PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI – Haitian government agency – Office National D’Assurances known by its French acronym as ONA has been a hot-bed of corruption (bribery and kickbacks), waste and nepotism. According to sources with intimate knowledge of the workings of the agency, its current director, Mr. Chesnel Pierre has authorized preferential lending practices for certain members of the Haitian elite and the political class. These preferential lending practices allow certain borrowers to receive millions of dollars of loans at below prevailing market interest rates, and allow them to pay back the loans with cash money without having to account for the sources of the funds.


ONA was created as part of a Haitian government’s effort to encourage private citizens and employees to save for their retirement. The agency allows depositors saving for retirement  to borrow against their deposits. However, government officials from the Aristide administration to Jovenel Moise  have used ONA as a pass-through for all kinds of corrupt deal makings. ONA also handles payments to private enterprise on certain government contracts for heavy equipment such as cars, trucks and heavy machineries. These contracts represent a cash bonanza for ONA’s directors who allegedly accept bribes and kickbacks from vendors allegedly such as  Auto-Plaza, the Haitian Motors Company (Mazda) among others.


Under Bernard Degraff and Chesnel Pierre   (ONA’s directors under President Martelly and the new one under  President Jovenel Moise), the agency paid millions of dollars to Auto-Plaza and Haitian Motors Company (Mazda) for heavy equipment, (cars, and trucks) that the government were purchasing for the minister of public works through an inter-agency loans. Though the companies received full payment, only 10% of the cars and trucks were delivered. Auto-Plaza, a company owned by the Boulos Brothers had received allegedly millions of dollars as a loan at 3%  . Ona also gave a loan to Mrs Irvelle Pierre Latortue ( wife of senator Youri Latortue )in the amount of at a rate of 3%.It is well known in Haiti that Mr Chesnel Pierre became director of ONA thanks to the Senator.Not only did the Latortue received the loan,Mr Chesnel Pierre has also hired family members of Mrs irvelle Latortue who claims to control ONA through her special relationship with Mr. Chesnel Pierre.   Mrs Irvelle Pierre Latortue, a self proclaimed financier, is suddenly disregarding basic ethical principles, thus jeopardizing her husband’s stance against corruption.


ONA IS NOT A BANK and should not under any circumstance lend money to private enterprises


According ONA’s employees, Mr. Chesnel Pierre has turned the agency into a clearinghouse for laundering drug money. According to documents reviewed by Omeganews, the agency approved millions of dollars of loans to politically well-connected people at preferential interest rates of 2% to 4%, while ONA employees are paying in excess of 22% on similar loans. Small depositors who are saving for retirement can hardly get a loan from ONA.


Avis-Rent a car received a 6.9 millions dollars loan with a 4% interest rate; Auto plaza, 6.5 millions loan at 4%; Senator Youri Latortue, former president of the Haitian senate received a $1.2 million dollars loan  at 3% interest; while the Haitian Motors Company (Mazda) is allowed to pay cash monthly installment on a $685,000, money that was paid to the company for the delivery of 17 pick-up trucks which the company never delivered. The company is reportedly paying back the money  without interest by small monthly installment rather than a one time full payment.


In addition to the low interest rate, the rich and the politically well-connected benefit from loan terms that are favorable and encourage default. For one thing, they do not have to present collateral when everyone does; the length of repayment  are often decades between 30 to 50 years.  ONA’s loan terms are vastly different than private banks.


The current interest rate on bank loans in Haiti is about 11% with collateral equal to at least 50% of the value of the loan.  Why is ONA offering loans to member of the political class and the elites at such low rates while charging its own employees 22%?  Those who borrow from ONA at such a low interest rate are allowed to pay back their loans with cash money, never having to account for the sources of the money. In Haiti, laundering drug money is a very profitable business for members of the elite and the political class masquerading as businessmen. ONA presents a new way to launder drug money by allowing its borrowers to pay cash on millions of dollar in loans.


A judge has been appointed recently to investigate the Petrocaribe scandal in which 2.1 billion dollars of the petrocaribe fund had been embezzled by government officials including Wilson Laleau, the current chief of staff of president Jovenel Moise. While we applaud the appointment of an investigative judge to address the complaints of over 200 Haitian citizens who have filed complaints against former Haitian president Michel Martelly and a host of other former government officials for embezzlement. We believe that corruption is deep and affects every government agency in Haiti. ONA is one of the agencies that must be investigated. Its current director Chesnel Pierre must explain his actions.


Omega Staff Writers

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