Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Haiti’s constitution: Préval’s white elephant?

As is reasonably well known, since his return to office in May 2006, I have been largely supportive on the administration of Haitian president René Préval. Having watched him be undermined by Jean-Bertrand Aristide and a recalcitrant parliamentary opposition at every opportunity during his 1996-2001 first term as Haiti’s president, I was pleased to see Préval, whom I have always regarded as a generally decent man even if he may be not a brilliant innovator of public policy, have a second opportunity to govern Haiti, a country I have grown to love.

My sense of satisfaction was further reinforced when I saw the highly competent team - including Mario Andresol as head of the Police Nationale d'Haiti (PNH) and Luc-Eucher Joseph as Secretary State for Public Security - that Préval put in place to try and reign in Haiti’s spiraling crime rate and the violence that has affected every level of Haitian society, none more so than among the country’s poor majority, in recent years. I was also pleased to see how adroitly Préval played the international diplomatic circuit, managing to be on cordial terms with both Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and U.S. President George W. Bush (no small feat) while putting Haiti’s interests on the front burner. My chief complaint with Préval thus far - that he has not advocated in a more forceful public way on behalf of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic with Dominican president Leonel Fernandez - could perhaps be put down to simply not having enough time to do everything at once.

All of this considered, I still paused when I read late last week that, in a speech at Haiti’s National Palace, Préval has called on an overhaul of Haiti’s 1987 constitution (which had been voted on much the way an presidential election is, by popular ballot) to, among other things, allow presidents to serve consecutive terms in office, a process he wants to be overseen by Haiti’s Senate and Chamber of Deputies, where politicians, it must be said, often behave more like roosters in a yard than the elected servants of the people.

In a country where nearly 9 million people can look forward to a life expectancy of just 57 years, where the nation's infant mortality rate claims almost 64 babies for every 1,000 live births, where the literacy rate creeps just north of 50%, where two-thirds of the labor force have no formal jobs, where 80% of people live below the poverty line and where, over the past 50 years, 90 percent of the tree cover has been destroyed, it would be hard to think of a more pointless waste of political capital or energy than to amend Haiti’s constitution to allow the oft-rancid politicians jockeying for the country’s top job another bite at the apple. In a country where the government can’t even turn the lights on, make water come out of the tap or pave the roads, the only exercise more pointless that comes to my mind would by the sometimes-bandied-about resurrection of Haiti’s notoriously brutal army, rather that the training and reinforcing of its civilian police force, the latter job which Mario Andresol appears to be doing admirably well overseeing.

I can’t remember the last time I agreed with the Haitian attorney (and former presidential candidate) Gérard Gourgue on anything, but he is quite right when he states that, in order to amend the constitution in such as sweeping manner, a popular vote would be required, which would seem a curious waste of Haiti’s resources and the country’s UN mission given the figures cited above.

The 1987 constitution is a flawed document, to be sure, but as there has also been a disturbing recurrence of violence in Haiti’s capital in recent days, one can only hope that Préval’s advisors bring him to his senses and he returns to the work of the people rather than the work of the politicians in Port-au-Prince, many of them eager to bend Haiti’s oft-violated constitution to their own ends.

1 comment:

Babette said...

It is my understanding that a constitutional amendment in Haiti needs to be first one government, then voted on by the succeeding one so that it would certainly not affect this current presidency. I agree that this particular issue appear the least pressing issue. The greatest cry that I have heard for a constitutional amendment is the one that would allow the 10th Department the vote, as the Dominican diaspora is allowed to vote.

All in all, certainly the government needs to show some marked improvement in the delivery of services - such as water, schools, roads, in addition to security before it thinks about its own longevity.