By Garry Pierre-Pierre
Shortly after taking office, Michel Martelly came up with a plan to levy a tax on money transfers and international calls flowing into the cash strapped, politically troubled nation. The tax ostensibly was to create a fund to provide universal elementary education to millions of impoverished children.
While the government has been collecting this money – to the consternation of many Haitian Americans- parliament has never voted on the measure, let alone approved it into law.
Those are the type of details that President Martelly and his administration seem to elude or they never bothered with in most of their actions, however well intended. This is no small matter because despite its dysfunction, Haiti does have a parliament and the administration has been collecting the money illegally.
This week, journalist Jacob Kushner authored an article in Foreign Policy magazine with the headline “Paradise Is Overbooked.” The piece detailed the Ile-a-Vache tourism project that remains in limbo two years after the government began seizing land from local farmers to clear the way for luxury hotels and amenities.
It is yet another example of a good idea that was poorly executed by this administration which is bent in following its own sets of rules. In this case, the land appropriated by the government, has remained in dispute and the land uncertainty has driven away potential investors and the ambitious $260 million tourism nirvana may not see the light of day.
While I’m no big fan for tourism projects as the savior for Haiti’s economic woes, this story and the tax debacle are two cautionary tales of an administration that came in power promising deliverance to a hopeless population. But along the way, Martelly and his advisors, have fallen short of expectations and when his term expires next year, we may hear more and more cases of projects that were trumpeted but never executed. In short, Martelly may leave us with one too many white elephants.
Martelly inherited from former president, Rene Preval, a series of high-profile projects that were unfinished. And Martelly, ever the showman and public relations whiz, quickly pounced on these accomplishments – like the new airport in Cap Haitien and new hotels around Petion Ville – and took full credit when he was simply a caretaker.
Granted, many administrations don’t complete projects under their watch, that is why most presidents do share the credit with their predecessors. But that’s not how Martelly rolls.
Martelly, a charismatic and hugely popular musician, ran an improbable campaign and shocked the world and to some extent, Haiti, when he won the presidency. He had grandeur that he would not only become the only musician to become president, but one of the best presidents in this republic’s 211 years of independence.
To be honest, this is not difficult to achieve considering that most of the more than 60 presidents we’ve had since our independence in 1804, have been either scoundrels, puppets or incompetents. Still, I don’t believe that once everything comes out, Martelly will be among some of the best leaders we’ve had.
Granted, he has not been as disastrous as I anticipated. He has kept quiet after a strings of verbal faux pas and a plethora of ill-advised comments. He has let his prime ministers, first Laurent Lamothe and now Evans Paul, handle the affairs of government and not meddle into the fray. He has also been pliant when it comes to dealing with the international community, which has earned him reassurances that violent protests from a restive opposition demanding his imminent departure, will not shake his administration.
We need grown ups at the helm in Haiti and cast aside amateurs like Martelly and have him go back to singing sweet melodies and leave the affairs of the state to people who are competent and visionary.