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The Haitian conundrum

The recent assassination of the Haitian president Jovenel Moïse has sent shock waves throughout the Western hemisphere. Haiti, which is known as the first of the enslaved colonies to break free and declare independence, has long suffered from authoritarian rule. No country, despite its desires for freedom, can achieve its goals without economic success — which Haiti has lacked for centuries.

Haiti's president, Jovenel Moïse, centre, leaves the museum during a ceremony marking the 215th anniversary of revolutionary hero Toussaint Louverture's death, at the National Pantheon museum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Moïse was assassinated after a group of unidentified people attacked his private residence (File photograph by Dieu Nalio Chery/AP)

It has also been widely known that Western and European powers had put a trade squeeze on Haiti that cramped its ability to flourish. Since the earthquake of 2010, there have been efforts to stimulate development within the country; it is within this window that the slain president emerged.

Jovenel Moïse came to power as a bright, young and energetic businessman whose eyes were set to move Haiti to become a jurisdiction with an emerging economy that investors would see as a safe and new market on the global scene.

Haiti needs international trade and tourism as specific items to generate the economy and employment. The new president was targeting those areas with a view to providing a political jurisdiction that was clean and free from corruption. While it may have been his promise, achieving it on an administrative level proved difficult; hence, the very structure of governance did not help with the perception of openness and transparency.

Without a strong and vibrant private sector, economic stimulus and action become too heavily reliant on the government. Without an arm’s distance between contract procurement and the government ministries, the perception of nepotism and favour is hard to nullify. Everything then becomes suspect, delaying elections, law crackdowns become questioned — and where there are no proper answers, one will be naturally created.

This is a foreseeable predicament for many Caribbean-style governments. As the notion of democracy grows throughout the communities, the awareness level of their disenfranchisement from the real apparatus and processes of governance gets greater every day. Unfortunately, the rulers who have become accustomed to “old boy” set-ups are blind to the sentiments brewing in their countries.

Many years ago, I recall a leader having what was deemed as a regional meeting on security. I could not help but think at the time that security was related to themselves. In short, how to protect their turf with a regional response because they were each complicit in style.

The security of leaders has been and always will be an ordinary function of any government. However, when livelihoods within civil society are threatened or perceived as under threat, that security alert level rises. Nowhere is that truer than in the commercial community where opportunity is relied upon.

Several years ago, during the Paula Cox administration, we should all recall anti-corruption laws being visited. It may have been the case that these laws took effective form under the next administration. In any event, as party to that exercise came the “office or ministry of procurement”. None of these were small concerns; they were major. The irony is that to date, aside from instruments such as Pati, much of the work seems to be almost for naught.

Those legislative building blocks towards openness and transparency are not just nice ideas to promote; they are essential and perhaps the cornerstone of what was missing in Haiti. All we had from the deceased president, who seemed well-intended and smart, now amount only to platitudes.

Let me be clear: I will not say that if you have a fair and transparent system there will be no assassinations because all it takes is a corrupt motive. What I will say, absent of a corrupt motive, is that many governments are structured in such way where there is no civil means to remove or remedy a runaway leadership — and that situation breeds resentment.

The 20th century saw colonialism overturned in many jurisdictions formerly under the yoke of a group of European countries. They were resisted by tremendous liberation movements that popularised the names of many of the leaders. Very few jurisdictions, if any, have evolved beyond the structures that colonialism left behind.

It caused one notable and esteemed senator, Dudley Thompson of Jamaica, to say to a forum in Bermuda held at the Bermuda College: “It seems our present-day leaders are content to sit in the places where White folks used to sit.”

His comments were a stinging rebuke and indictment of leadership, who, while knowing their guilt, would rather take the risk and live on the edge, even enduring going down in infamy as long as they could enrich themselves in the process.

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Published July 10, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated July 09, 2021 at 4:24 pm)

The Haitian conundrum

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