In a time of economic and political instability, should the Haitian government divert their attention away from the annual festival to focus on more timely issues?
By William Jr. Pierre-Louis
The notion of “priority” is extremely important in public governance. A leader must be able to identify his or her priorities especially in times of crisis, in order to lead his people in a direction that would improve their lives.
Let’s take Haiti for example. The country is experiencing one of the most disturbing economic and political crises in its history. Last December, the value of the U.S. dollar rose dramatically in the Haitian market. In the midst of the country’s currency facing aggressive depreciation, Haitian authorities, through Port-Au-Prince City Council decided to announce the theme of the Capital Carnival, which was more than two months away at the time. While the boiling exchange rate is sending out disturbing signals – the U.S. dollar goes up 25 cents every day in Haiti with inflation above 14 percent – you have to wonder what exactly leaders of this country consider a priority.
Am I implying that carnival is not important, even if it is simply based on a cultural theory? Absolutely not. Do I think it’s the wrong time to talk or plan a popular debacle during an economic crisis? Certainly.
Haitian society is increasingly divided on the continuity of this tradition. Some people think that Carnival is a source of income. While others no longer believe the annual event is an economic driver for the country. The irony in all of this, even among those who are against it, is that some people participate in it and benefit economically from it.
However, recent situations in Haiti have shaped everything. On Feb. 8, The City Council was forced to cancel pre-carnival celebrations until further notice after the violent protests of Feb. 7; a movement that led the country to a nearly 10 days unrest against corruption and the cost of living for the very less fortunate.
On Feb. 20, the City Council’s office officially announced that National Carnival is canceled for safety reasons and a fear of not satisfying the expectations of the actors. The entire content of the Press Release did not mention anything about economic reasons nor financial precarities. Which is not too surprising. Since the money for National Carnival in Haiti is always part of the national budget. This year, the event was going to cost both the state and private sector more money they can afford to lose; the current government budget had allocated 300 million HTG (3.7 million USD) for the annual festival.
There won’t be Carnival anymore. The Republic has not generated enough money in the 2018-2019 fiscal year as it costs to organize such a grand celebration anyway. It is also important to precise that Haiti is already facing a budget deficit of 20 billion HTG (250 million USD). Haitian Government spending has increased by 35% in the first quarter of the current fiscal year compared to the previous one as revenues fell by 7%. Economic prediction has revealed the deficit of 2019 will be much higher than 2018.
The fact that Haitian authorities has provided money for this great annual festival in the first place during such economic and financial disaster, is questionable. That should not have been an option. Now that we know the event won’t be happening anymore, it’s one thing. Where this money will go now, is another concern. Haiti has been having more to worry about than spending money just for fun; the growing misery in the country – this actual alimentation crisis where the majority can’t even find one meal per day – very difficult access to basic health care etc.
The country’s economic and social situation has not changed since the earthquake in 2010. But that is not an excuse for any government to ignore the real priorities of the nation by focusing on the superfluous. Create a situation where the majority can have a better living condition should be the priority.
William Jr. Pierre-Louis has studied Political Science & International Relations at University Notre-Dame D’Haiti and has earned verified certificates in American Government and Special Political & Decolonization from Harvard University. William is also a former intern at the United Nations Organization Headquarters in NY. He is now a freelance writer and the Head of Communication of Jeunesse Verte Haïtienne: a well-known Haitian for-purpose Environmental Organization based in Haiti.