Hope is in the air, at least that’s what some Haitians are feeling with Michel Martelly as the new president. We are an optimistic people by nature, and resilient by force, but in the wake of all the natural and human-made disasters of the past few years, we might instead have to become a nation of realists rather than dreamers.
The new president took the oath of office over the week-end, and true to his campaign’s messages he continued to regurgitate the same tunes as he became the 56th president of this proud and prestigious nation. The country is ready for a hard awakening and a few steps forward, but only time will tell, if President Martelly will be able to deliver on his many promises.
So far, we know that the president is willing, and has a desire to work hard for some kind of change. However, the content of that change is still fuzzy to many of us. The rhetoric about free education for all by the time he leaves office, introduction of some kind of health insurance, addressing the failure of the judicial system and reign in corruption in the public administration are all fantastic words to shout, but clearly the how-to get there is still not clear.
The new president has also talked about dealing with the MINUSTAH imported cholera, homelessness, and the creation of a modern army as some of his top priorities. Again, no clear strategies on how he will deal with these daunting tasks have yet to surface. The one thing that is clear and certain is that, we, Haitians are so desperate to hope for better days, that many of us are willing to accept any promise without asking any question, or analyzing the complexity of getting anything done in this politically fragile nation.
We are getting ready for new days, no doubt, but that should not be quickly interpreted as better days ahead. So the question of the moment is how exactly President Martelly going to change Haiti?
From his days as the leader of Sweet Micky, it is clear that he is very disciplined to his craft and determined to be the best. If he approaches the presidency with the same work ethics and seriousness, it is plausible that he might be able to get a lot done. The Haitian political sector does not expect much from him; however he has a tremendous opportunity to prove his doubters wrong.
For starter, if he is able to get a Prime Minister of his choice or one who will oblige to his agenda, the possibility to move the country in a new direction will be very real. The international community has been waiting for the change of government before they could disburse their pledge money, and never before in Haiti’s history as a government will be presiding over such a large influx of cash in such a short time. The big assumption here is that this government will be appropriating the money to the right priorities minus corruption.
There are many ways to make the free education for all a reality, but money alone will not suffice. Also, everyone needs to be clear on the type of education that their children will be getting. Free education must be directly linked with new teachers training, and a modernization of all the public schools. The funds to make the education pledge a reality cannot only be coming from a tax on the Diaspora or some aid money; the Haitian private sector must get involved in this endeavor for it to truly work.
If schools like Saint Louis de Gonzague and other private institutions continue to be the only place to find the best teachers and have the best campuses, then parents will continue to do whatever it takes to get their kids into those schools. We should not only see the quantity when it comes to school and education, but the quality is as important. And a quality education will not be cheap.
When it comes to a modern army that will have an engineer corps and medical, or disaster response corps it must be an army of discipline, apolitical, and representative of the whole country. It must become an institution that teaches the value of integrity and respect of the rule of laws. It should not be put above any other institution and it should not be solely at the service of the administration, but instead at the service of the whole population. Which country will do the training for this new army remains to be seen, and where the money to pay the salaries for these new soldiers would be coming from will be interesting to know. Haiti has many pressing needs, but I am not sure if building a new army within the next five years is one of them.
Corruption, which is the biggest culprit for the handicap of the Haitians institutions and public administration, is something that must be dealt with swiftly and immediately if we are to move forward and to once again regaining any confidence in how the government works. There is no Haitian alive today who can attest to have lived under a government that was not corrupted. Corruption is so deep within the society that eliminating it from the government would be a great achievement in itself. The establishment of a strong and fair judicial system could help reduce the temptation towards corruption, but how this government approaches justice will go a long a way from getting rid of corrupted officials and public servants.
As far as the other important promises are concerned, such as investing in local products, giving incentives to the farmers to cultivate the land, establishing a healthcare system so that people can have access to some sort of medical care at a minimum charge, and to not forget the average individual who has voted him in power, we must wait to see the implementation details on how these things will work out.
During the first-round of the elections, President Martelly promised to change the political system, but as of this writing part of the system still contains many of the same figures. The parliament, which is a big part of the system, is not controlled by the president, so it will be very fascinated to see how the executive and the legislative will work in this new era. Any perception of hard-play on either side could make the foreign donors skeptic to donate their money, and that would spell trouble for the president’s agenda.
It is great to offer a big vision for the immediate future, but financing that vision cannot be based on aid money and foreign grants. Thus far, the president’s plan to change Haiti is based on grandiose promises and hope that the international community comes thru. This is a disaster waiting to happen, and once again could be a blow to the hope of those who believe change is coming.
Once the Prime Minister is approved by parliament, the budget, strategy, and coordination of how things are going to change must be clear and unambiguous. Transparency and accountability must take center stage, if we are going to reduce corruption, and there must be rooms for progressive dialogues and debates among different sectors of the population.
The plan for change as far as I am concerned is still a promise, which I can’t explain or understand what it is, so I remain hopeful that in the days ahead, this change won’t simply be a smell in the air, but that it will become something tangible. We will need to know how long it will take to get the people living in tents a home to live, the rate by which the government plans to reduce the unemployment rate each year, what will be done to address the detention of innocent people in jail, to investigate crimes wherever they commit, to protect the rights of Haitian citizens not only at home, but also abroad.
The change we want is more than rhetoric and a few bullet points. We need conditions at home that will be inviting not only to foreign entrepreneurs, but also welcoming to all its children. It all starts with a promise, but at some point we are expecting promise to transform into reality. The plan to change Haiti can no longer be a criticism of past governments, but it has to become the responsibility of this government. We all want a new Haiti, where all of us can feel that we matter and are part of whatever change that is going to happen.