In the spirit of the holiday season, Prime Minister Jean-Henry Céant called for a political truce between the government and the radical opposition groups that are continuously opposed to the current government and have encouraged street demonstrations, with calls for new demonstration in the coming days. This decision by the Prime Minister is motivated by his desire for the leaders of the nation to appeal to their sense of patriotism to overcome their political differences to allow the people to spend the holidays in an atmosphere of peace, serenity and hope for the New Year. According to Mr. Céant, it is imperative for all to keep their political passions and sensitivities in check in order to come together to work for the collective development of the society. The speaker of the lower house, Gary Bodeau also made an appeal for calm so that the middle classes and poor can go on with their commercial activities in peace.
Meanwhile, the Haitian Prime Minister was in Canada last week where he met with his Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau and other notable business leaders pertaining to investments in Haiti. As the keynote speaker at the Toronto Global Forum, Prime Minister Céant met with the Presidents of Barclays Bank, The New York Times and Blackberry. The Prime Minister’s office stated that the short visit was aimed at meeting with potential investors and there were signs that these meetings were very productive. During his address, he insisted on the necessity of an inter-Haitian dialogue in order to find solutions to the myriad of problems facing the country and ensure stability in order to attract investors to the country. With his Canadian counterpart stressing the important historic cooperation between the two countries, PM Céant assured investors that despite the recent demonstrations, the country is on the road to recovery and that the reality is much more attractive than the perception.
In other news, the Minister of Economy and Finance, Ronald Décembre submitted the 172.8 billion gourdes budget for the 2018/2019 fiscal year to parliament. 110 Billion gourdes has been allocated for operating expenditure while 62.8 billion is reserved for investments. According to the Minister, most of the allocations had favored social programs, estimated at 114 billion. Because it is quite unrealistic to expect revenues from taxes on petroleum products to total some 20 billion gourdes, the forecasts have been reduced to 104 billion gourdes. Additional efforts from revenues could net an additional 10 billion. The Minister goes on to explain that the budget has taken into consideration the needs of the most vulnerable segments of the population, with infrastructure and appeasement being the major priority areas. There is an increase in the allocation to the Ministries of Health, education and Social Welfare, with education seeing a 12% increase while Health is increasing by 7%. The appeasement aspect of the budget concerns the Ministries of Public Works and Agriculture with labor-intensive work. Also, he noted some constraints on the budget allocation, especially with regards to salary adjustment for workers. Some workers will see a 100 percent increase in their salary, especially those currently with meagre salaries. The Minister said there is an initial allocation of US40 million for expenses for the upcoming elections. He said there is no budget deficit and explained that additional revenue will be obtained, thanks to a reduction in customs deductibles and better performance of state agencies.
The government has decided to increase its oversight of public institutions and NGOs with regards to their fiduciary responsibilities. At issue is the thorny problem of tax exemptions and tax breaks which has caught the attention of lawmakers including former Speaker of the Senate and Chairman of the Senate Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, Youri Latortue, who warned of the harmful effects of such policies on public finances. In order to lead by example, the government has decided to eliminate the exemptions for most public entities, while revamping the tax slips for all NGOs with a tax-exempt status. Currently NGOs enjoy a 50% exemption on goods and services and NGOs exempt from scrutiny are those in the humanitarian and priority sectors such as importation of food, medicine, health equipment, agricultural and educational equipment. Other entities exempt from these new changes include private businesses that benefit from the tax exemption with the promise to create jobs, but the government is said to be keeping a close watch to make sure they do not abuse the privilege. Lawmakers are calling on the government to undertake serious studies in order to stem out fraud and corruption because according to the Senate Ethics committee, the government granted more that 20billion gourdes in tax breaks last fiscal year.
Elsewhere, the Prosecutor of Port-au-Prince tribunal, Clamé Ocnam Daméus resigned on Monday. He tendered his letter of resignation to the Minister of Justice, Rudy Aly. He decided to resign from the CSPJ also because of what he says were political threats to his life. This resignation came three months after lawyers in the Port-au-Prince Bar Association went on strike and demanded his resignation. They see this as a victory for their cause since their strike practically paralyzed the courts and the legal system in the capital. He has been replaced in the interim by the former Assistant Prosecutor Paul Eronce Villard.
Finally, another group of Haitian migrants have arrived in Port-au-Prince from Chile, as part of the voluntary return policy put in place by the Chilean government.