One Small Step for Joseph Michel Martelly, One Giant Leap for Haiti.
© Max Zamor
How to solve the impasse in the Daniel Rouzier nomination for Prime Minister and at the same time strengthen an important institution.
Like clockwork, every time there is a new presidential election in Haiti, hope for change runs high that the new government, or at least the mental attitude of its leaders, would take a turn for the better. Alas! With a new president sworn into office more than a month ago, it looks like history is about to take that familiar turn for stalemate.
The old saying: “The more things change, the more they stay the same”, rings so true today. President Michel Martelly is finding out it is one thing to speak the words that fire up the people, but another to climb the mountain of political wrangling in Haiti. Every day, there are fresh revelations and new cracks in the window of understanding for the reasons why there are so many constraints put on meaningful development in Haiti. It now looks to be so long ago, when well-wishers were congratulating Mr. Martelly for his choice of Daniel Gerard Rouzier for Prime Minister. A real “tour de force” some thought. Mr Rouzier’s impeccable educational background and management ability notwithstanding, we’re finding out now there may be skeletons in his closets that surprise all but the skeptics. It is being reported in the newspaper “Le Matin” that, according to the papers he submitted to Parliament for evaluation, Mr. Rouzier’s fiscal house may not be so immaculate after all. The website www.defend.ht went even further to report that Mr. Rouzier earned $1,250.000 U.S.D. in 2009 but only paid $600.00 U.S.D. in taxes. There are other irregularities embedded in the application papers, like a declaration of owning multiple passports, but those figures are most glaring and merit special attention in the context of Haitian society.
If true, this would be a microcosm of what has been gnawing at Haiti’s progress for a long time. It would also be easy to get mad at Mr. Rouzier, and a normal punishment would be to deny his application; a fitting blow to Martelly’s plan by his detractors, but more crushing for Haiti at this juncture.
Countries are like individuals. In a perfect world, they are born, they grow, they progress and they flourish. But, like people, sometimes they make mistakes, falter and may even fall. The ones who get up and correct their mistakes, often end up being productive citizens who positively serve their society. Those are the leaders who put their country’s wellbeing ahead of their own. Unfortunately, in Haiti, one wonders if “country” is even in the mind of its leaders. Yes mistakes have been made, but time and time again, corrections are not forthcoming to keep those mistakes from being repeated. The case of Daniel Rouzier presents an opportunity for the Parliament to show true leadership and correct once and for all this malignant wound of Haiti’s tax reporting policies.
The Internal Revenue Service in the United States has been in existence since their Civil War in 1862. It is a huge agency; but it is efficient and arguably serves the people well. However, there are still kinks to work out in its fairness and application. Far from comparing the United States fiscal policies to those of Haiti, it would be a gross misrepresentation to say that there is any fairness and efficiency in Haiti’s tax collection apparatus, or deny there are individuals in Haiti who pay little or no tax. To advance either would be pure fantasy. True leaders are those who would first stand up and open their financial books in all transparency, invite the rest of the government to do the same. In Haiti, it is the law for elected officials and functionaries to declare their assets before taking office. These leaders should then vow to make it a crucial part of their agenda to reform the tax reporting and collection system in the country, even if it means their own political demise. Thus, we would have the makings of political heroism.
Daniel Rouzier’s tax underpayment should not be a reason to deny his application. There are other criteria that should pass rigorous tests to determine his qualification: His vision for the country and how he plans to implement that vision should be the true benchmarks for a positive vote. If he owes these taxes, he should be given an opportunity to conform to the tax laws of the country by paying back what he owes. Furthermore, every individual that occupies a leadership position in the Government, starting from the President should pass the same test and be given that same opportunity. The challenge is for the political leaders to show courage in the face of this and other very difficult issues confronting the country.
Haiti needs some creative thinking to get out of this hole. Playing politics with the lives of the people living under the tents should be made a crime against humanity. Every day that goes by without a viable Government to resolve that situation, is a denial that a problem exists. One only has to remember the putrid smell of rotting flesh from the earthquake for proof of the contrary.