In Haiti, tough talk but little action on rampant corruption

In Haiti, tough talk but little action on rampant corruption

Friday, January 12, 2018

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AFP) — The rampant corruption that plagues Haiti is denounced roundly in official speeches, but despite probes implicating former ministers, legal action has yet to take place to end a practice that has become a habit.

Whether it's a Transparency International ranking on corruption or a Forbes one on the business climate, Haiti stubbornly stays at the bottom of the list year after year. Determined to buck the trend, President Jovenel Moise has pledged to clean up politics.

“Corruption in all its forms plagues and atrophies the economy. It has severely weakened the country's political foundation and social fabric. Corruption is a crime against development,” the Haitian leader told the United Nations General Assembly in September.

The anti-corruption campaign could have been launched in November, after a parliamentary report found that more than a dozen ex-ministers who served from 2010 to 2016 were involved in “widespread fraud”.

The 600-page report detailed possible irregularities and potentially illegal activities in the management of the Petrocaribe oil alliance fund.

The loan programme, linked to the purchase of Venezuelan oil, was launched by Hugo Chavez for nearly 20 Caribbean and Latin American countries.

Since Haiti joined the programme in 2009, Petrocaribe has raised concerns about potential misuse because, unlike other international aid, the funds are dispensed at the governments' discretion without submitting to Venezuelan conditions.

“We know there's bad management because more than US$2 billion were spent and you don't see that translate into the country's growth,” said economist Kesner Pharel.

Analyses of Petrocaribe have been swiftly swept under the carpet. A report on the management of the funds in mid-2016 accused numerous politicians, but no legal action was taken against them, and the accused did not publicly seek to rebuild their tarnished image.

Today, while the Government enjoys the backing of a broad majority in the Senate, no official debate has yet begun there to discuss a potential second report.


Pharel said the Parliament's refusal to discuss the commission's corruption report hints at “possible collusion”.

“You don't want to attack the person in power because you wouldn't want to be attacked when you get there too. It's awful to develop a culture like this.”

Corruption is so deeply embedded in senior politicians that “there are even sayings that reflect this tendency, like 'whoever fleeces the Government is not a thief',” Senate President Youri Latortue recognised, with a hint of sadness in his voice.

“Once they reach their post, politicians think they can get rich, and once they finish their mandate or the Government ends its term, they head to Miami, New York or stay comfortably here without any worries,” Latortue added.

With a legal system that advances at a snail's pace, Haiti is struggling to emerge from the vicious cycle of impunity. And judges and lawyers themselves are widely suspected of practising law to the advantage of the highest bidder.

The apathy of a majority of the population toward the waste of already-meagre public resources also does not encourage a legal crackdown.

Tens of thousands of people in the neighbouring Dominican Republic — which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti — marched this summer against the Odebrecht scandal, in which a Brazilian construction group paid bribes to secure public works contracts.

But only a few thousand took to the streets to protest against corruption in Port-au-Prince on December 5.

“The people have not yet been educated either about the impact of corruption on citizens, and that needs to change,” said Magguie Rigaud, who was among the protesters.

“Unfortunately, for many people, it's become normal to steal when you work for the Government. A minister without a beautiful car is considered unclean. Some who worked honestly live in poverty. All of these years of corruption makes for a big lack of role models.”

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