Five Tasks For Haiti's New Pop Singer President
Five Tasks For Haiti's New Pop Singer President
Op-Ed / Latin America & Caribbean 5 minutes

Five Tasks For Haiti's New Pop Singer President

Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly has officially – and finally – been proclaimed president-elect of Haiti, and he is savoring his success – in the United States. His victory tour began Tuesday in Washington, where he is meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, along with officials from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Mr. Martelly was finally declared the official winner of the election late last night, more than two weeks after officials from Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced he had edged out former first lady Mirlande Manigat in a runoff with over 67 percent of the vote.

The wait has been long for Haitians, who first went to the polls last November to elect a president, along with a parliament, carrying high expectations that a new leader could end the long nightmare they have endured since the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake that ravaged their country – and even before. The battered country’s future is now in the hands of the 50-year-old Martelly, a popular singer with little political experience, but who led an impressive campaign.

Martlelly will now have the following five immediate tasks to address:

  1. Ensure economic stability

    First, the new government must guarantee economic stability and ensure that last month’s increase in fuel prices does not have the same devastating impact it did in 2008. Then, high prices at the pumps led to massive violent protests and forced out the prime minister. The preceding Préval administration earlier staved off chaos with fuel subsidies, but those are no longer affordable and were removed last month.

    Martelly can increase government revenue by enhancing customs and tax management. He can sort out the money-losing parastatals (state-owned companies) to ensure more investments in education and health, and more assistance for farmers to increase national production.
  2. Rebuild communities, and move Haitians into sturdier homes

    Second, the president must help people move from tents to sturdier homes, and remove the mountains of rubble that still clog the city. While the International Organization for Migration has reported that the number of Haitians living in camps has dropped from 1.5 million last July to 680,000 today, this simply means people have moved out of the camps, not necessarily that they have found sustainable housing.

    Many left the camps fleeing heavy rains, in fear of political electoral violence, or simply out of frustration. Some are now rooming in overcrowded extended family homes. Others simply moved their tents closer to their pre-earthquake homes, which could trigger further difficulties when the rainy season arrives again next month, and the hurricane season in June.

    Martelly needs to suspend evictions, ask people in the camps what they want – something no one has done so far – and design a housing strategy that will not only reconstruct houses, but rebuild stronger and safer communities. The success of any housing and community building effort will depend on the participation and input of the beneficiaries. Martelly must also be prepared to take decisive action on land ownership and availability issues that have constrained the reconstruction of sturdier housing.
  3. Find Haitians jobs

    Third, Martelly must help Haitians find jobs beyond the cash-for-work programs offered to date. While those programs have been helpful, they aren’t permanent, and are centered in Port-au-Prince. More initiatives are needed to create opportunities in the provinces and lure people back to the outskirts of the country, or poverty and overcrowding will persist in the capital.

    Jobs will come through agriculture and direct foreign investments, but the new president must first build upon the efforts of the outgoing administration to improve the investment climate. The opening of the industrial zones in the north, which will create tens of thousands of jobs, is a good start. Martelly must ensure that arable land is not used for industrial purposes. Increased investments in agriculture will not only provide more jobs, but also help Haiti feed itself.
  4. Restore law and order

    Fourth, the president must support a more cohesive rule of law. While the Haitian National Police are now somewhat more professional and robust, and have improved their operations and reporting, the courts don’t have enough judges to hear the cases brought before them, if any judges are present at all. People are arrested for crimes from petty theft to wrongful association to armed gang activity, their cases are backlogged, and they are relegated to an overcrowded prison population.

    More serious still is the violent crime happening both inside and outside the camps. Local women’s organizations like KOFAVIV (Komisyon Fanm Viktim pou Viktim) have reported high numbers of rapes, and both the police and MINUSTAH (The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) have asserted that gang members who escaped from prison during the earthquake have infiltrated camps. Even the authorities are falling victim to crime. In the last two months, 14 policemen have been killed, more than any number since the 2004 rebellion that forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power.

    As a starting point, the government should work with MINUSTAH to complete the vetting of the Haitian National Police, and begin weeding out those who are still corrupt and who did not meet standards.

    Meanwhile, The Supreme Court has been without a Chief Justice since Boniface Alexandre vacated the post in 2004 to succeed Mr. Aristide as interim president, and several seats on the judiciary remain vacant. The new president must name a Chief Justice and get the Superior Judiciary Council in place to set standards and improve judiciary functioning. The prison population can also be reduced by allowing the special chambers to hear petty crime cases of those who have already spent more time in prison than the law requires for their alleged crime.
  5. Put country before politics

    Both Martelly and Ms. Manigat campaigned on these issues of the economy, jobs, crime, and housing. For Martelly to deliver, he must lead the nation as a whole, work constructively with a fragmented parliament, and deal effectively with unresolved political electoral grievances. The president and parliament must both show that national priorities trump personal interests. Such consensus has not been seen since the earthquake, but this is a teachable moment for the Haitian system.

    The new government – especially Martelly – will have three initial tests of their commitment to progress. The first will be passing constitutional amendments to implement electoral reforms. The second will be to increase political space for Haitians abroad to improve their contribution to governance. The third will be selecting a prime minister capable of heading a government tasked with national reconstruction.

    Six months after Haitians voted, and more than a year after the Western Hemisphere’s worst natural disaster devastated their lives, the wait for a new president is almost over. When President-elect Martelly takes the seat in the Palais National on May 14, he needs to be ready to finally deliver.


Former Senior Analyst, Haiti
Former Communications Director, North America

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