By Onz Chery
August 4 was Blackout Day 27 for Olandieu Anestor, a 22-year-old medical student who lives in Port-au-Prince. Anestor doesn’t have a generator at his house, but the power drought is still taking a toll on his pocket. He has to pay 20 gourdes to charge his phone and another sum of money to charge his laptop. Lighting up candles at Anestor’s house at night has become a routine.
As for Pierre Edme, an 18-year-old who lives in Carrefour, Aug. 4 was Day 33 for him. They have a generator at his house, but it would cost approximately 6,000 gourdes a month to put gas in it, so they run it mostly at night to preserve energy. Edme’s household had to buy rechargeable light bulbs for when they’re not using the generator. Even if they had enough money to constantly run the generator it wouldn’t have been possible because of the constant gas shortage.
Edme and Anestor’s 27 and 33 days without power aren’t relatively that long if you take into account that Cite Chauvel, a town in Cap-Haitien, hasn’t had electricity in approximately three months.
“The lack of electricity gives me a lot of problems, not just me, everybody,” Anestor said. “I hope this will change. I hope we get out of this problem. 27 days ago, I wasn’t spending this much money. That money I’m spending because there’s no electricity I could’ve used it on something else.”
Ironically enough, three years ago, Haiti’s president Jovenel Moise promised that the country will start having electricity all the time in 2019, but E.D.H. (Electricity of Haiti by its French acronym) grew from bad to worse.
“In 24 months, 24/7, you guys can start counting days,” Moise confidently said in a speech in 2017 concerning power distribution. “Today we’re working, we have one of the biggest societies in the world concerning repairing electricity. I want the population to open their ears so they can at least understand, when your president tells you in 24 months there will be electricity 24/7, it’s not a dream.”
Some Haitians, like Anestor and Edme, gave Moise the benefit of the doubt. But three years later, instead of having electricity 24/7, the country is experiencing a chronic and persistent power shortage. Moise later said in July that the country will receive 190 megawatts and solar panels which could arrive between October and the beginning of 2021. But after his previous unkept promise, it became awfully hard to trust Moise.
“This guy lied too much,” Anestor said. “I don’t know if it’s because we don’t have resources or if it’s because he’s not willing. I can’t trust someone who’s lying to me. Most Haitians are used to this, it’s something that I can say is normal when politicians don’t keep their promises. But I think in the 21st century there’s some fundamental stuff that’s not supposed to be a problem for people living.”
Some of the E.D.H. employees didn’t even give Moise the benefit of the doubt in 2017 because from seeing things first-hand they knew the means to provide electricity non-stop weren’t available.
“I never took him seriously,” Pierre Blaise, E.D.H.’s spokesperson in Cap-Haitien, said. “Because giving electricity isn’t a walk in the park. When you said you’re going to give power 24/7, you have to look at your resources, how many megawatts you’ll need to cover all the territories.”
Blaise has been an E.D.H. employee since 2014. Over in Cap-Haitien, just two out of the eight motors are working, and they can’t even run at full capacity. Blaise and his co-workers waited for approximately three months for new pieces to put in the motors. The original shipping date was supposedly in June, but the pieces arrived on Aug. 6.
Because of this high level of disorder and serious lack of integrity, Blaise doesn’t think the previous E.D.H. leaders nor the government wants Haiti to have power. So as for the new 190 megawatts, he’s assured this order won’t arrive or if it does it will be limited.
“Since I heard it from the president’s mouth, I have no faith in it. I will never trust him,” Blaise said.
The challenge that presents itself when it comes to providing what’s needed for Haiti to function properly is that politics has more to do than the eyes meet. The administration and SOGENER, the private utility company that was tasked with the job of providing the country electricity, doesn’t have the capacity to do so and they were accused of using the government’s money for their own benefits.
Moise seized SOGENER’s electrical center in December, and its headquarters on July 30. The company’s vice-president, Dimitri Vorbe, has gone into self-exile recently to avoid the risk of arrest and detention. Before their contract, SOGENER was a company that mostly sold generators to homes and business owners.
Vorbe denied the accusation. Guilty or not, when SOGENER was partnering with E.D.H., Haiti had fewer blackouts, Blaise and Edme said.
E.D.H. also regularly gets accused of using the country’s money on itself. In order to prevent that from happening and improve their services, Moise brought a new general director in July, Michel Presume.
Presume started a project called Operasyon Relimen (Operation Turn it Back On in English). In this project, electricians are repairing circuits all around the country.
On another positive note, Moise said 11, 406 electric poles were ordered in addition to the 190 megawatts. (Haiti was able to make these purchases because Taiwan landed them $150 million.)
Those initiatives make some people believe that Moise does want to fix the blackout issue in Haiti but has always been limited by the electrical companies. One of Cap-Haitien’s delegates, Frandy Etienne, is one of the people who supports Moise amid the power shortage.
“With electricity in Haiti, there’s a sector who’s keeping it for themselves,” Etienne said. “Because of that, the president can’t really turn his vision of having electricity 24/7 into reality. Because of the politics, they brought into E.D.H. it became difficult.”
Etienne also accused E.D.H. of keeping people in blackouts on purpose in order to sell generators. Blaise said he’s never seen anything of the like in Cap-Haitien. In contrary, if E.D.H. intentionally doesn’t give electricity they put themselves in danger because people often physically and verbally attack them due to the constant blackouts.
But as for the money the government has been giving to E.D.H.’s main headquarters in Port-au-Prince, Blaise can attest that the Cap-Haitien workers don’t see much of it. They use their own tools, don’t have uniforms, don’t get paid regularly, and about every machine at the electrical center isn’t working properly.
Moise never shies away from openly talking about how E.D.H. has been misusing the money they receive.
“1.8 million dollars was given to E.D.H. – not to pay employees. 1.8 million dollars to give electricity. How much electricity did E.D.H. give in June? Answer me,” Moise said in a speech in June.
Edme begs his compatriots to have pity on the Haitian population.
“Those guys have been making money for a long time in this system. Why don’t they go, ‘Ok, that’s enough.’ Let’s use our conscience. Let’s do something for the people.’ But no, we’re over here suffering,” the teenager said.
Now that Moise removed one of the companies that was allegedly misusing the government’s money, brought a new E.D.H. director, and ordered 190 megawatts it’s another waiting game for Haiti. One without much hope, either for the people who support Moise and those who don’t.
Those who back up Moise, like Etienne, fear that people within the energy company or the government will mishandle the money again. Those who don’t, like Blaise, simply think that those megawatts were never ordered or if they did get ordered the number is exaggerated.
The light can’t be seen until they exit the tunnel.