WASHINGTON – Recently, Haiti’s president Jovenel Moise said that Haiti has five problems, all of them are corruption. Like presidents Martelly and Jocelerme Privert before him who have acknowledged Haiti’s corruption problem, Mr. Moise seems more comfortable paying lip service to the problem than taking concrete actions to curb corruption. In Haiti, corruption has many faces from nepotism to pay-to-play, to kickbacks, to government officials requesting a bribe to perform their legal duties, to outright theft of government funds or other resources, corruption has become a defining feature of the Haitian government. It is so deeply ingrained that corruption has become normalized to a dizzying degree of acceptability that is scary.


Corruption has an undeniable corrosive effect on democratic institutions. Democracy cannot take root when officials believe that they can act without transparency, engage in illegal acts, breach the public trust with impunity and never have to worry about being held accountable. Theft of government resources has become a norm, the modus operandi of every government officials, every minister, every prime minister and every president. Those who are elected or appointed are expected to enrich themselves most of the time with the tacit approval of their supervisors or those who appoint them.


For example, the minister of finance who misappropriated government resources and takes bribes does it with the calmness of a Chinese monk knowing that the prime minister is doing the same. The prime minister does not steal without the acknowledgment or a thumbs up from the president because a president would hardly choose a prime minister, he does not control, that includes stealing for the both of them. The system is so rotted inside that fighting corruption in Haiti can be a hazardous exercise. But failure to fight corruption will undoubtedly continue to plunge Haiti into a more desperate situation.


There is no quick fix for Haiti’s corruption problem, but there are steps, if taken, that over time will overturn the culture of corruption. It is easy for anyone to criticize, what is hard is to provide feasible plans and ideas that are workable and designed to solve the problem.


I am suggesting that Haiti needs an anti-corruption commission with broad jurisdiction to initiate investigations, make arrests, indict and prosecute those who engage in corruption. For such a commission to work, must receive full support from all sectors of the population, from civil society to parliamentarians, to the executive branch. Everyone should have an interest in curbing corruption. Senator Yourie Latortue, the author of the first PetroCaribe report, should take the lead on this because an anti-corruption commission will send a strong signal to the outside world that Haiti is serious about tackling government corruption.


The Commission must be comprised of Haitian and non-Haitian people who are not subject to political influence, who would be fair, level minded and unafraid to hold people accountable for their actions.  Such a commission must not be provisional, apolitical, and with its own budget funded directly by the United Nations. Every government agency would be subject to expenditure review by the commission.  Where there are allegations of corruption, whether it is nepotism or any other form of corruption, the commission would investigate, and act to include where warranted arrest and prosecution; and where there is no evidence of wrong-doing, the commission will say so.


Think of what would have happened to the PetroCaribe saga if Haiti had an anti-corruption commission. The allegations would have been referred to the commission who would have investigated them without political considerations and render its decision based on the evidence. Those who breached the public trust would have to be held accountable for their actions. That would have sent a signal to would-be government officials that corruption would not only end their career but lend them in prison and forever bar them from holding public office.


Another aspect of the commission would be its ability to ensure that each government official before taking office makes a declaration under oath of their assets and liabilities so that upon leaving the government, the commission can conduct a cost of living analysis to figure out whether a former official is living beyond his or her means. This aspect is important because too many former Haitian presidents who lived modestly before taking office often ended up living in opulence befitting of a Hollywood mogul with other people’s money.


Take, for example, presidents Jean Bertrand Aristide, Michel Martelly and even Jocelerme Privert (who was president for a little over a year) find their financial circumstances all of the sudden changed for the better to the tune of millions of dollars. Money, they did not have before taking office.  Where did they get the money? The only logical explanation is that they stole it from the government. An independent commission empowered to conduct such an investigation would cause a chilling effect on government officials who hope to get rich.


We are calling on President Moise, who seems to understand the corruption problem to stop talking and adopt our plan for an Anti-corruption commission. The United Nations has already called on the Moise administration to take concrete steps to curb corruption. An invitation to the United Nations to help Haiti set up such a commission would be welcome by all. President Moise can show that he is not all talk and no action. He can differentiate himself from former president Michel Martelly who told CNN that “in Haiti corruption is legal’ but he had five years to do something about it, but chose to ignore the big elephant in the room. Will Mr. Moise do the same as his predecessor??


Omega Staff Writers

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