The violent protests in Haiti early July 2018 against the rising costs of oil products show a growing refusal among a large part of the Haitian population to continue paying taxes without receiving any services in return. Already in 2017, when the national budget and the new tax system accompanying the budget were presented in the Haitian parliament, this caused much public concern. More and more, people are questioning the way the government is using the country’s resources, because they are witnessing an increasing deterioration of the public services and a government that is incapable of dealing with even its most elementary responsibilities.
As a result, and helped by social media, the Haitian people continue to be stunned to hear how high State officials, belonging to the executive, legislative or legal powers, receive each month large amounts of money from the treasury department for all kind of privileges: fancy houses, large amounts to buy telephone cards or gasoline, or just to pay numerous consultants who don’t produce anything. In the meantime, the large majority of the people is rotting away in misery with nothing more than two (2) dollars a day to live on. People are starting to say no to this kind of system and are calling the government to account. They are starting to identify the different strategies used by the small and big shots, within and outside of the State, to embezzle public funds for their own purposes.
In fact, poverty in Haiti has not stopped growing. For a long time now the country has been known to be the poorest of the American continent.
Corruption, small and large, and the waste of money are stripping Haiti of a good part of its resources. This is preventing the country from investing the necessary means to satisfy the multiple needs of the people. And since international aid is becoming scarce, the State has a growing tendency to pull back from its obligations to guarantee the fundamental rights of its citizens, such as access to education, health services, food, etc.
One of the corruption files that has let to much debate is the one about the Petrocaribe Fund, the program established by Venezuela, selling oil under favourable conditions to a number of Latin American and Caribbean countries, one of them Haiti. During the past ten years, according to various sources, more than three billion dollars of these funds seem to have vanished, while no one is able to inform about the usage of them. Of course, there have been some projects, here and there, most of them uncompleted and without any clear articulation. Nevertheless, there is no way that these initiatives can justify the use of such large amounts of money.
The country is now calling the government to account for the use of the Petrocaribe Fund and of other funds that supply the public treasury. But the reaction of the authorities to their requests for information and justice is one of contempt. Everything shows that there is a kind of high level conspiracy to prevent that these matters are thoroughly investigated. At the Presidency, even a vague desire to investigate the Petrocaribe files is considered to be « political persecution ». And in the Haitian parliament the senate has already prepared two reports that pin a number of high-level dignitaries, but parliamentary factions close to the government are doing everything to prevent these files to advance.
What about the civil society, what are they doing? The society is starting to move: citizens are talking and discussing the management of the country’s resources. More than fifty people have already filed complaints trying to question the managers of the Petrocaribe Fund. Others have been organizing demonstrations demanding accountability. For example, on August 7 human rights organizations have marched the streets of Port-au-Prince against corruption. Using social media, groups of people try to mobilize national and international public opinion because, according to them, it concerns a serious human rights violation.
Slowly the pressure is rising, but organisations are still slow in forming a big united front against corruption. Meanwhile, some voices are calling for a total revision of the management system of the country, meaning the State, because according to them, through the structures and ways of governing the Haitian State is encouraging the plundering and wasting of the country’s resources. During the current process of selecting and approving of a new prime minister the matter of corruption is at the centre of the debates, so much so that the president was forced to go back on his original plan to request that the nominated prime minister work on the file of the Petrocaribe Fund.
Without a State reform with new and clear orientations, without firm decisions about the management of the country’s resources, without a large social mobilization demanding the spending of sufficient resources to satisfy the real needs of the people, the public funds predators will continue to plunder and embezzle the public treasury. Will Haiti be able to get out of this vicious circle?