I read with interest recent articles click here calling for an international coalition led by the United Nations to take over governance of Haiti, essentially making UN Special Envoy and former President Bill Clinton the de facto Governor General of Haiti. A prominent Haitian-American, and former presidential candidate in Haiti, Mr. Dumas Simeus, recently wrote a letter to the Secretary General of the UN outlining this plan. While there are many compelling reasons presented for this scenario, I am not willing to give up on my country and sign it over to an international authority. And I would suspect that if you took a poll today, it is not what the Haitian people would want either. They have just experienced a devastating earthquake; they have not lost their rights and forfeited their country.
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I agree with many of the tenets set forth in Mr. Simeus' well articulated proposal, such as running Haiti like a business with funds set up to provide financing to Haitian entrepreneurs. The empowerment of the Haitian entrepreneur is critical to rebuilding the country. I also strongly agree with his fundamental premise that the Haitian leadership -- for the past 20 or so years -- has driven Haiti into the ground. Haiti's current Administration under President Rene Preval has been exposed on the world stage as being incompetent and corrupt.
Rather than throwing out Haiti's entire system of government, we should apply the Occam's Razor principle: the simplest strategy is the best. The simplest and most straightforward strategy is to engage the untapped -- and largely alienated -- resources of the Diaspora community. Business leaders such as Mr. Simeus and qualified Haitians in-country can band together to rebuild Haiti with the support of the international community. Rather than an international takeover, I would propose -- as many others have in recent op-eds -- the formation of a Haiti Reconstruction Authority that could function as a public-private partnership comprised of qualified and competent Haitian Reformers and Diaspora, representatives of the private sector, qualified people from the current Haitian Government (particularly the current Prime Minister), and international advisors. The Authority would develop a master plan for the recovery, reconstruction and revitalization of Haiti and work with (not for) the international community to implement that plan.
As with Mr. Simeus' proposal, I believe that the centerpiece of the reconstruction plan should be building capacity in-country and nurturing the business community through the strategic and transparent deployment of investment and venture capital funds. Under Haiti's current conditions, a system of micro loans should play a central role in this financial construct. The process of the deployment of funds should be given serious attention. There should be an open, fair and transparent system put in place, such as competitive and open bidding for major rebuilding projects through RFPs. Instituting a strong process will cut the legs out from under the current core of corrupt business leaders in Haiti, known as the Groupe de Bourdon. This group that controls 80% of Haiti's economy will not be able to continue to monopolize the meager resources of the country anymore and will be forced to compete on a level playing field without political favor. Transparency backed up by accountability is the most effective way to neutralize corruption.
I am not convinced that the international community could do better than Haitians could do at this juncture. The international community, including President Clinton in 1994, has tried to build and develop our country and has failed -- that is clear given the current state of Haiti. The international community has donated more than $13 billion in foreign aid to Haiti over the past 20 years with little or nothing to show for it. For more, here: http://solutionshaiti.blogspot.com/2007/01/international-aid-debacle-how-to-get.html
There has never been an effective system in place to ensure that funds were not pilfered from the public coffers or wasted. President Duvalier left with $800 million of Haiti's funds, and Mr. Aristide left with another $350 million. Neither have been brought to justice and none of those funds have been recovered. Since its inclusion in the study, Haiti has ranked among the top 3 most corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International. There is no track record or historical precedent to show us that an international coalition would turn our country around. And while the UN does much good work around the world and is a vital institution, it has no track record of successfully turning around or managing a country.
And unfortunately, many foreigners have profited greatly from Haiti's corrupt environment. You only need to look at the recent US Department of Justice rulings on violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the Haitian telecom scandal from the mid-1990s to see that some foreign elements have been complicit in the corruption. Another bit of "food for thought" are the recent reports that the earthquake may have opened up some new viable sources of oil and gas drilling off Haiti's shores. This is a serious temptation for many foreign powers.
As for the Preval Government, I would not advocate for their ouster by international powers. They surely know their inadequacy will not be tolerated, and they are finished. Of course, I believe that Preval should demonstrate dignity and respect for the Haitian people and resign immediately, but I'm not willing to call for the forceful removal of a seated President. Calls for such drastic actions are tantamount to calls for political instability, and Haiti does not need to add such a volatile dynamic to its current situation.
Preval has said he will not run again for reelection -- despite his best efforts prior to the earthquake to amend, illegally, the constitution to allow a third term. We all know his word is no guarantee that he will cease his manipulation of the Haitian system. Therefore, I believe that it is conceivable that the Senate could call for a major reshuffling of Preval's cabinet. The Senate has the mandate to challenge the job performance of those unqualified ministers and remove them from their positions. Currently, only the Prime Minister and three of the 18 ministers are qualified for their positions.
When Preval's term is over, in seven months, the Constitution says that a Supreme Court judge can take over the administration of the government until such time as a new authority can be elected. However imperfect, the constitution is still valid and should be respected.
The calls for the elimination of elections are completely absurd. While our democracy is broken, we should not throw overboard our belief in democracy or the nascent democratic systems in place. Democracy has produced a wave of undesirable leaders around the world, such as Chavez, Hamas, Ahmadinejad and others. Haiti is not unique in this regard. But, we should not abort democracy because it produces bad leaders. As Winston Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of governance, except for all the others that have been tried."
In sum, I'm disturbed and very saddened by my colleague's calls to give up our country for the next 20 years. There are a lot of smart and successful Haitians throughout the world, such as yourself Mr. Simeus. Many are willing to return and rebuild Haiti. Let's not sell ourselves short. Tragic events often bring out the best in people. They band together with a seriousness of purpose to work for a better future with renewed purpose. Most importantly, Haitians are visionaries. We bought our freedom from slavery in 1804 -- almost 40 years before it was abolished in the US. Let us not undo what our ancestors fought for and give away our freedom because we are faced with adversity. Let's rise to this challenge and show the world who we are.
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