 1990s, the Clinton administration pressured the Haitian government to significantly reduce import tariffs on agricultural produce.

The argument was made that introducing subsidised American rice as “food aid” would allow for Haiti to concentrate on manufacturing since the US would reduce Haiti’s “burden” of producing its own food. Naturally, this savaged the local rice industry and undermined the ability of Haiti to feed itself. Former rice farmers became rice buyers, and 20 years later, over 40 per cent of the population suffers from food insecurity.

Moreover, foreign aid and economic policies imposed by multilateral organisations have led to the outsourcing of major state functions to non-governmental organisations. The country has seen little to show for it. Despite over $13 billion in aid provided since the earthquake, poverty is still rampant. Then deputy special representative for the UN stabilisation mission in Haiti, Joël Boutrue, bluntly said, “Haiti would be better off without international aid.”

ROLE OF INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY

The international partnerships Haiti pursues is a contributing factor to the political milieu in which the country finds itself. Thus, it is crucial that Haiti expands its relationships beyond the United States. Both Germany and China represent potentially useful partners in this effort.

Germany is an ideal ally as its economic development was premised on skills development and building a strong social safety net, and China, provides a useful source of resources for infrastructure and foreign direct investment. There are several lessons Haiti can learn from these nations in areas such as skills development, agriculture, and poverty reduction.

Myrtha Désulmé, president of the Haiti-Jamaica Society, has emphasised the potential for Haiti to be a major tourist destination and exporter of agricultural produce. However, this will never be achieved by depending on the begging bowl as AID provided to lift the burden often becomes the burden. Hence, beware of bearers bringing gifts as there is usually more to the gift than what meets the eye.

n David Salmon is a public policy and management student at the University of the West Indies and a member of Youth Advisory Council of Jamaica. Send feedback to davidsalmon@live.com or Twitter @DavidSalmonJA.