The Haiti crisis highlights the need for a strong civil service


For several weeks, Haiti has been suffering A new political crisis, A problem that has its roots in an old problem.

The driver this time was high fuel prices. But the protesters, who have filled the streets for weeks, mainly denounce the corruption that has plagued President Juvenil Moss’s mandate. The demonstrators are demanding his resignation.

President Juvenile Moise walks with his wife Martin after laying flowers to commemorate the death of revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Desalegn in Port-au-Prince.
AP Photo / Rebecca Blackwell

Corruption is nothing new in Haiti. Although the political situation was more stable during the reign of Michelle Martelly Between 2011 and 2016 – partly due to an influx of international aid and support from Western powers that no longer exist today – corruption was still present.

Why can’t the Haitian political system get rid of this scourge?

From 2010 to 2015, the National School of Public Administration offered a master’s degree program for administrators in Haiti as part of the Canadian Federal Government’s project to strengthen the capacity of the civil service in Haiti. In this context, I was able to go to Haiti three times to train. By working closely with Haitian officials in this way, I was able to notice the difficulties in implementing the policy.

The two PhD students who co-authored this article, Emmanuel Sayle and Joseph Junior Clormius, worked as civil servants in the Haitian Public Administration for eight and seven years respectively. The analyzes and conclusions we provide are based on our professional experiences and research.

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Duvalier’s Poisoned Legacy

Returning to the original question: How do we explain this rampant corruption in Haiti, The poorest country in the Americas (And among the poorest countries in the world), where 80 percent of its population lives below the poverty line of two dollars a day?

The answer is both simple and complicated.

Let’s start with the simple answer. In their book Why do nations fail?In 2012, authors Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson explained that states fail when their formal institutions are so weak, which opens the door to informal institutions.

In the case of Haiti, this idea is easy to understand. From Duvalier Pere (François) to Duvalier Fils (Jean-Claude), the political system of the time was mainly based on informal institutions created from scratch by Francois Duvalier.

These institutions are subject to informal and generally unspoken rules, which lead to some form of punishment for those who do not respect them. Individuals strive to comply with these rules in order to “like others” and to avoid penalties that result from non-compliance with informal rules.

After coming to power in 1957, François Duvalier quietly weakened the official institutions of the country and strengthened the informal ones that had specific goals to keep him in power. He used a three-step strategy: keeping his people uneducated, boosting his power through Voodoo beliefs and eliminating opponents.

A Voodoo priest performs what is called a purification of a woman during the annual Voodoo Festival in Gedi in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. One of Duvalier’s strategies to stay in power was to promote witchcraft beliefs.
AP Photo / Dieu Nalio Chery

In addition to the wealth that Duvalier accumulated through misappropriation of public funds, Jean-Claude Duvalier He inherited the informal institutions and practices his father established in 1971.

When the son was forced into exile in 1986, he left behind a country with no real public institutions and very little financial resources. Her money has been squandered or diverted. To stay in power for a long time, Duvalier also implemented a system to reward the “friends” of the system, which we now call corruption.

In the absence of strong formal institutions, informal institutions have entrenched themselves in the Haitian state system, and have elevated corruption to the fore in the country’s business practices. In fact, no president has been able to dilute corruption yet, mostly because he allows these same bosses to rise to power.

Create an accountable public service

Let’s now continue the complex answer. If we accept that the weakness of formal institutions in the Haitian political system explains the strength of corruption, then how can we weaken these informal institutions in favor of formal institutions that benefit the people?

It would be an illusion to think that a single solution could put an end to corruption in Haiti. But we still argue that the struggle should begin with the creation of a new public administration system. Its implementation requires the modernization of the political-administrative apparatus – a new way of doing things based on merit rather than patronage and transparency rather than the ambiguity that characterizes the overall functioning of the Haitian public administration.

However, there are several obstacles to such a change.

First, accountability, Necessary in public administrations And in the fight against corruption is absent.

Haitian legislation makes Ministers, Secretaries of State, and Directors General (in Quebec and Canada, they are called Deputy Ministers) the sole delegated officials of public decisions. Hence, it makes civil servants mere implementers, as seen in Haiti Decree on the central administration of the state, Adopted in 2005.

Protesters erected a roadblock in Port-au-Prince during a rally of health workers to demand better working conditions and the resignation of President Juvenile Moise.
AP Photo / Dieu Nalio Chery

In other words, Haitian government directors, managers and other officials are not subject to any accountability rules, which encourages favoritism and possibly corruption. Moreover, the legal and regulatory framework does not provide for any other form of accountability of public administration officials, especially before civil society.

Reality redesign

Transparency and dissemination of information It is another mechanism to fight corruption. Unfortunately, in Haiti, publishing information, particularly financial information, outside of the auditing or oversight procedures stipulated by law is not an obligation of public bodies.

For example, the official budget document, which is generally published on the website of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, presents forecasts that differ significantly from reality, since they are often subject to reorganization in their implementation. This means that, in practice, the operations carried out do not correspond to the information published by the government.

However, efforts have been made to strengthen the accountability system as part of Haiti’s recent administrative reforms.

In this context, over the past fifteen years, successive governments have established numerous oversight, monitoring, investigation and auditing bodies. This is important to facilitate a culture of accountability.

However, it will also be important to strengthen the accountability framework by making public servants more accountable. They should be given more freedom to act, but they must also be directly and publicly responsible for their management.

This is the way to strengthen Haiti’s formal institutions and weaken the informal institutions – and corruption.

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