The phrase “donor fatigue” sums up the ambient sentiment within a large portion of the international community with regard to Haiti.
Twenty-nine years since the beginning of a democratic transition, which seems to have no end in sight, the United Nations still has a stabilization mission in the country, foreign embassies are more influential than the nationally elected officials and go as far as determining the outcome of elections, and the pending elections’ budget is being managed by the U.N. Development Program. A country’s institutions can hardly get weaker than that.
In such a noxious environment, it is refreshing to notice that one of the country’s most important and, until now, most dormant, institutions — the Superior Court of Auditors — finally seems to be fulfilling its role by thwarting corruption and holding public officials accountable. Indeed, according to the Constitution, before anyone who managed public funds at a certain level can run for Congress or for president, they need to be audited by the Superior Court of Auditors.
At the end of the process, the court submits a favorable or unfavorable report to an ad hoc bicameral congressional commission. The latter, in turn, issues a discharge certificate to those having obtained a favorable report, certifying that they had properly managed state funds during their tenure.
However, Haiti's parliament became dysfunctional last Jan. 15, when the term of all the lower chamber’s members and that of 20 of the 30 senators came to an end. The elections to replace them have yet to be held. Therefore, it was materially impossible to convene the bicameral commission, and there is no provision in the constitution for an alternative mechanism.
In the meantime, the Superior Court of Auditors started to issue both favorable and unfavorable audit reports to some former public officials, whereas in the past it used to generously grant favorable ones only, with no serious audit conducted.
At that point, all eyes converged on President Michel Martelly, who was being pressured by scores of former public accountants to issue a decree granting them the coveted discharge certificates so they could run. Had Martelly decided to do so, the country would have been prevented from ever auditing the management of state funds by these individuals. That is, in the aggregate, billions of dollars in a poor country with a $2.4 billion budget, and where corruption is rampant.
Uncharacteristically, President Martelly sided with the constitution and did not use his unchecked executive power.
On June 13, the electoral body, which so far projects a pristine image of independence from all sectors, published the final list of those who are allowed to run in the next elections. All the former ministers and other high-level public accountants lacking their discharge certificate were indiscriminately barred from running.
That gives the country the opportunity to audit their management before they can serve again. It bears mentioning that even first lady Sophia Martelly, who was seeking a Senate seat, has been barred from running by the electoral body because she had managed public funds as the head of a presidential commission and did not furnish clear and convincing evidence that she has relinquished her American citizenship.
These are interesting developments for a country like Haiti, where the rule of law has been absent for too long from the political lexicon, where corruption is punctuated with in-your-face impunity and where, most important, the institutions have been prevented from fulfilling their mission by both self-interested players inside the country and ill-informed, self-serving outsiders.
This atypically strong beginning does not, in any way, guarantee free and fair elections as the process may derail at any one of its critical stages. It is, nonetheless, important that due credit be given to the aforementioned actors, and that Haiti’s civil society and true international friends remain watchful, cautiously optimistic while refraining from serving as sounding boards to those for whom the only good process is one where they have their way at the expense of the budding institutional awakening.
Frandley Julien is a former community leader in Haiti who studies law at FIU.