Tuesday, May 31, 2011


(Miami Herald) -

OUR OPINION: Now comes the hard part — governing Haiti

Since his recent inauguration, Haitian President Michel Martelly has been a whirlwind of activity, traveling around the country in private helicopters to reassure Haiti’s exhausted people that his new government means well. The president’s visibility is a welcome change from the style of his predecessor, but it’s time for him to make the transition from campaigning to governing.

The overriding need is to put a functioning government in place. Former Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive resigned, as expected, when Mr. Martelly took office. Since then, the government has been on auto-pilot. Outgoing ministers don’t know who inherits their portfolios and are hesitant to make a deal, sign a legal document or make action involving the routine chores of government.

Meanwhile, the hurricane season starts next week and the international community is ready to move on various fronts as soon as it has a domestic governing partner that can inspire confidence. Haiti has no time to waste.

Then there is the not-so-small matter of new constitutional provisions passed with great fanfare by Haiti’s parliament. One provision bestowed dual nationality on Haitians living overseas. Haitians in South Florida and elsewhere have been clamoring for this for years. But a dispute over the parliamentary process cast the reforms into doubt. Mr. Martelly needs to resolve this issue.

Mr. Martelly has some good ideas. This week, he spoke again of imposing a small tax on remittances and using that money to send an additional 500,000 students to school by September. That’s an ambitious goal, probably impossible in the limited time frame, yet surely needed.

But taxing $1.8 billion in remittances, which could raise $50 million, won’t sit well with those who send money to their needy families in Haiti unless Mr. Martelly can show that the funds will be handled transparently. In Haiti, public funds have a habit of vanishing like yesterday’s promises.

Corruption and lack of transparency will be Mr. Martelly’s most pressing challenges even as he deals with the nation’s top priority: finding a permanent home for the hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in temporary camps. The donor community will rightly insist that Mr. Martelly establish public accountability as a guiding principle before it invests in Haiti’s future. Mr. Martelly must make it clear that he gets it.

So far, Mr. Martelly has been fortunate — he’s had a good honeymoon.

First, the Obama administration extended temporary protected status for undocumented Haitians living in the United States. That allows an estimated 58,000 of them to remain in this country for an additional 18 months. That relieves Haiti of the burden of caring for new arrivals at a time when it already faces monumental problems

This week, the political opposition that controls Parliament offered another gift. It promised not to block Mr. Martelly’s choice of prime minister if he meets constitutional requirements. Daniel Gérard Rouzier, a 51-year-old, U.S.-educated economist, is the designated prime minister. Like the president, he’s a political novice whose lack of a political base could have sunk his nomination.

Given Haiti’s turbulent domestic politics, Mr. Martelly must surely be aware that the honeymoon won’t last. He needs to move quickly to reassure Haiti’s people, the international community and Haiti’s diaspora that he’s capable of providing strong leadership. Otherwise, the honeymoon will end in buyer’s remorse before he knows it.

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