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“Who steals the State is not a thief”: the culture of corruption in Haiti

Ⓒ AFP/Archivos – Héctor Retamal – | Children’s games in Juvenat, in Port-au-Prince, in December 2017

The corruption that gangrene Haiti is denounced in official speeches, but despite several investigations to former ministers, the judicial processes are made to wait and this rooted practice continues to grow without problems.

Haiti appears every year on the list of the worst students in the class in the reports that are carried out by the NGO Transparency International, on the perception of corruption, and by Forbes magazine, on the business climate.

The country’s president, Jovenel Moïse, elected at the beginning of 2017, has declared himself willing to fight corruption.

“In all its forms, corruption gangrene and atrophy the economy, it has deeply weakened the political bases and destabilized the social fabric of the country: it is a crime against development,” he told the United Nations General Assembly, which met last September. In New York.

Those intentions could have materialized after the publication, in November, of a parliamentary report in which fifteen former ministers are accused of having been involved in a “large-scale fraud” between 2010 and 2016.

In more than 600 pages, the document detailed possible irregularities and suspicions of illegalities in the management of Petrocaribe funds, a credit program linked to the purchases of Venezuelan hydrocarbons launched by the deceased president of that country Hugo Chávez in favor of a dozen of nations of the Caribbean and Latin America.

Since Haiti joined the program in 2009, this constant source of foreign currency income raised suspicions about its use, since, unlike international financial loans, resources could be used by local authorities without any control, not even from part of the Venezuelan donors.

“It is well known that there was bad management, since more than 2,000 million dollars were spent and those sums do not appear in the growth of the country,” analyzes the Haitian economist Kesner Pharel.

But it is highly probable that this last parliamentary report does not have any judicial consequence, as happened with the previous one, in 2016, which had already questioned the behavior of fifteen political actors without giving rise to any process.

This time, although the Executive has a large majority in the Senate, no parliamentary debate has yet been initiated in this regard, not even to define whether this second report is received.

– Complicity of the parliament? –

“The refusal of the parliament to rule on the report of a commission on corruption gives a very bad image,” says Pharel.

“It’s as if there was a kind of complicity: not wanting to attack whoever holds the power so that he does not attack us when we occupy ourselves, it is very bad that this culture develops”.

Especially when this culture of corruption has very deep roots.

“There are even proverbs that exactly reflect this tendency, such as ‘vole leta pa vole’, a Creole expression meaning ‘who steals from the state is not a thief'”, laments the Senate President, Youri Latortue.

“Some politicians think that once they arrive at a public office they can get rich and after finishing their function, or when their government is replaced, they go to Miami, to New York or they stay here comfortably, without anyone bothering them,” she says. .

And ironically: “Today Haiti is among the most corrupt countries, but there are no corrupters or corrupted …”.

Endowed with a very slow judicial system, Haiti has enormous difficulties to get out of the vicious circle of impunity, especially considering that judges and lawyers are under suspicion of exercising the right in favor of the highest bidder.

On the other hand, the apathy of the majority of the population in the face of the squandering of scarce public resources does not favor a mobilization of justice.

In the neighboring Dominican Republic, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in the streets last year when the corruption scandal of the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht broke out. It was not the case of Haiti, where the participation in a single concentration, developed in December in Port-au-Prince, had little participation.

“People have not been educated, and the first thing to do is explain how corruption affects citizens,” says Magguie Rigaud, a woman who responded to the call of civil society organizations.

“For many, unfortunately, it is normal to steal when working for the State, a minister who does not have a luxury car is frowned upon, while those who have behaved honestly live in poverty,” says Rigaud.

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