HAUT-DU-CAP, Haiti -- As he begins his third year in office, President Michel Martelly is adding a dose of reality to his campaign promises, telling the Haitian people he alone cannot transform their lives.
Calmer and more mature in his rhetoric, Martelly is calling for greater social responsibility, describing his nation’s deep-seated social ills —hunger, joblessness and poverty — as problems that will not disappear overnight.
But even while trying to temper expectations, the man who once promised sweeping change remains uncompromising. He has simultaneously called for reconciliation among Haiti’s opposition while bashing political foes as he accuses parliamentarians of blocking progress.
Unable to get answers about more than $400 million in no-bid, post-Hurricane Sandy contracts, senators last week issued a summons to Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe to appear before them on Tuesday. Martelly, in turn, called an extraordinary session to address other matters.
“This is a government that is in place, that believes in our work,” Martelly said last week as he inaugurated a government administrative center on the outskirts of Cap-Haïtien.
Though work on the center began two presidential predecessors ago, he is happy to take credit for this project and others.
“The results are starting to be felt all over the country,’’ he said.
There have been changes in Haiti, which was ravaged by a magnitude-7.0 earthquake in January 2010 that left 1.5 million homeless. Of the 634,000 people living in tent cities when Martelly took office on May 14, 2011, just under half remain in squalid camps. This month a new housing development on the outskirts of the capital in Morne-à-Cabrit marked a milestone: 1,500 homes completed out of 3,000 planned.
However, much of the new dynamism is cosmetic — cleaner streets, sidewalks being built, and newly repaved roads. Even an infamous mountaintop slum overlooking two new luxury hotels in Petionville recently got a facelift. So too did a public square that once housed thousands of quake victims.
Though the improved façade, like the newly asphalted road leading visitors out of a still-under renovation Port-au-Prince international airport, paint a more welcoming Haiti, critics and even foreign observers say Haiti remains fragile and a developmental mess. The projects offer visibility for a government wanting to show results but they also raise questions about sustainability.
“This is all government work, standard work to be expected from any government,” said Michel Eric Gaillard, a Port-au-Prince political analyst. “Fundamental policy changes are needed but they are not there.”
Martelly’s actions must now match his speeches, observers say. Institutions, including the judiciary, remain weak; corruption persists and an economic takeoff hasn’t left the launch pad.
Direct foreign investment is projected to be $110 million — down from $170 million during the last budget year. And the head of the Senate Finance Committee has warned that Haiti faces a $200 million budget shortfall.
Meanwhile, Haiti’s foreign debt has ticked up to $1.1 billion in the past three years — almost as much as it was when it was forgiven on the day of the quake.
“It takes a functional government to deliver and Haiti does not have that under Micky or Lamothe,” said Jocelyn McCalla, a New York-based Haiti expert. “He had a rocky start. He’s managed to hold onto a PM; he’s got significant support in parliament until the well runs dry; he’s managed to use (Hugo) Chávez’s money, but that will come back to bite Haiti, not Martelly, in the you-know-where sometime soon.”