By Ilio Durandis
WHAT IS likely one of the most important tariffs on any sector in the Haitian society was imposed on the Haitian Diaspora shortly after the inauguration of Haiti President Michel Martelly in May 2011.
The tariffs to fund free schooling for all children in primary schools in Haiti targeted incoming calls in the country at a rate of 5 cents (USD) per call ($0.05) and $1.50 per wire transfer to the country.
A special fund was created by the name of National Fund for Education (FNE), which needs Parliament approval and publication on Le Moniteur, Haiti’s public records newspaper, before it becomes an official fund that the government can use for public expenses towards education.
The National Council of Telecommunications (CONATEL) is in charge of collecting the fees on the incoming calls, whereas the Bank of the Republic (BRH) is in charge of the collecting all the wire transfers fees. Both entities are effectively regulatory agencies for each sector involved, in this case communications and banking.
As of last week, CONATEL published on its website that it has collected a sum total of $48,557,695.93, with another 2,570,272.33 is still to be collected from telecommunication companies (Digicel and Natcom.) No such information could be found on the BRH website for an update on the amount collected already on the wire transfers. It is worth to note that wire transfers fees are not only imposed on remittances, but on all money transfers, excluding intra-banking transfers.
As of December, 2011, in this article, the governor of the central bank of Haiti, Charles Castel, mentioned to the Senate Finance Committee that the money collected on the wire transfers were about $4.8 million, or roughly $800,000 a month.
But the recent numbers released by CONATEL raised a few questions. As mentioned in a story in the Miami Herald, it was mentioned that the fees on incoming calls were five cents per minute, but more recently in various news reports it has been reported as 5 cents per call, the latter is used more often by government officials.
In any case, at 5 cents per call, one would expect the sum collected to be an even multiple of five. In the case of the numbers released by CONATEL, $48,557,695.93 is clearly not a multiple of five. Even when the $2,570,272.33 still to be collected is added to the sum already collected, the total does not come out to be a multiple of five.
This is a minor nuisance, but nonetheless, one that raises questions. How does one get 26 cents from five cents collected per call? Is CONATEL reporting taking into account any services’ fees that they may be paying out to other organizations or agencies? What are the causes for the delay of the transfer from the telecom companies to CONATEL’s account?
In light of transparency, the Haitian people need to know exactly what those numbers mean and what is being reported. It might be time to release to the public the average wire transfers and incoming calls Haiti received on a monthly basis.
It’s possible that the numbers released by CONATEL do not tell the whole picture as to what happens or how the money is being collected or counted, but one thing for sure the Haitian parliament needs to get better clarification on this matter for the Haitian people.
The fees on incoming calls and wire transfers are supposedly sitting in a bank account somewhere in Haiti because the Haitian Parliament, which has the sole authority to enact laws on taxes, has yet to pass a law approving these fees. Until such a law is passed the Haitian government cannot use the money raised through those fees.
For now, there is not enough information about where the money is being held, whether or not it’s collecting interest or being invested elsewhere. Transparency is more than a press release or simple graphic on a website. The public needs to see the records of all the major money transfer agencies working in Haiti, and also reports from both Digicel and NATCOM, regarding the total numbers of incoming calls they received on their networks.
Haiti Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe has declared war against corruption, and as the government continues this campaign, it will be important for it to be as transparent and accountable as possible. This was only underscored by the announcement by Lamothe earlier this month that the government had identified at least 52 cases of fraud related to Haiti’s universal free education programme (PSUGO) in Port-au-Prince alone.
Educating the youth of Haiti is a constitutional mandate. The Haitian government, through the leadership of the President and Parliament has a duty to find ways to finance education for all Haitians, especially Haiti’s children. However, good intentions alone are not enough to run such an important project, let alone a country. Laws are there for a reason and it is a necessity that everyone abides by them.
The Haitian Diaspora is willing to support the education fund, but all the money collected needs to be used only for its appropriate purpose.
Ilio Durandis, a Caribbean Journal contributor, is the founder of Haiti 2015, a social movement for a just and prosperous Haiti. He is also a columnist with The Haitian Times.