haiti economy, haiti commerce
A Haitian man pushes a wheelbarrow fill with sacks of rice at an out-outdoors market. File photo.

By Ruolz Ariste

In my last article titled From Heroes to Zeros: Reversing the Free Fall in Haiti, I proposed that we extend the mandate of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and to make substantial money theft and embezzlement a prosecutable international financial crime, one occupying the same rank as genocide. While a lot of people have welcomed this suggestion, others have expressed some concerns. This article intends to address those reservations. 

Concern #1: Haitians should come up with their own solution, using our own legal system

These people claim that any good solution will come from within Haiti using the judicial system. 

Reality Check: The Consolidation trial was a major and historical one, ending with a former President, Tirésias S. Sam, condemned with the maximum penalty. However, following the verdict in 1904, most of the convicts did not serve their full term nor reimburse the full amount stolen. Even worse, Cincinnatus Leconte and Tancrède Auguste, who were condemned to 15 years in prison with hard labor, became President of the Republic less than a decade later. There was also the less prominent Stamp Trial (Procès des Timbres) in 1975 under Baby Doc to satisfy the international collectors.

However the principal crooks were not revealed and the officials who were jailed were compensated well and were released early from their comfortable jails. We are all proud Haitians and would like to implement strictly internal solutions. Unfortunately, these facts show the extent of the corruption and the limits of our legal system.  

Concern #2: Haiti should use its own diverse national institutions already in place

These people believe that anti-corruption Haitian institutions like UCREF (Unité Centrale de Renseignements Financiers) or ULCC (Unité de Lutte Contre la Corruption) already have international partnerships and can do the job.

Reality Check: While UCREF has international partners, its focus is on money laundering related mostly to drugs. Moreover, it is heavily influenced by the US, which often cherry pick the cases to prosecute, based on its own interests. As for the ULCC, one relevant international partner listed on its website is the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Again, the focus is on drugs and terrorism, not money thefts and embezzlements by politicians. To my knowledge, since its inception in 2004, ULCC has not prosecuted any high profile politician for corruption.

Concern #3: The international community has not delivered long-term, meaningful solutions for Haiti 

These people claim that from a political, economic or social perspective, the international community has failed in Haiti. Moreover, it has cheerfully participated in the rampant corruption. 

Reality Check: There is no doubt this is a fair concern. However, the power wings that have led world affairs so far are the Executive and Legislative bodies. These two entities are generally close enough to have a unified voice aimed to promote their own Western interests in international policy. 

The international Judiciary power wing is a more different body and has not been substantially tapped for the benefits of the developing countries. And that’s where my proposition lays!  It is important to clarify that it is not a proposition specific to Haiti. It is an international proposition that can benefit any country with unrestrained corruption, whether in the Americas, Africa or in the Middle East. This means corrupt expats could be also prosecuted by the proposed system whether they still live in the recipient country or have left it.

Concern #4: The ICC is perceived as a biased and inefficient system

African leaders have accused the ICC of being biased and a tool of Western imperialism that only punishes leaders from small, weak states while ignoring crimes committed by richer and more powerful states. 

Reality Check: The USA, the ultimate symbol of Western imperialism, is not part of the ICC. Actually, the U.S. has criticized and opposed the ICC. It is not surprising that the ICC is not cheered by dictatorial and corrupt leaders, nor by the major world powers that might see it as a threat to their control over world affairs. Still, the ICC has launched investigations into alleged war crimes by the U.S. in Afghanistan and by Israel in Palestine. 

Keep in mind that no institution is perfect, even those from the judicial system. However, it is about striving towards (or operating close to) the best outcome possible with cooperation, given the multiple socio-political constraints.  

Concern #5: Haiti should use the international anti-corruption treaty it already signed 

Haiti is a signatory of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and could have used this venue via the ULCC. 

Reality Check: The UNCC is the only legally binding universal anti-corruption instrument.  Haiti signed it in the same year as the U.S. (2003), even before Canada (2004).  This convention provides a framework for States Parties to provide mutual assistance or conduct joint investigations. 

However, it does not give the UN a mandate to directly investigate corruption charges, as in the case of the ICC for genocides. A State Party would have to initiate this process, and a super corrupt one like Haiti will not do so voluntarily, hence the non-relevance of this UN Convention. I feel the need to emphasize that the proposition to extend the mandate of the ICC could be equivalent to reinforcement, or to give some muscle, to UNCAC by having, for example, direct investigation power. 

Concern #6: All countries are corrupt, Haiti is not the only one

Again, it is a matter of uncontrolled versus controlled corruption. Would you conclude a student with an average of 75 is the same as another with an average of 20? Obviously not, even though none got the perfect average of 100. Similarly, one cannot conclude that because Canada or the U.S. has a score of 77 and 67, respectively in the 2020 Transparency International Corruption Index, they are the same as Lebanon or Haiti with a score of 25 and 18, respectively.   

 Concern #7: Corruption is not the root cause of the problem, it is a secondary effect 

Some think the root cause of the problem is the absence of vision, not corruption. I would just tell them to take their point to Angus Deaton, winner of the 2015 economics Nobel Prize, Professor at Princeton University. In his book The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality, in the chapter “How to help those left behind”, he clearly indicates that a well-functioning national government is the actor that allows people to escape misery. Giving aid to poor countries can actually make things worse.

The necessity to make public sector leaders accountable

There are still some other reservations, such as the private sector benefiting the most from corruption. But agents in the public sector allow it to happen by signing mafia-like contracts with these unscrupulous private sector individuals in exchange for bribes. Therefore, the former should be made accountable. It is crucial to note the timing could not be better because Western leaders are looking for new ways to make corrupt leaders in developing countries accountable for their actions. They have no choice because they realized their failed foreign policy has backfired, as the flux of migrants and kids at the U.S. southern border has shown. The same is true between Africa and Europe via the Mediterranean route.    

Ruolz Ariste, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor at Université Laval in Québec. He is affiliated with the Department of Operations and Decision Systems. He writes opinion pieces about matters of interest to the community in Canada and the U.S. He is based in the Ottawa area.

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