Haiti — a state of political dysfunction



Three years after an earthquake devastated Haiti, its elites seem poised to produce their own man-made disaster of instability and polarization. Unless the nation’s leaders pursue a national governability accord to organize long-delayed elections, halt unconstitutional appointments and address basic needs, Haiti could become a permanent failed state.

The International Crisis Group report published last week: “Governing Haiti: Time for National Consensus” tracks the failure of will across a broad spectrum of Haiti’s national leaders to seek agreement on national challenges.

The most recent triumph of partisan over national interest has been the failure of President Michel Martelly, parliamentary leaders and the business community to implement the governance agreement signed on Christmas Eve with the support of an ad hoc ecumenical body, Religions for Peace.

The pact would have side-stepped the Catch-22 situation where the absence of a third of the senators stymied the legislature’s naming its three members to the nine-member Permanent Electoral Commission (CEP) which was supposed to organize the partial senate elections which should have been held in November 2011.

The agreement provided for a new consensual Transitory Electoral College (TEC). That also would have enabled the removal of the other widely-criticized CEP members who had been named by or were seen as partial to the president.

That agreement has not been implemented. Haiti still has no electoral calendar, no electoral law and no members for the agreed upon electoral body. Not only does it ham-string the Senate, short a third of its members, but the legislature as a whole. Local government also has been undermined because mayors and local assemblies also should have been elected long ago. Instead when the old terms were up, the executive branch unconstitutionally appointed individuals to those posts.

Elections, though, would only remove the first obstacle to Haiti’s returning to the much ballyhooed “path of reconstruction and transformation” called for following the 2010 earthquake. Haiti’s slow progress on police and justice reform also are at risk with questions surrounding appointments to the newly created oversight body for the judiciary (CSPJ) and rumors of attempts to shoe-horn former members of the military into the Haitian National Police.

The eight-year-old U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti has been integrated mostly by Latin American forces, and led by Brazilians. Latin America also could help the Haitian elites see the benefits of a national governance pact and ways to achieve it. Chile, Guatemala, Peru and, in recent months, Mexico have found ways to bridge ideological differences and secure fundamental progress on bolstering democratic institutions and the rule of law.

Without some clear shift in attitude and actions, the still substantial flows of donor funds could begin to shrivel. Canada already has signaled its unhappiness and frustration with lack of transparency and trends toward governance by decree.

While the people may be thinking about this week’s Carnival in Haiti, President Martelly, the political opposition, the business community and civil society need to be focused on working to resurrect the Christmas Eve agreement. They should demonstrate a determination to implement that agreement and move toward credible early elections by securing an independent TEC and an electoral law and calendar.

By showing that evidence of good will, Religions for Peace might be willing to return as facilitator to help broker a much needed consensus national pact on education, employment, environment, energy and the etat de droit (rule of law), the 5 E’s of the Martelly platform.

Progress in all of those sectors is critical for poverty reduction, stability and justice. Zero sum politics has stalled progress over recent years and recent decades and the people of Haiti have suffered. A national pact would signal an end to destructive culture and brake the slide toward permanent failure in that island nation.

Mark L. Schneider is senior vice president of the International Crisis Group.

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