By Caribbean News Now contributor
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – More than 7 million gourdes (about US$87,500) are being allocated to non-existent parliamentary offices in Haiti. The revelation comes via a recent report by the Citizen’s Observatory for the Institutionalization of Democracy in Haiti (OCID).
As part of its efforts to promote parliamentary transparency and better performance of the Haitian parliament, the OCID has just conducted a field survey to sketch a profile of recent parliamentary activities. A new report has revealed that overall, one-third of parliamentary offices could not be located and 21 percent are not operational.
OCID investigators, deployed from March 15 to 25, 2019, in the ten departments of the country and at 83 constituencies (out of a total of 116 currently represented in parliament), sought to identify 83 deputies’ offices and 29 senators’ offices.
Using a questionnaire developed for this purpose, investigators interviewed mayors, city delegates, known members of parliamentarians’ campaign teams, local representatives of political parties from parliamentarians and other active citizens of parliamentarians.
The analysis of the data collected for the 83 offices of deputies (71 percent of the 116 seats filled in the lower house) and the 29 offices of senators (or 100 percent of the 29 seats filled in the senate) revealed widespread irregularities, which are commonplace in Haiti.
The OCID report further revealed that 57 offices of deputies were found out of the 83 targeted (about 69 percent). Forty-five offices are operational (79 percent of the 57 offices identified). Investigators also focused on 29 senators’ offices, 19 were identified (approximately 65 percent), of which 15 are functional (79 percent of the 19 offices identified).
Investigators also discovered that 84 percent of MPs ‘operational offices operate during the five business days of the week, while the senators’ 15 operational offices operate five days out of five. Investigating 45 offices of the deputies revealed that 31 have a register of visitors against 12 out of 15 for senators’ offices.
The three categories of people who visit parliamentary offices the most are, in descending order, their supporters, members of community-based organisations and members of socio-professional groups.
Paradoxically, all the grievances cited by the respondents are usually about individual needs or projects (employment, scholarships, social assistance in various forms).
Each legislator collects about 210,000 gourdes (about US$2,625) monthly, while senators collect 250,000 thousand gourdes (about US$3,125), according to the report.
Based on the foregoing observations, the OCID recommends to the decision-makers concerned, in particular, parliament, the following actions and measures:
1) The preparation by parliament of a guide to the operation of the offices of parliamentarians and the training of the staff of these offices on their role.
2) Educating and informing constituency and departmental citizens about MPs’ offices (their contact information, their role, their operating schedule, their activities for the public)
3) The transformation of the offices of parliamentarians into real information and consultation relays with the population, particularly concerning the work of Parliament (agreements or bills and bills voted or debated)
4) The establishment of a transparent control mechanism of the resources available to parliamentarians for the functioning of their office (for example, the ethics and anti-corruption commissions of the two chambers should be able to carry out an annual inventory of materials and equipment mobilised for these offices, check rental and employee contracts, etc.)
5) The publication of a dashboard of the offices of parliamentarians informing the population on their address, telephone, operating hours and services offered or primary activities. This fact sheet could be disseminated, among other things, on the internet and in the decentralised offices of the central power within each department and each municipality.
Haiti is no stranger for being in the media due to the mismanagement of resources and the excess of perks for lawmakers.
According to the World Bank, “Fundamental to the pervasive problem of poverty in Haiti is the long history of political instability and the lack of governance. Corruption and misuse of public funds have resulted in a decline in the quality of all public services… and the provision of basic infrastructure.”
Anticorruption protesters across Haiti showed their dissatisfaction with the government and the failure to prosecute those implicated in the mismanagement of PetroCaribe oil profits.
For months, protesters have demanded justice in the alleged irregularities in the Petrocaribe program amid increased inflation. Recently, the Superior Court of Accounts ordered documentation linked to the embezzlement of Petrocaribe funds, a Venezuelan energy cooperation program aimed at addressing the country’s problems.
The alleged misuse of $3.8 billion sparked protests for months. The money due to Haiti under the PetroCaribe oil alliances signed between Venezuela and Caribbean nations starting in June 2005, had been earmarked for infrastructure and social and economic projects.
The Caribbean nation still suffers from significant infrastructural damage caused by hard-hitting hurricanes and earthquakes over the past 12 years. Just under 60 percent of Haiti’s population lives in poverty. However, its political corruption has also been implicated in keeping the country in continual economic and political dysfunction.
Jean Michel Lapin, the former culture and communications minister, was named acting prime minister March 21, three days after the chamber of deputies voted to censure the government of former prime minister Jean-Henry Céant.
Lawmakers overwhelmingly voted for Céant’s resignation, saying he had failed to improve conditions in the six months since he took over at the head of government.
Lapin is the third head of government under president Jovenel Moïse, who has led the Caribbean island nation since February 2017.
After the OCID released the findings in its latest report, the organisation renewed its commitment to observe political processes, in a scientific and non-partisan way, and to work for the consolidation of democracy in Haiti.