No miracle solution for Haiti – but corruption comes first “Global Financial Integrity
This article was originally published by The Hill.
Recent Haiti headlines portray a country in free fall. The assassination of a president, the recovery from the massive August earthquake, shortages of fuel and hard currency, kidnappings and criminal gangs operating with impunity all point to a bleak future and a possible failed state – all too close to the United States.
In this labyrinth of challenges, one problem that calls for solutions – and is easily solved – is corruption. This poison affects all sectors of the country and demoralizes the Haitian people. Haitians alone cannot solve this challenge, but the United States has the key to making it happen. Accountability and prohibition of illicit financial flows is not an esoteric endeavor, but falls within the legal means that the United States already has.
Perhaps the most infamous of the Haitian scandals is the $ 2 billion that was allegedly mismanaged under the PetroCaribe oil loan program. The Haitian government bought oil from Venezuela by paying 60% up front and borrowing the rest from the government in Caracas. The proceeds from the sale of oil in Haiti were to be used for social programs that rarely materialized. Despite a government investigation alleging the extent of the crimes, Haitians continue to ask, “Where are the PetroCaribe funds?” “
Corruption is sometimes viewed by well-meaning policymakers as a mild fever – something to watch but not to worry about. This is a mistake and a root cause of the failure to “help” Haiti from the outside. With “stability” often being foreigners’ most pressing goal, a country’s wealth is diverted through bribes, extortion, and bribery, seen as the cost of doing business. Without a real solution to this syndrome, stability will never come. The fever, it turns out, could be fatal. Obviously, a new approach is needed.
President BidenThe Democracy Summit, which begins today, provides a high-level platform to announce an initiative that can be transformative. Not only can the administration promote an effort to help locate PetroCaribe’s money, it can also declare an innovative approach in a decades-long effort to help Haiti recover.
The recent history of neighboring Central America provides a road map out of this quagmire. Take Guatemala. In 2009, a new independent institution, backed by the United States and the United Nations, was created to root out grand corruption among political figures – and it worked. During its 10 years, CICIG (its acronym in Spanish) has helped dismantle 60 criminal networks, brought charges against 680 people and recorded an 85% conviction rate. Seventy percent of Guatemalans approved it in a 2018 poll. Certainly, a similar organization can thrive in Haiti.
A complement to an entity similar to CICIG should be created to combat petty corruption in low-level, public-facing government agencies that affect people’s daily lives. An arbitration committee, made up of community and diaspora leaders, can review cases on a personal level. First-time offenders receive a public reprimand and must repay the bribes they demanded for driver’s licenses and business licenses. They are fined for a second offense; a third offense means dismissal from their government post. This dual approach of attacking corruption of all kinds can easily establish system change in Haiti. Removing corruption as the status quo and relegating the culprits to public disgrace, or putting them behind bars, can be transformative.
There is fertile ground in Haiti for this type of effort. There is a large, cohesive and vigorous civil society community that will encourage such an idea. Indeed, the recent publication of a call to action by a broad coalition of groups seeks to “rebuild and restore [Haiti’s] institutions… in order to avoid the total collapse of the state. In addition, a presidential campaign scheduled for 2022 could bring these anti-corruption bodies to the center of Haitian political discourse. The response of political parties to this anti-corruption approach will be revealing. Anything that is not rock-solid support would indicate a desire to maintain the corrupt status quo.
From an American perspective, the fight against corruption in Haiti fits well with the anti-corruption policy of the Biden administration. CICIG has delivered tangible results in Guatemala for just $ 15 million per year. Such a high ROI should prove attractive to both sides of the aisle.
The Biden administration can maintain its own status quo by considering who will be Haiti’s next elected president. Or it can tackle the source of the instability and help build a secure, stable and peaceful Haiti for the long term.
Tom Cardamone is President and CEO of Global Financial Integrity, a Washington-based think tank that works to reduce illicit financial flows, corruption and money laundering. Follow him on twitter @TCardamoneJrGFI.
Raymond Joseph is a former Haitian Ambassador to the United States and co-founder of the weekly Haiti Observer based in Brooklyn, NY