By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (HCNN) -- Haiti's President Michel Martelly has signed into law a bill recently passed by Parliament to drastically toughen punitive measures against government functionaries and others involved with corruption, marking a huge step in the Caribbean country's efforts to fight the plague.
President Michel Martelly
Unlike the ordinary protocol usually used to promulgate a law, the Haitian leader decided this time to invite to the ceremony held at the Presidential Palace on Wednesday representatives of different state institutions to mark more solemnly the moment and to show, he said, the particular importance the anti-corruption law has for his administration.
"If, up to yesterday, the authorities charged with curbing the deviant behaviour and the infringement of public assets and property management rules... could find a pretext not to act in the absence of legal provisions," Martelly said in a statement during the ceremony.
"But they will, from now on, no longer have an excuse with the promulgation of this legislation which comes to reinforce the legal arsenal of our positive law," he said.
The new law, the first of its kind in Haitian history specifically aimed at preventing and cracking down on the crime of corruption in its broad aspect, provides that those convicted of corruption will spend 3 to 15 years in prison, compared to a sentence of one to three years in jail, as previously provided.
The infringements include acts pertaining to illicit enrichment, laundering of money obtained through corruption, misappropriation of state funds, overbilling, influence peddling, the granting of bribes to obtain procurement and public services, nepotism, illicit commissions, kickbacks or insider trading.
Those found guilty of such crimes will not only be jailed but will also have to restitute the amount obtained through corruption and will be fined up to the triple the amount restituted. Those who will have facilitated or tried to cover the execution of the crime will receive the same sentence as the perpetrators.
Functionaries or other individuals who have attempted to perpetrate acts of corruption will incur the same punishment as those who have actually committed the crime, according to the new law, which also provides protection for clue-givers about corrupt practices, while a more specific bill to protect whistleblowers is in process.
Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, who had been actively pushing for the adoption of the legislation, called the publication of the anti-corruption law a turning point for the country in the fight against corruption.
"This is an excellent achievement, an indispensable tool and a turning point in the challenging fight against corruption President Martelly and myself are committed to lead in Haiti," Lamothe told HCNN.
"We want state funds to fully be used for the benefit of the collectivity, and particularly the most vulnerable," said Lamothe, instructing government officials and functionaries to scrupulously comply with the provisions of the new law.
The director-general for the anti-corruption unit, Antoine Atouriste, said his office will be very active in working with different sectors in charge of enforcing the law to make sure the new legislation brings the expected results.
"There have been, since the creation of this nation, so many acts of corruption which have never been punished because the absence of such a law," he told HCNN.
"Now, prosecutors and judges can act...," added Atouriste, a former Army colonel.
The Special Coordinator for Haiti at the US State Department in Washington, Thomas C. Adams, recognized last year that the current administration "has done more efforts to fight corruption than any of its predecessors".