Prime Minister Jean Henry Céant’s tweet officially announced legal action being taken by the government to address the alleged mismanagement of PetroCaribe funds, an aid package provided by the Venezuelan government under the late Hugo Chavez, that has been officially estimated at approximately US$4.6 billion. The Prime Minister’s tweet stated that the government decided to get involved in the issue and filed a complaint against identified individuals. The plaintiff on behalf of the state is the General Revenue Service, Direction générale des impôts (DGI). The Prime Minister continues to reiterate the state’s commitment to justice and support for all those who want the funds returned to the state coffers.
This official intervention, which was met with skepticism by those in Twittersphere and on social media platforms, came five (5) days after the Superior Court of Auditors, Cour supérieure des comptes et du Contentieux Administratif (CSCCA), released a partial report to the Senate. According to the report, some fifty projects undertaken with funds from the PetroCaribe funds were deemed inefficient, ineffective with their management tainted with irregularities. One major characteristic of these projects is the harm to the communities, lack of a regulatory framework and good practices. Of the various projects cited in the report, two of them were under the auspices of President Jovenel Moïse.
The timing of this report is reviving debate across the nation, especially among those skeptical about the government’s efforts at bringing the perpetrators to justice and might reinvigorate anti-government mobilization demanding transparency and accountability. Coming on the heels of the 33rd anniversary of the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship, on February 7. Militants of the #PetroCaribeChallenge movement have already called for massive demonstrations across the country. A coalition known as the Secteur démocratique et populaire, which is a fringe group of the opposition has renewed their call for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse by calling on their supporters to attend a massive demonstration on February 7, at the same time that the group will kick off a national conference. These protest demonstrations are meant to point out the problems of the PetroCaribe Fund mismanagement but also to take advantage of the increasing cost of living, corruption, power shortages and insecurity. There is fear that the fuel shortage will soon make a comeback, less than three weeks after a shortage in stock brought on by lack of funds in US dollars to pay for the oil supply. Other issues include the increasingly devalued gourde which reached a height of 80 gourdes for the dollar last week, reducing the purchasing power for most households. These factors do create desperation for most Haitians who then take to the seas in search of a better life. The death of 28 compatriots in a shipwreck off the coast of Bahamas last week is testament to the sordid state of affairs in the country. This loss produced a shockwave among the people, made even more resounding because of the lack of any statement on the tragedy by the Executive branch of government.
In other news, the businessman, Réginald Boulos, has announced his intention to form a new political party, which will bring together business elites, progressives and youth engaged in changing the political direction of the nation. The former leader of the Private Sector Economic Forum, the main organization for the business sector has indicated that his party will provide a third way, different from the left and the right political groups that have systematically failed the nation over the years. Accordingly, the left failed as a result of their implication in political violence, while the political formation on the right have been implicated in the PetroCaribe scandal. While stressing that he is not personally interested in running for the highest office of the land, he intends to form a party that will bring together economic, intellectual and social elites of the country. He justifies this move as necessary for the Haitian business class to be directly involved in political action.
Meanwhile, the latest Transparency International Report has indicated that Haiti still lags in the corruption perception index and ranks among the 20 most corrupt nations on earth. In the report published last Tuesday, January 29, 2019, Haiti dropped to the 161st position among 180 countries with a score of 20 over 100. In 2017, Haiti scored 22 and in 2016, 17 over 100. Many factors play into this score, notably the PetroCaribe mismanagement scandal, and government officials implicated in corruption scandals. In the Americas, Haiti only scored above Venezuela, which is currently embroiled in a political crisis. For transparency International, making real progress in the fight against corruption and consolidating democracy involves governments strengthening institutions responsible for maintaining the balance of power, including checks and balances on political power, and ensuring that such institutions can operate without pressure. Other steps include closing the gaps in the implementation legislation, practices and the enforcement of anti-corruption standards, supporting civil society organization involved in monitoring public spending, supporting free and independent media and ensuring the safety of journalists so that they can work without intimidation or harassment.
Finally, the new president of the Cour de Cassation, René Sylvestre took the oath of office this Friday, February 1, 2019 in a solemn ceremony in the court premises, presided over by President Jovenel Moïse. Judge Sylvestre who will also assume leadership of the Conseil Supérieur du Pouvoir Judiciaire (CSPJ) was sworn in in the absence of the outgoing President, Judge Jules Cantave. The former government prosecutor before this very court, Judge Sylvestre has experience with how the court functions. He was appointed by the Martelly administration to head the public prosecutor’s office at the court in November 2015. He spent 26 years of his career at the Gonaïves jurisdiction where he rose through the ranks to become head of the court of first instance in Gonaïves, then judge at the Appeals Court in the same jurisdiction, where he lasted 19 years before being tapped by Michel Martelly to become the government prosecutor. This appointment and that of six (6) other judges is expected to put an end to the dysfunction at the Cour de Cassation, as both sections can now function properly according to the legal precepts of the court.