Politics still holding country back

FIVE YEARS LATER: Downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on December 29, 2014 (top) and January 14, 2010, two days after it was hit by the eartkquake (bottom).
FIVE YEARS LATER: Downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on December 29, 2014 (top) and January 14, 2010, two days after it was hit by the eartkquake (bottom). AFP/Getty Images

Five years ago on Jan. 12, 2010, the worst earthquake in its history struck Haiti. More than 200,000 of my compatriots died in the event that marked our country forever.

Like so many others in the aftermath of this great tragedy, I gave up my life as a private executive to put my skills at the service of Haiti. During that time, I had the privilege of serving Haiti in various public-sector capacities, thanks to the opportunities provided by the government headed by President Michel Martelly. As most know, for personal reasons and to ensure a path forward, I left the position of prime minister last month.

With some distance behind me, I am able to evaluate where Haiti finds itself after five years and especially following the efforts of the Haitian government in which I proudly served.

So what have we, in fact, been able to accomplish in Haiti over the past five years?

The usual answer to this question has been to mention the significant accomplishments in education, the reconstruction of old and construction of new infrastructure, the complete transformation of our tourism sector and our gains in making Haiti a safer place to both visit and invest. These are all good reasons to see that Haiti has indeed changed in the past five years and that things are moving forward against enormous odds.

As prime minister, I played a role in proudly guiding these efforts; however, I remain convinced that we will be judged not by the grand projects but by how our government has treated the most vulnerable sectors of Haitian society, those who remain in conditions of utter poverty and despair. My administration’s top priority was to serve these vulnerable citizens who had always been forgotten by traditional politicians and the political class.

My work was inspired by the unselfish ways in which many people — both Haitian and foreign — have dedicated themselves to improve the conditions of the poorest sectors most affected by tragedy. We drew particular inspiration from the premise that the root of what is wrong with Haiti is that some lives have always mattered less than others.

This premise became the basis of the social policy programs we designed, for it is those who have less who today have the most urgent claim on the conscience of our government and our nation. In the course of designing and implementing grand projects, I discovered that Haiti’s real strength is its people, especially those who have for so long lived in critical poverty and with no hope of ever improving their condition.

In short, our main goal was to insure that all Haitian lives matter, but especially the lives of the most vulnerable members of our society. I have often referred to our social policy as the mechanism that gave a voice to Haiti’s voiceless.

Direct contact with so many Haitians without hope led to the design of programs such as Ede Pep that aimed first and foremost to move the poorest of the poor out of such a condition. Just a few days before I stepped down as prime minister, the World Bank announced that critical poverty had indeed dropped dramatically in the past four years.

For this and many other reasons, I left office in December with a sense of accomplishment.

With all of these good things happening in Haiti, it is disappointing to see that progress is still being hampered by a few individuals in the traditional political class who continue to hold our political system hostage and who refuse to come together to move our beloved country to a brighter future. In all of these discussions, the weakest are being forgotten in this political gridlock and we risk years of progress in Haiti to be once again rolled back.

As prime minister, I discovered that it is possible in Haiti to design policies aimed at the poor, to implement them, and to measure the outcomes. I was privileged to have been part of these efforts.

In the past several weeks I have also become convinced that the future of Haiti is tied not to individual leaders but to the institutions they establish and the policies that they pursue. I only hope now that our leaders agree with me, set aside their differences and move our country forward once again.

Laurent Lamothe served as prime minister of Haiti from May 2012 until December 2014.