Preval's Priority - Cleaning Up Corrupt Customs
Haiti made the USA Today. The article begins by noting Preval's annual sppech before a joint session of parliament where he said the country loses badly needed revenue by allowing contraband in while charging exorbitant fees to businesses that import merchandise legally.
I was involved with an NGO that had established a feeding program in the countryside. A large shipment of food arrived in the customs. The official refused to release the food without a large bribe. No money was available for bribes, and eventually the food rotted. Every old Haiti hand has a story like this to share. We all know the customs need to be fixed.
According to the article, Preval also called for lower taxes on shipping containers. With rates of up to US$900 for a 40-foot container, this is said to be three times higher than those at ports in the Dominican Republic and competing Central American countries, discouraging investment. Haiti is less than two hours flight from Miami, but when it comes to foreign investment, the country is not on the map...yet.
Cleaning up the Duane (Kreyol for customs) would be a welcome and highly visible step. But what is the plan and when does it start? Will there be action in addition to words? Who is in charge? What happens to officials who do not comply?
If Preval is really serious about fighting corruption in Haiti, we have some suggestions. Publish violations in the paper. Have a highly accessible, service oriented bureau with accompanying hotline where corruption can be reported. If the cases are addressed, the calls will keep coming.
To oversee the anti corruption campaign, we would like to see the highest qualified Haitian appointed - even if that individual comes from the Diaspora. That will take editing of the Haitian constitution, but to make Haiti competitive, it needs to happen.
Once the customs are clean(er), then we would like to raise the idea of special economic zones. Guarantee investors protection and support if they invest in set geographic areas. The government is not strong enough to launch a nationwide anti corruption campaign - but surely it can focus its activities on Port au Prince and two other geographic locations?
In terms of fighting corruption, there is a lot to be done...but the customs are a great place to start.