Haiti’s winner-take-all politics hinders recovery
Haiti’s winner-take-all politics hinders recovery
Frank Giustra on the Devastating Situation in Haiti
Frank Giustra on the Devastating Situation in Haiti
Op-Ed / Latin America & Caribbean 3 minutes

Haiti’s winner-take-all politics hinders recovery

After surviving the worst earthquake to ever hit the Western Hemisphere, many Haitians saw 2011 as a year of hope and recovery. Nonetheless, early expectations of improvements in the democracy-challenged and poverty-stricken country gave way to winner-take-all politics and institutional deficiencies.

When President Michel Martelly took office in May, following a fraught election that spanned the entire year of Haiti’s post-earthquake cleanup, Haitians rightly celebrated the turning of a proverbial new leaf. Martelly’s inauguration marked the first time that a Haitian president had handed power to an elected candidate from the opposition, and Martelly’s promises of fast economic growth and security sector reform resonated with the widespread need for physical and financial security.

As Haitians mark the two-year anniversary of the earthquake, many are looking for good news on reconstruction, jobs, housing, education and security. Martelly’s message — that Haitians must eventually wrest control of reconstruction and development from international donors and agencies — is drawing support from abroad. And his economic plan hinges on foreign investment, rather than aid, as a sustainable stimulus to the Haitian economy.

Yet 2011 was also a year of uncertainty and frustration, as Haitians grappled with defunct institutions and an anemic pace of political progress. Government all but ground to a halt during a five-month impasse in the appointment of a new prime minister. Parliament only confirmed Martelly’s third candidate, physician Garry Conille, in October.

Martelly did succeed in nominating a chief justice to the Supreme Court, a post empty since 2004, but hostilities between his administration and legislators have stalled the appointment and installation of the Superior Judiciary Council (CSPJ) to oversee much-needed improvements to the justice system, and allow the judiciary its role in the checks and balances of Haitian democratic power.

If Haiti’s leaders continue to spread the spoils of power among close collaborators, 2012 will bring more troubles. Fraught co-habitation between local, municipal, and central institutions, as well as Martelly’s perceived heavy-handedness with his opponents, will inevitably thwart the state-building process. Although Martelly’s social policies have merit, viable reconstruction will be impossible without changes to his political playbook.

Martelly has the opportunity to promote himself as a national, democratic leader and build confidence with lawmakers to make that happen. Early agreement on priority issues, such as Haiti’s national budget and the constitutional amendments voted in May, would signal that Martelly’s coalition is prepared to govern with Haitians’ interests in mind, ensuring more successful long-term reconstruction. Openly discussing the national budget will add transparency, better define priorities and ensure adequate funding.

The fate of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction (Recovery) Commission, the IHRC also needs resolution. Creating a new entity now would only further delay progress. The government should pursue parliamentary approval for renewing the IHRC, proposed by Martelly, and boost Haitian participation by naming its key ministers representatives of the executive. This would make government part of the blueprint, and the eventual evolution to a fully Haitian management structure.

In the coming weeks, there should be transparent debate around holding overdue local and municipal elections, as well as partial senate elections due in May, to check undemocratic tendencies and avoid further institutional instability. A credible electoral council (CEP) should oversee the process. The success of these elections does not depend on whether the council is permanent or provisional, but rather on the political process necessary to form a widely accepted CEP, capable of organizing a fair process for credible elections.

The short route, however, to a permanent council, is now through the constitutional amendments approved by parliament in May, but whose publication has been blocked by administrative blunders. But the executive and the legislature must first agree on removing these impediments for the new law to be published and applied. Appointing the CSPJ is also necessary for the judiciary to play an independent role in nominating the permanent electoral body. President Martelly must make good on his commitment and the parliament must support him for the pending judicial appointments to become reality.

Only effective democracy at all levels of government can foster the lasting reconstruction and security that Haitians deserve. 2012 will be a decisive year: Jobs, health, education, housing and security hang in the balance as President Martelly fights to overcome winner-take-all politics.

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