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Haiti: Gourdes vs US dollar

A presidential decree on March 1, 2018, published in the official gazette “Le moniteur” seeks to exert the importance and supremacy of the gourde as the unique currency for all official transactions. The ten (10) article decree, by the Moïse /Lafontant government together with the council of ministers, mandates that all official transactions with third parties be paid for in gourdes, effectively making the gourde the unique currency for the nation. Currently, the US dollar is a very active currency in the country, accounting for some 64% of total deposits at all commercial banks.

The new decree is welcome news to those who oppose the current ubiquity of the US dollar in the country to the point where certain products or services are payable in dollars instead of the national currency. Articles 4, 5, and 6 brings some relief to these people by imposing a formal prohibition on those who may demand payment in foreign currency or its equivalent, of any citizen for any transaction that takes place within the country. The regulation equally empowers citizens to report any business or individual who attempts to circumvent the law. The decree seeks to strengthen the gourde as the national currency, control prices and promote the interests and prerogatives of the Ministry of Commerce.  The administration’s determination to end the practice of informal dollarization of the marché ayisyen is evident in Article 9 which seeks the creation of a committee charged with enforcing the new law. While some welcome the new law and see it as a good thing for the country and the economy, others who are skeptical see it as just one of numerous government policies unlikely to be enforced.

The private sector economic forum appeared surprised upon learning about the new law. and requested that the official decree be officially published in circulars and given time to be digested and the modalities of implementation worked out. Member organizations of the forum include l’Association professionnelle des banques (APB), la Chambre de commerce et d’industrie d’Haïti (CCIH), l’Association des industries d’Haïti (ADIH), l’Association touristique d’Haïti (ATH), l’Association des assureurs d’Haïti (AAH), l’Association maritime d’Haïti (AMARH), la Chambre de franco-haïtienne de commerce et d’industrie (CFHCI) et la Chambre de commerce américaine en Haïti (AMCHAM). The demand was made in a letter addressed to the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) insisting that the latter confirm the circulation prior to implementation of the new decree, and to meet with the member organizations to address their sectoral concerns.

 In other news, Haiti was conspicuously absent at a UN conference on Cholera held in New York, following the Moïse government’s recalling the UN Ambassador in response to statements purportedly made by the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH) head Susan Page. In response to the PetroCaribe investigations and the report that has been unsettling to high ranking members of the past and current governments, the MINUJUSTH representative was accused of making a statement welcoming the judicial corruption enquiry into how the US2 billion in oil loans from the Venezuelan government was mismanaged by the former government officials.  The Special Representative was also quoted as calling on the authorities to look into human rights abuses by the police, PNH.  The Moïse government sees these statements as going beyond the mission of the MINUJUSTH which is to support the country in the enforcement of rule of law and justice. As a result, the government recalled the UN Ambassador, Denis Régis, and failed to show up at the high level UN Retreat at Greentree on Long Island. The gathering, hosted by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres and his Special Envoy for Haiti Josette Sheeran, brought together some of the world’s leading innovators in public health, finance and business to discuss eradicating cholera in Haiti, and President Jovenel Moïse was expected to give the keynote address on Wednesday and close Thursday’s session.

Several human rights organizations have since criticized the Moïse/Lafontant government for recalling the UN Ambassador and also not participating in a very important retreat. Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), the organization at the forefront for the fight to obtain reparation for victims of the cholera epidemic, accuses the government for looking out for only their narrow self-interests instead of that of the Haitian people.  He charged that the Preval, Martelly, Privert and Moïse governments have not shown any support to the victims because even when the UN finally recognized their guilt in the cholera outbreak, these governments did not formulate any clear requirements of the UN’s admission of guilt, an indication that the government gives priority to the interests of former officials rather than the case of victims of the cholera epidemic.

Finally, Customs officials throughout the country went on strike yesterday to protest what they consider the government’s inaction on publishing the law on the special status of Customs officers. The Haitian Customs Association which called for the work stoppage action is said to make the move because of commitment made by the government during last negotiations with the unions at the end of 2017.  Also, some 200 merchants who have been victims of the fire at the marché Hyppolite began receiving 20,000 gourdes from the government, and coupons to receive food aid from  social services. This loan, the government says is its way to help these victims, who lost their livelihoods during the fire to start from somewhere. The list of merchants was provided to the government by the telecommunications company DIGICEL, which rebuilt the market after the earthquake of 2010

Dela Harlley

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