Martelly’s Bittersweet Challenges

Jocelyn McCallaJocelyn McCalla

President Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly faces daunting challenges and high expectations as he prepares to preside atop a dysfunctional government. Amongt his challenges are a newly minted parliament that seeks to score high early on.

First, the positive: Martelly has staked part of the success of his administration on its ability to make primary school education universal and real. Few in Haiti believe that he can pull it off, given the costs of building an entirely new structure, the estimated 500,000 school children denied the opportunity since time immemorial and the paucity of trained teachers and school administrators. Yet education is perhaps the most effective weapon against chronic poverty and Haiti remaining an international charity case. By making schooling a priority, at the very least Martelly sends a strong signal that he’s willing to try.

However, meeting domestic and international expectations is another story. In principle, democracy disallows arbitrary rule, forcing the Executive to argue, battle and perhaps compromise with the legislature. While Haiti’s parliament appears to be dominated by INITE party members, in reality it is quite fragmented. The party was cobbled together in 2010 when then President René Préval was deemed to have the upper hand: many rent-seekers hedged their bet by running for office under INITE’s umbrella. They are likely to not act in unison but as an eclectic group of elected officials that will shift and play musical chairs in accordance with the prevailing winds.

Both Haiti’s executive and legislative branches of government have to be built from the ground up in order for Haiti to set sail for modernity. For Martelly, the challenge will be to assemble together an enlightened cabinet to manage, reform and transform the various ministries and agencies by shedding old habits, bringing in fresh perspectives and prioritizing honesty and competence. His nomination of Daniel Rouzier, a reputable businessman and philanthropist, bodes well for this challenge if he manages to bring on board similarly inclined leaders. If Martelly manages to let the cabinet handle the affairs of government, he will have distanced himself from his predecessor who tended to micromanage the affairs of State.

It’s in the legislature’s best interests to use deliberations and lawmaking as an opportunity to break with tradition and incorporate civil society input. Whether legislators will do so remains doubtful, for public scrutiny inevitably shines a spotlight on their conduct. Little is known about their legislative and political skills, and whether their ideology goes beyond personal pecuniary aims.

And then there’s the international community which is underwriting Haiti’s democratic experiment. Having thwarted attempts by President Préval and his cohorts to extend their control of government by manipulating the elections count, the United States and its allies must now ensure that Martelly and his cabinet toe the line. Prime Minister designate Rouzier, who publicly questioned the usefulness of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC), was forced to amend his initial remarks the next day. There’s little doubt that the US which had pushed for the establishment of the IHRC exerted strong pressure on Martelly and Rouzier.

The road ahead will certainly be rocky. Incessant rains have already caused loss of life and property, and disrupted trade between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Thousands were rendered homeless when their makeshift camps were arbitrarily destroyed on orders of the Mayor of Delmas. The remaining camps were soaked by the heavy rains. In a move that appears quite arbitrary, Martelly has announced the imposition of fees on remittances and international phone calls purportedly to finance educational expansion. Concern that funds so collected may end up instead in the deep pockets of close associates and relatives is heightened by the absence of known mechanisms prior to implementing the measures. Yet since the new regime is in its infancy, it enjoys wide latitude. This may not last beyond the next six months if it fails to measure up to expectations.

Jocelyn McCalla is a policy analyst and president of JMC Strategies. He lives in New York.