Henri Bazin, a university professor and former Haitian minister of finance and economy, died Tuesday at his home in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Turgeau, Haiti’s Nouvelliste newspaper reported.
Word of Bazin’s death quickly spread through social media and was confirmed by his friend and former boss, ex-Prime Minister Gerard Latortue of Boca Raton. Bazin served as Latortue’s finance minister and chief economist during the 2004-2006 U.S.-backed interim government that Latortue led.
The government came to power after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced to flee into exile — for a second time — amid a bloody coup.
"With the death of Henri, Haiti has lost one of its most skilled and most honest sons,” Latortue said. Bazin, he noted, was admired for his sense of humanity and patience, “always willing to dialogue.”
“He wore high the traditional values of dignity and rectitude, which characterized the great personalities who have marked our history,” Latortue said.
Indeed, in a country plagued with corruption, Bazin was considered a rarity. He had the reputation of being Mr. Honest. One of his marks during his tenure as finance minister was getting rid of the “zombie" or ghost checks that went to people who were either double-dipping or not employed in the tasks for which they were being compensated.
He also initiated other reforms, say former colleagues and friends.
Before Bazin took office, 73 percent of funds expended by Haiti’s public treasury were basically sent out as blank checks, with no consideration as to whether they were to go for items actually in the national budget, said Gabriel Verret, who served as Bazin’s chief economic advisor. Half of that money went directly to the National Palace’s checking account, an aberration that became the focus of reforms and investigations. By the end of the 2004-2005 budget year, Bazin had almost done away with the practice, getting it down to under 10 percent.
“I am proud to have been Henri’s point man as he put in place the set of reforms that, with the exception of the year of four devastating hurricanes in 2008, and of course the year of the earthquake, have produced positive per capita GDP growth for Haiti every year since 2004,” Verret said. “In my years of work on economic policy for Haiti, Henri proved to be one of the two or three ministers as concerned with being minister of the economy as he was with being minister of finance.”
Post-government life, Bazin could be found at the domestic airport, flying back and forth between Port-au-Prince, where he lived, and Cap-Haitien, where he taught at the private University of Notre Dame.
Bazin was born in St. Marc. His most famous sibling was Marc Bazin, a former World Bank official and Haitian finance and economy minister under dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, who was a presidential candidate in the 1990 elections that first brought Aristide to power.
Two years later, Marc Bazin was appointed prime minister to prepare Aristide’s return from his first stint in exile after a military coup. Marc Bazin proceeded his brother Henri in death in 2010.
After completing his university studies in Europe, Henri Bazin worked in several countries in Europe, Africa and the United States before returning to Haiti, where he was highly respected.
In a 2004 Miami Herald interview shortly after coming into office, Bazin said, “We will be looking into all the scandals and misuse of government money ... those things that were illegal and violated procedure.”
One of Bazin’s best kept secrets, was his age, always refusing to enlighten reporters when they asked.