When it was recently announced that all money transfers coming into Haiti will be paid in the local currency (gourde) rather than US dollars, I said to myself that the policy was the right step in the right direction. The public reaction, however, was swift and unforgiving, as most people earnestly believe the new policy, which was to take effect next January, to be another sinister ploy by those in power to defraud the poor whose only source of income is the dollar-dominated remittances send by relatives living overseas. Less than two weeks after the announcement, Charles Castel, the president of Haiti’s Central Bank, would declare during a radio interview that the anticipated change was nothing but a rumor. Was it really a rumor or the unfortunate demise of a sound fiscal policy which would have positively impacted Haiti and finally set the foundation for a modern state?
If there was anything that contributed to Haiti’s current status as the poorest country in the western hemisphere, it would be the state’s lack of effective jurisdictional and administrative control over many of its constitutional prerogatives. For a state that is invariably known to the world as a bastion of totalitarianism, this argument may seem farfetched, if not absurd. However, it is unfortunately true. In fact the notion of Haiti being “a failed state”, as has been decided by the international community, can be attributed to the Haitian state not being effectively in control of its territorial confines, a rather disturbing reality that has impeded the country’s development for the last two centuries. More to the point, it opens the way for the international community’s intrusive interference in the internal affairs of the country and helps propagate the notion of Haitians being a threat to themselves without the fraternal support of the self-described “Friends of Haiti.”
The decision by the Central Bank ordering the state-licensed money transfers businesses to dole out the remittances in gourdes, which has since been retracted, was not well planned and may have ran afoul of powerful interests in Haiti. Currently there are institutions of learning in Haiti and many private businesses that demand to be paid exclusively in US dollars for their services. To the western-educated technocrats in charge of public administration in Haiti, this anomaly may not be an anomaly after all. It is the market forces at play not an incidence of the state not fulfilling its constitutional duties as protector of the national patrimony, which covers everything from regulating commerce within the boundaries of the republic to enforcing the laws of the land. In all likelihood, these politically well-connected private enterprises, which would be adversely affected by the changes, were responsible for the sudden reversal of the policy. Charles Castel was probably read the riot act by those who matter (the business community and possibly the MINUSTAH whose legions of functionaries use the dollar for banking and their everyday needs in Haiti. His reference to better market rates for the public is as ludicrous as the UN Security Council claim of Haiti being a threat to international peace and security.
It is a known fact that the unregulated use of the US dollar outside of the banking system in Haiti encourages a host of criminal activities ranging from laundering of drug proceeds to tax evasion, currency speculation and hoarding. The opposition-controlled Parliament and prime minister Garry Conille should work toward strengthening or enforcing the law that makes the Gourde the only legal currency within the territorial boundaries of the Haitian republic. Such measure naturally will help the Haitian government secure administrative control over the most important component of its raison d’être: its economy. The Haitian state’s lack of administrative control over the economy is such that the data it uses to gauge the level of economic activities within the country is provided by the IMF, the not so reliable overseer of the global economic system, which miserably failed to anticipate the current global economic recession 2007-?
Because the interests of the diverse constituencies that make up a political or national entity naturally diverge, it is incumbent upon the state to improvise and impose solutions, as long as they are part of a consensus that takes into considerations the interests of each constituency. The failure by successive Haitian governments to fulfill this basic requirement, throughout the two centuries of Haiti’s existence, may be the overriding factor in the country’s descent into the realm of abject poverty, irrelevancy and political instability.
Not surprisingly, even universally accepted concepts or definitions of what are actually the responsibilities of a constituent-state have been interpreted differently by Haitians, either by designs or plain ignorance. “Tell us the best way to move forward” has been the credo by which successive Haitian governments have conducted the affairs of the state. Indeed, few Haitian governments have resisted the unsolicited and awkward advices of the international community, particularly those emanated from the dark rooms of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), while an even fewer number has devised local initiatives to address the country’s misfortunes.
In the wake of the volte-face by Haiti’s Central Bank, which could not have happened without the prior knowledge or direct interference of the International Monetary Fund and the elite, the need for transparency has become a necessity. The political class must formulate a new approach to governing Haiti; the politics as usual must end.
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