A daily bulletin of news & opinion

12 May 2011

As Haiti’s president-elect Michel Martelly takes office in Port-au-Prince tomorrow, current President René Préval will step aside. Normal though it may seem, this will be the first time in Haiti’s history that a president completed his term and peacefully left office in a democratic election.

Haitians are extraordinarily proud of this achievement of peace. But they are also determined to meet bigger goals and hope Martelly will usher in an era of real progress.

Before the earthquake in January 2010, Haiti was already facing widespread unemployment, extreme poverty and few international investors. The earthquake exacerbated Haiti’s problems.

Martelly, a former musician, has no experience in public policy or governance. His newly formed political party was not able to achieve a majority, or even a significant presence, in parliament. These are not small challenges.

Martelly claimed to be the candidate of change and he will be judged entirely on whether or not things get better. Right now, it’s hard to say. The earthquake raised Haiti’s international profile and aid organisations scrambled to respond. Though hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in Haiti, the country’s most endemic problems remain and aid itself has become a flashpoint.

At a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC last month, Martelly said Haiti has become “the republic of NGOs,” referring to the aid agencies. “Haitians don’t want handouts,” he said. “They want opportunities for wealth.”

Hundreds of thousands of Haitians remain in the streets since the earthquake, many looking for shelter. A recent report from the US Office of Inspector General shows American aid efforts, which were the largest of any international actors, have fallen short. The US will ultimately disperse more than $116m to build around 33,000 transitional shelters. The audit pointed to delays, poor planning and cost overruns.

Darrell Issa, a Republican congressman from California, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told Monocle: “The response in the first 30 days was impressive but if you look at the totality of 16 months, it reaches the point of pathetic.”

He is pushing for contractors to be held more accountable. “When the television cameras were rolling, it was pretty impressive,” Issa said. “But as soon as they got bored with the story, progress slowed to a halt.”

Though humanitarian and development efforts are likely to continue, international actors cannot solve Haiti’s most perplexing problems. It will be up to lawmakers to demonstrate decisive leadership.

Haiti is home to a vibrant culture and beautiful beaches, but tourism cannot happen until major investments are made in the country’s airports. Land tenure rights are perplexing, but big construction is only likely if Haiti changes the law to allow individuals to purchase apartments instead of buildings.

The president’s “to do” list is long and expectations are high. Martelly’s campaign slogan was “Tet kale!” which means, “No sweat!” As things heat up in Haiti, that seems unlikely. With the country at peace, the real battle – for its future – is about to begin.


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