By Catherine Charlemagne, Haiti Liberté, Sept. 19, 2018
It’s hard to think that Haiti can continue much longer with its current political system.
The report of the Commission on Constitutional Reform, led by Pétion-Ville’s deputy, Jerry Tardieu, made some suggestions which Haiti’s political leaders might consider to get out of this constitutional quagmire in which the country has been wallowing for more than three decades. While criticized by some and lauded by others, there has not been a clearer and more thorough review of the 1987 Constitution aimed at facilitating the task of political actors in the organization of executive power. Whether we agree or disagree with the proposal to replace the post of Prime Minister with that of a Vice-President elected at the same time as the President, everyone agrees that we should end the ordeal and vicissitudes we must endure under the current method of appointing of a prime minister. It cannot go on like this anymore!
For how long was the notary Jean Henry Céant nominated as prime minister to replace the resigned head of government, Dr. Jack Guy Lafontant? Over two months! This is an eternity. Look at other nations where institutions function normally and where constitutional coherence makes it possible to go forward without becoming lost in a guessing-game or in useless procrastination. With every resignation or appointment of a prime minister, it is always the same story in Haiti. The same scenarios repeat themselves to finally achieve the same result: a vote of approval of the Prime Minister’s General Policy Statement.
Haitian senators and MPs in the process of approving a new Prime Minister’s General Policy Statement play zany games where they look like puppets being manipulated by puppeteers in a show where all the adults in the room know the end in advance. It is sad and monotonous at the same time! For more than two months, the country has been virtually blocked. Political life boils down to ratifying a Prime Minister, constantly called the “appointed Prime Minister,” for the simple reason that this PM has no official residence, authority, or legal power over anybody. He is cloistered either at home or in a large hotel in Pétion-Ville, where he receives friends and aspiring ministers.
Delays do not come from false or missing documents, as claimed. It’s just a charade to drag out the process of negotiations with the nominee, and it rarely ends badly for him.
Here is a gentleman who only two years ago ran for President but is forced to wait for the results of investigations by two different parliamentary committees to find the truth about his identity papers in order to know whether or not he can become prime minister. However, Jean Henry Céant had already been approved several times by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to be a presidential candidate. Not once did he have any difficulties with this independent body, which minutely verifies if a Haitian citizen can be a candidate for elected office. We must conclude that if the candidacy of Céant was accepted two or three times by the CEP that all his papers are in accordance with Haitian law. So, why are parliamentarians, who themselves have gone through the same CEP vetting, forced to investigate the same documents that the former presidential candidate had already filed with the electoral body?
Do Parliamentarians really think that an imposter could become President of Haiti but not head of government? Or do they think that the position of prime minister concerns national sovereignty more than that of head of state? Otherwise, we do not really understand this idiocy.
We could understand if they took all the trouble in the world to check the papers of a citizen who had never been a candidate. But the case of Jean Henry Céant is further evidence that Jerry Tardieu’s amendment committee has some points. Haiti’s partners do not understand this story of checking papers for someone who has run three times for the highest position in the executive hierarchy and who has just been appointed prime minister 18 months later.
Jean Henry Céant is also a well-known politician and has many friends in Parliament, many more than most of his predecessors who went through the ordeal with less difficulty. Furthermore, President Jovenel Moïse holds a relative majority in both branches of the National Assembly. They all know it, and they all know they would vote for Céant’s ratification. Nonetheless, senators and MPs dragged their feet so that ratification had not occurred when the second regular constitutional session expired on Mon., Sep. 10.
There began to be some doubts in public opinion if the designated Prime Minister and his cabinet would be ratified this September after all. But two days later, the President used his constitutional right to convene the parliamentarians in extraordinary session to approve the Prime Minister’s General Policy Statement. On Sep. 12, the Senate, where Céant had first submitted his papers proving that he is Haitian and fulfills all the conditions required not only to become head of state but also Prime Minister, invited him to make his statement of general policy after the Senate Committee had validated all the documents filed.
Céant came to the Senate on time on Fri., Sep. 14 at 1 p.m., but, as usual, the session began at the end of the day, which is not a problem in itself insofar as his approval should have been a mere formality. But all the senators had to grand-stand, coming to the podium to make speeches and ask never-ending questions of the impassive designated prime minister who answered yes to everything while wearing a tired face after a long day of waiting and a sleepless night. After it was clear that Céant would pass, some observers were waiting for the senators’ reaction to members of his cabinet, some of whom senators themselves had publicly denounced.
One proposed minister allegedly had no less than three passports (American, Haitian, and Canadian) and therefore was removed from the list of ministers. Then there was the case of a woman working in a ministry that had never set foot in the Directorate General of Taxes (DGI) to pay her taxes. When she learned that she would be asked to be one of Céant’s ministers, so as not to be disqualified by the parliamentarians, she simply told the tax office that she earns only 23,000 gourdes ($331) a month. So she paid the DGI taxes for the five years required by review guidelines, but only on the 23,000 gourdes monthly. However, after verification, the two parliamentary commissions of inquiry discovered that she had a monthly salary of more than 300,000 gourdes ($4,321). This lady is not the only one among the members of Céant’s cabinet who owes taxes. This rather shocking case suggests that parliamentarians should have demanded explanations from the PM and even rejected all the candidates who have anomalies.
The deputies followed the same path as their colleagues in the upper house, making a show all Saturday night until their vote in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Although some MPs raised questions about cabinet appointees who had not paid their taxes, this was not enough to prevent the validation of the entire cabinet.
The two houses separately gave votes of confidence to the PM’s statement of general policy and approved his ministerial cabinet as it was presented to them. In the Senate, it was by a large majority, with 21 out of 30 votes for, 5 votes against, and 2 abstentions, an identical vote to the one received by former Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant in February 2017.
Only pro-Lavalas opposition senators (Evalière Beauplan, Nenel Cassy, Ricard Pierre, and Antonio Cheramy) and one loose canon, Patrice Dumont, voted against.
Regarding the two who abstained, they were the senator of the South, OPL’s Jean Marie Salomon, and the senator of the North-West, Kedlaire Augustin, who is part of the ruling Haitian Bald Headed Party (PHTK), but is estranged from his former friend President Jovenel Moïse, whom he believes has forgotten his department with his “Caravan for Change.”
That left the cohort of PHTK senators and allies (Rony Célestin, Jean Marie Ralph Fethière, Denius Francenet, Denis Cadeau, Onondieu Louis, Dieudonné Luma Étienne, Sorel Jacinthe, Jean Rigaud Bélizaire, Jean Renel Sénatus, Youri Latortue, Carl Murat Cantave, Garcia Delva, Wanique Pierre, Dieupie Chérubin, Nawoon Marcelus, Pierre Francois Sildor, Richard Lénine Hervé Fourcand, Willot Joseph, Wilfrid Gélin, and Ronald Larèche) who all voted in favor of the Prime Minister. Even Jacques Sauveur Jean, who is at odds with the President, voted for Céant’s ratification.
The deputies delivered 84 votes in favor, 5 against, and 4 abstentions, less than 24 hours after the senators. Jean Henry Céant officially got the green light from Parliament to settle at the Villa d’Accueil, the Prime Minister’s official residence.
Two parties declared that they would not be part of the new government. The Struggling People’s Organization (OPL) of Edgard Leblanc Fils, who does not recognize any member in the government. Called a few minutes before the publication of the cabinet list to be told that the Ministry of Trade and Industry had been reserved for his party, Leblanc replied that this approach was not consistent with a political agreement for participation in government and declined the offer.
Then LIDE (Dessalinian League) of the trio Claudy Gassant, Gabriel Fortuné, and Carl Jean Jeune announced that it did not nominate anyone for Céant’s government. According to Claudy Gassant, Senator Jean Renel Sanon had nominated Edwing Charles to be chief of staff of the Minister of Youth, Sports and Civic Action (MJSAC). But this has nothing to do with LIDE, said Claudy Gassant, although Edwing Charles is a party member. He is serving as the friend of Sanon (“Zokiki”) not a LIDE representative, Gassant insisted.
Thus, after the withdrawal of these two parties, there remained only the PHTK and its allies, Céant’s Renmen Ayiti (Love Haiti) party, and Platform VERITE, the party of the late President René Préval, today headed by former Agriculture Minister Joanas Gué.
During his 19 months in office, None of Jovenel Moïse’s major priorities have been realized, including education, round-the-clock electricity, or the reform of the state as he had promised during his campaign. Will the new Prime Minister, whom many view as an opportunist, be better able to run the government where his predecessor failed?
Meanwhile, an explosive situation remains, with unemployment, inflation, and hunger rampant, while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) still demands fuel price hikes. Such a scenario makes another uprising possible, like that of Jul. 6, 7 and 8, 2018.
Translated from French by Kim Ives.
Posted Sept. 23, 2018