By Ilio Durandis
OFTEN, WHEN ONE ASKS average Haitians, “how are things?” there is the simple answer of: “Nou la, n’ap kenbe,” we are here, we’re holding up. That might give the impression that all is well.
But underneath this laconic answer hides a deep mystery and profound misery. The Haitian people have been conditioned and are continuing to be forced to accept positive illusions as their normal reality.
Haitian society seems to be disintegrating by the day. Most public institutions simply do not work. There is little faith or trust in the government. And the Haitian private sector cannot compete with the influence of non-governmental organizations.
The sky might not be falling yet, but Haiti is in a dire situation.
To paraphrase the famous quote of the Apollo 13 crew regarding Haiti’s current situation, “international community, we have a problem.”
Haiti’s challenges are too numerous to be mentioned in a single article. The country has more issues than it has practical solutions. The government of Haiti is not the country’s only problem, but it definitely should not be the cause of any new problems.
A little over two years ago, the Haitian people, under the banner of democracy, took a gamble with the present and near-term future of the country by electing Michel Martelly as their leader.
Since the president’s inauguration, the government of Haiti has been anything but stable. It took almost six months before President Martelly could get his first Prime Minister, Garry Conille, ratified, who then lasted just three months in the job, before handing in his resignation. That followed two previous picks for Prime Minister that were rejected by Parliament.
Another three months would pass from Garry Conille’s resignation to the full ratification of Laurent Lamothe as Prime Minister. At that point, most people were expecting the president to start delivering on his electoral promises, since Lamothe was seen as a good complement and one of the president’s closest trusted friends.
Among some of the major tasks that the Haitian people expected this government to address were the housing crisis caused by the earthquake, the high rate of unemployment, the lack of electricity, decentralization of government services, effective educational reform and the respect of the law.
But none of these issues can be properly dealt with, if every three months or so, important cabinet members are being reshuffled, reassigned or quitting the government.
President Martelly and Prime Minister Lamothe opened their government with a group of five “Es” —education, environment, energy, employment and the rule of law (all begin with “E” in French.)
In less than a year, however, Mr Lamothe has conducted two cabinet reshuffles. And just this week, both the Ministers of Finance and Communication tendered their resignations on successive days.
Besides cabinet members, who are under constant threats of getting the pink slip, state secretaries and other high level officials have been replaced seemingly at will, and often with no warning — such was the case for the Director General of Haiti’s National Society of Industrial Parks (SONAPI) at the end of March.
This leads to questions over the degree to which the government believes in its own team. Does the government really believe it can convince foreign investors to come and create the necessary jobs that the Haitian people need? Does Haiti’s government really believe that it can realize fair elections? Does it really believe that the foreign tourists will come? Are these resignations of the sign of a country that is open for business?
This government seems to be suffering from an auto-immune disease in the form of a positive illusion: Let’s tell ourselves that things are working, and maybe out of the blue, they might start to work.
According to reports, Finance Minister Marie Carmelle Jean-Marie left her post in part because she wanted to put some control on the finances of the government. At the end of last year, she had warned members of the government on the cost of making foreign trips.
In her resignation letter, she clearly stated that members of the government did not support her effort, hence her time was up.
Her resignation represents a bad sign for the government, since most in the international community seemed to see her as a credible and competent individual.
The Minister of Communication, on the other hand, was on the job for just three months. During Regine Godefroy’s short tenure, she wanted to harmonize the communication of the different ministers. But in a few months, the breadth of communication distributed by the Ministry could not be characterized as comprehensive.
The bottom line, however, is that the resignation of these two cabinet members is not the end of the road for this government; it is not even its more troubling or important issues right now.
At present there is a gas shortage in Haiti, and the death of Hugo Chavez leaves many doubt about the future of PetroCaribe. Even though all nine member of the compromised institution that will be tasked to manage the next elections are in place, there is yet any set date on when they’ll start drafting the new electoral laws, or when the already overdue elections will even take place.
It is obvious that the international community is losing patience with the lack of progress in the country based on reports coming from the United Nations Security Council over the last month.
There are concerns over the fate of the millions collected thus far for the free educational program. The country still has no concrete plan to deal with its deteriorating environment.
The rule of law is more like the rule of no law. At the end of last year, in the span of one week, the government’s chief prosecutor for the city of Port-au-Prince changed hands three times.
Mining contracts were reportedly handed out to foreign entities without the approval of Parliament.
As the wait for local elections has continued, the vast majority of local lawmakers who are supposed to be elected by the people have instead been placed in those posts by the President.
The good news is that the President still has three years to make it work. He still has time to govern.
The Haitian people still have hope that he can deliver on some of his campaign promises. The past decisions won’t make the road ahead any easier, but this government needs to make itself more stable, take the job more seriously, and more importantly, face Haiti’s realities.
Firing or demanding resignation of cabinet members seemingly at will will not change the sad reality that the vast majority of Haitians have to live every day.
The country needs, steady hands at the wheel — a dynamic, open and visionary leadership for today and one that can lay the necessary groundwork for progress, stability and democracy in the future.
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.