Government officials in Haiti are set to lose their perks, under emergency economic and anti-corruption measures announced on Saturday by Prime Minister Jean-Henry Ceant. This is in response to deadly protests which have been occurring – corruption being the main cause of discontent – where protesters want President Jovenel Moise to step down. At least seven people have died in Haiti since February 7, when the latest protests began. The protests also reflect widespread worries about the state of the economy, where inflation is ballooning, along with the people’s struggle to pay for basic necessities.
Prime Minister Ceant, in a 20-minute address, said that the government’s first decision has been to “cut the prime minister’s budget by 30 percent,” which suggests that the presidency and parliament will take similar measures. “We also need to withdraw all unnecessary privileges for high-level government officials, like allowances for gas and telephones, needless trips abroad, and the amount of consultants,” he said on state television. On Sunday, nine days after the riots started, relative calm had returned to Port-au-Prince, the capital. Al Jazeera’s Manuel Rapalo said, “this doesn’t mean that the tensions are gone. This doesn’t mean that the discontent is over, there are still pockets of unrest in the city where demonstrators continue to call for the resignation of the Haitian president.”
The demonstrations and protests have been ongoing for months, due to questions over the fate of almost $4bn in missing funds which were meant to be used for social development in the country, under Venezuela’s social programme, Petrocaribe. Through this programme, Venezuela for years had supplied several Caribbean countries with oil at a cut-rate process. This arrangement provided Haiti with fuel with a down payment of 60 percent of the purchase price, and the rest of the cost spread at very low terms of interest over 25 years. Investigations by the Haitian Senate in 2016 and 2017 concluded that nearly $2bn from the programme was misused. The investigation called for charges to be brought against two former prime ministers and several cabinet ministers for abuse of authority and forgery.
The Prime Minister’s decision to curb government perks came after President Moise on Thursday finally broke his silence after a week of protests. He said that he would not hand the country over to drug traffickers and that dialogue was the only way to stop a civil war. However, people living in Haiti have had enough of false promises and a lack of transparency from the government.
The withdrawal of perks can be seen as one way to reduce the misuse of public funds. However, there has still been no action taken against those responsible for the misuse of funds from the Petrocaribe programme. Three-fifths of Haiti’s inhabitants of around 11 million are below the poverty line of $2 a day, which shows how necessary such funding programmes are for the country’s social development. The question arises as to whether the withdrawal of perks for government officials is enough of a ‘punishment’, or indeed whether this can be seen as punishment at all. The fact that these kinds of economic measures must be taken to incentivise officials to do their job correctly, which is to serve the state and its people – and not to misuse funds – illustrates a wider problem of corruption at a government level. The government must take stricter action against corruption, in order to earn back the trust of the people, and most importantly, to listen to the people and their needs.