How does the average Haitian survive in those meager living conditions? More often than not, this is the question I’m asked by some of my foreign friends. It is almost surreal for them to understand how so many people are able to live day after day giving the hardship they must face. In an economical context, Haiti is not simply poor, it is bottom line bankrupted. As such, the majority of the people who are available and capable to work are finding it almost impossible to get a job.
However, if our politicians and the private sector were determined to consider the plight of those at the bottom, it is possible that within the next five to ten years they could make an effort to reduce the unemployment rate, thus give concrete hope to those living at the margin of poverty. Here, I will present 10 ways that Haiti can forever take the path of progress and irreversibly leave behind the shadow of poverty.
The biggest accomplice to the high rate of unemployment in Haiti is a lack of strategic investment in education. The country simply does not produce enough skillful individual to deal with the job issues that it faces. In order to even think about reducing unemployment, we must have a strong equitable policy towards providing access to education that will lead to employment. It is not enough to simply focus on children under 12 when it comes to education, but we must have a sound plan to train those of working age( 15 to 60+), and expose them to the skills they will need to become successful individual in the national economy.
2- Easy Steps to Start a New Business
Anyone who has ever tried to start a formal business in Haiti can attest to the lack of simplicity that comes with such endeavor. The rules are hard to find. The business environment is almost non-conducible to doing business. From easiness of importing goods and equipments to labor laws, the Haitian business landscape has major flaws that seem to be anti-job creation. Nonetheless, there are easy ways to fix those issues. The government can digitize its systems to facilitate entrepreneurs an easy way of starting a business without having to be subjected to bribes or other corrupted vices. The enforcement of anti-monopoly rules can help break the cycle of wealth concentration that is currently at the hands of a few privileged families, which in turn can play a major role at innovating the way business is done in the country.
3-Incentives for Small Enterprises
Once the steps to start a small business are easy enough, the government must also create policies that encourage people to start a formal business. There are many ways of doing so, such as, cash incentives depending on the type of business that is being created. Corporate tax reduction is another way to encourage people to invest more. Also, the Haitian government can make some public land available cheaply to businesses that promote local agricultural products, tourism, energy, education among others.
4- Green Jobs
If there is one type of businesses that can flourish in Haiti at present, it is in the green sector. From our abysmal environmental conditions to our sheer lack of renewable energy, Haiti is ready to take advantage of this green revolution. The technology already exists, and if those who are truly interested in ameliorating the living conditions of the bottom 80% of Haitians are sincere, they along with a public/private venture can help create more than 1 million green jobs by the end of the decade in Haiti. From manufacturing assembly to electrical grid, from reforestation to food independency, from energy-efficient houses to clean harbors, Haiti is more than ready to be fully invested in green technology. How we decide to regulate and invest in this industry could make the difference between perpetual miseries and progress for all.
5- Invest in Digital Technology
Would you think it’s absurd for Haitians to start making their own cellular phones, radios, TVs and other digital appliances? Why not open that market for those types of businesses. If Haiti is truly open for business, why are we not luring the businesses that can afford to pay a living wage to its employees to come set shop on our shore? Yes, people who want a quick fix and who’d like to continue with the policy of the status quo will point to the lack of skillful labors for such jobs, but honestly, how long will it take to train or retrain a Haitian technician in those skills. Companies can set aside times to train their workers on the skills they will need to be successful. An investment in digital technology is not only a necessity, but in this day and age it is a win-win for all involved. Imagine how many new jobs can be created in the telecommunication industry, IT infrastructure by upgrading our government offices, schools, and private companies.
6- Invest in Research and Development
Again a public/private venture could bring great benefit to the whole country, if money is wisely spent on scientific research and development. Every year, hundreds of students are graduating from state and private universities in the field of medicine, pharmacy, chemistry, engineering, and mathematics, and few have an opportunity to enter the labor market working in their field of expertise. If we could get investors to put money into researching our tropical plants, mine exploration, solar panels and wind turbine for energy, transformation of our agricultural products, the marine products, farming, not only that this venture would create thousands of jobs, it would also redefine possibility for the average Haitian.
7- Modernizing our Physical Infrastructure
Roads maintenance and construction are keys in the development of any society. It is not smart to build roads that lead to nowhere or that serve no economic purposes. We must build roads that link communities, and connect producers to markets. There must be a national plan for canalization to prevent future floods of our major cities, and to also help us with better water management. New power lines are needed throughout the country. We need to build transportation hubs, railroads, museums, concert halls, new stadiums, sports complexes, community centers, and various public markets to take all the small vendors out of the residential areas, and major traffic roads. These new constructions can create ample of temporary and permanent jobs, and bring in much needed revenues that can later be invested in social programs.
8- Security and Civil Protection
Human rights must be protected and investors need to know that their investment will be safe. Hence, it is imperative that the state invest heavily in protecting human lives and businesses by increasing the police force and equip them well enough so they could do their job efficiently. It might also be important to create a new armed forces that can be activated during times of natural disasters, and also help protect our borders from contrabands and other illegal activities. This is a sector that can create thousands of new permanent jobs.
9- Trade Agreements and Financial Regulations
Trades cannot only work in favor of our imports partners, it is essential that Haitian authorities rethink the trade agreements of the past. It is not conceivable that because of our trade agreements with other nations, our farmers are no longer interested in working the land. We must find a new consensus with those nations to lower tariffs, and reduce restrictions on Haitian goods and products coming into their shores. It is of utmost importance to reframe the textile industry, so that portion of goods made in Haiti can benefit the local economy. There must also be a goal to balance imports with exports, and take advantage wherever possible to create new job opportunities.
The financial landscape of the country is in shambles. From customer services at the public or commercial banks to their lack of real investment in the economic life of the country, this sector is simply sucking the life out of the few who dare to make use of their system. There is no coherent credit system, loans are hard to come by to small entrepreneurs and there is a serious cash problem at most of the financial institutions. Micro-finance institutions, although play a pivotal role in linking the poor with some much needed cash, are not the solution and their interest rates are counter-productive in alleviating people’s living conditions. The government can create some incentives for investors to start new cooperative banks, along with community-based credit unions, or set up a chain of small public banks that can offer people reasonable interest rates, and loans that will be far greater than what most microfinance institutions can lend.
The financial system must be restructured in a way that allows very small and medium size enterprises to enter the formal sector of the economy. Regulations must be enforced to ensure that competition is fair; taxes are paid on time, and allow a business climate to function according to good economic principles.
10- A Working Government
The last piece of the puzzle, which could ultimately be the most important piece, is that government must work. In order for that to happen, qualified people must occupy positions, where they can have an impact and succeed. The constitution must be a guide for all public servants, and it must be respected. With the scarcity of revenue, government can no longer afford to waste money on projects that have no real economical or social benefits.
We have also reached a point where government must be restructured to work for the people. We need to get rid of bureaucratic impasses that have been more of an impediment to progress than anything else. Government can expand its social services, but it must be done responsibly and within our national means. Corruption needs to be curtailed at all cost, and offenders must be dealt with according to the law. It is possible to do more with less, so an assessment of what works and what does not is required in order to find out where we can get the most out of every Gourde.
Lastly, there are many areas where government can supplement the labor market, such as teachers training programs, vocational training through communal technical schools, sanitation, public health, security, public parks and amusements, public construction projects, expansion of the state university system to cite just a few.
Now that I have laid out some of the ways that Haiti can take control of its destiny and irreversibly change the living conditions of its population for the better, let me try to briefly address where the money will come from and how the private sector, international community and the government can work in tandem to make this a reality.
The incentives that I highlighted earlier would surely entice many investors to take a look at what we have to offer. In a climate that is business friendly, it is safe to assume that people would be more willing to take risk, and invest their capital for exchange of a bigger return. The government can channel some of the foreign aids that it receives to encourage small entrepreneurs to start businesses that can be self-sustain, and thus eventually will contribute in the revenue that it collects.
In the short term, the government can borrow money with low-interest from international banks and directly invest some of that capital to fund some of the steps listed above such as digital technology, education, green jobs and so forth. It can also rewrite or enforce its tax codes to make sure that money collected are invested right back in the economy. The government can also bring in much needed cash by renting or leasing some of the state land to investors that are willing to create a certain amount of permanent jobs, that way it can further expand its pool of revenue contributors.
There are tons of other ways that government can get access and make available money to finance most of these steps, which I highlighted. But keep in mind this is not solely a public effort. Haitians from the diaspora, as well as the Haitian upper class can also play a crucial role in investing in some of those sectors. We can also open our doors to foreign investors to come and do business in the country as long as there will be guidelines as to what are expected of them, in term of size of investments, duration, liabilities and so forth.
There is really no quick and easy way to get Haiti on track, but the paradigm of Haitian development must now be seen with a different lens. We can no longer lobby just for textile jobs or for more ways to import our ways out of poverty. A national mobilization that takes into account the potential of each Haitian to become a revenue contributor rather than a revenue absorber needs to take place. All of these steps can be taken simultaneously or in small increments depending on how much money is available and how cooperative the partners of Haiti might be in supporting such a lofty goal. Our ambition to become a prosperous nation cannot be small, and we should not settle for less. All of these things I mentioned can be started, with a majority of them well-established by the end of this decade. Time is of the essence for all the friends of Haiti to support a plan that leads to the highway of progress with no possibility to drive in reverse.
Those are tangibles, reachable and doable steps that can be undertaken with this current administration and be incorporated in the dialogue of the reconstruction of Haiti. As the Haitian saying goes “Tout moun dwe ka souse yon zo” everyone must be able to suck a bone. It is inhuman to have Haitians working for an abysmal wage, all in the while the factories owners, and foreign investors are the only ones capable of sucking that bone. We should no longer tolerate false hope, exploitation, mediocrity, and plain disregard of the worth of a Haitian life.
Following these steps will not only lead to a prosperous nation, but it will reunite us with the dream and ideals of our forefathers, who sacrificed it all to make sure that we could live as one independent people, in a nation of our own, and in harmony to care for each other. We can be that people, we can be the generation that builds the bridge to connect our past with the coming future by taking care of the immediate present.
Education for all and jobs that pay livable wages can guarantee our future for generations to come. It will take lots of efforts, but there is nothing impossible or irrational to expect excellence and to dream big. The moment we can turn those ideas into the new Haitian reality, we will realize that no dream is too big and no barrier is too strong for us not to overcome. Together we will achieve.