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Ambassador to Haiti has a message for young professionals in Miami

US Ambassador to Haiti Michele Sison speaks at event honoring young Haitian Americans under the age of 40.
US Ambassador to Haiti Michele Sison speaks at event honoring young Haitian Americans under the age of 40.

The U.S. ambassador to Haiti appealed for more engagement of the Haitian diaspora, telling a group young professionals in Miami that businesses in Haiti can benefit from their mentorship and knowledge as successful entrepreneurs.

“They need your help, your advice in order to scale up their enterprises to the next level,” Michele Sison said, delivering Saturday’s keynote address at the Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce of Florida’s annual 20 Under 40 Top Young Professionals award ceremony. “Together, you are a strong force that could help shape the Haitian-American partnership in the years to come. We want to partner with Haiti in that.”

Sison’s appearance at the event came as Haiti’s Lower Chamber of Deputies in Port-au-Prince held a confirmation hearing on nominated Prime Minister Jean Henry Céant, 61, and his 18-member ministerial cabinet.

Early Saturday morning, following a marathon session that lasted nearly 16 hours, the Haitian Senate voted 21 in favor, five against and two abstentions to ratify the new government and Céant’s political program.

While senators spent seven hours debating the eligibility of ministers, Lower Chamber President Gary Bodeau prevented such debate from taking place before Céant announced his political program. Still, some deputies raised the issue nevertheless, citing a video of ministers’ cars lined up outside of the government tax office in Port-au-Prince late at night soon after their nominations were published by President Jovenel Moïse.

Accusing the nominated ministers of rushing to pay back taxes to protect their nominations, several lawmakers unsuccessfully argued for the ministers to be removed.

“We do not have a culture of paying taxes,” Céant told lawmakers as he appealed to them to join him in rebuilding hope.

A well-known notary, who twice unsuccessfully ran for president, Céant was tapped to replace outgoing Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant.

Lafontant was forced to resign in July after a fuel hike by his government triggered widespread social unrest.

He faces a litany of challenges, from finding money to service Haiti’s debt to also addressing its deep social needs. He is also under pressure to launch an investigation into $2 billion that Haiti owes Venezuela as part of its discounted PetroCaribe oil programs. A grassroots social media campaign denouncing corruption and demanding accountability has triggered protests in several Haitian cities, Montreal, Canada, New York and on Saturday, Miami.

Haiti Sen. Evaliere Beauplan's commission report on the management of $2 billion from Venezuela's oil program accused former government officials, including two prime ministers and President Jovenel Moïse's chief of staff, of corruption in 2017.

Speaking to the Miami crowd, Sison acknowledged that Haiti could do more to attract foreign and domestic investment. Many of the people she spoke to, she said, have said the Haitian government needs to improve the ease of doing business in Haiti by strengthening contract enforcement and contract liability.

“Donor support to help Haiti with its development and broader social and economic needs is not enough,” she said. “Haiti also needs increased domestic and foreign investment.

Members of the South Florida Haitian community demonstrat in front of the Haitian consulate in Miami. Pedro Portal

“There has never been a stronger case for fair , open and transparent government strengthened by a strong and independent judiciary,” she later said while noting that this is one of the first conversations she intends to have with the country’s next government. “These are all key ingredients for economic growth.”

In addition to stressing diaspora involvement, Sison touted some of the domestic revenue mobilization programs the U.S. has embarked on in Haiti to encourage Haitian self-reliance and resiliency. Among them,working with Haitian institutions, like municipalities, to increase government revenue streams through property tax and business tax collections.

“This works,” she said. “In some municipalities revenues increased.”

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