PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – When gang members broke into the house of 15-year-old Natacha Jean-Jacques in March 2000 and tried to rape her, the girl fatally stabbed one of the attackers in self-defense, according to witnesses.
Still, Jean-Jacques spent almost three years in jail where she was allegedly raped and impregnated by a corrections employee. She was never put on trial and her attackers were never prosecuted.
Jean-Jacques came from a poor family, and it was only through the work of Haitian women’s groups and eventually international pressure that she was released from jail.
Had Jean-Jacques been from a wealthy family, her story would have been very different, said Marilyn Allien, president of the Port-au-Prince-based Foundation for Haitian Heritage – Center for Public and Private Ethics and Integrity, a chapter of the international anti-corruption coalition Transparency International.
“I swear my child wouldn’t have spent a day in jail,” she said. “This is a clear case where corruption, when applied, would have protected that little girl.”
Haiti was last month named one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Transparency International pegged Haiti at No. 3 out of 131 nations around the world, and No. 1 out of 30 nations in the Americas and the Caribbean in terms of the depth and breadth of corruption. It called Haiti’s corruption “pervasive.”
At a Foundation for Haitian Heritage conference in March, participants in the public and private sectors said they had experienced corruption at the levels of government ministries, parliament, the judiciary, presidency, the president’s office, the prime minister’s office, the municipal administration, tax services, the national police and traffic police.
Frequently the corruption involved officials soliciting bribes, they said. An employee at a nongovernmental organization said that when an acquaintance was shot to death in his car, he had to pay a police officer to make a report, the state ambulance to pick up the body and the hospital to put the body in its morgue.
Allien calls it a historical problem.
“We have a 200-year legacy of dictatorships, where the group in power believes that winner takes all, that politics is a means toward personal wealth and power,” she said.
It is extremely difficult to fight corruption in a country that has a 70 percent unemployment rate, Allien said. There are almost no whistle-blowers because people are terrified of losing their jobs.
As one solution, Allien advocates increased exposure, the job of organizations like hers and investigative journalists.
She is also working to create a coalition of civil society and private sector organizations to produce an anti-corruption advocacy report that would be presented to the public and hopes to get the Haitian parliament to ratify the Organization of American States’ anti-corruption resolution, which Haiti signed in 1996.
Allien is optimistic that corruption is becoming more of a public concern. When she was first developing her organization, she said, “I spent four year knocking on doors to get funding. Most international donors didn’t understand the need.”
But today major international organizations are calling the issue a priority.
Emilio Cueto, the Inter-American Development Bank’s new representative in Haiti, said he hopes to get approval to provide a loan that would go specifically to create more transparency in the national budget.
Allien said corruption may be deterring badly needed international aid to Haiti. International donors and lending organizations, citing governance problems, usually give to nongovernmental organizations rather than to the Haitian government.
But there is a will on the part of some in the Haitian government to fight corruption.
As education minister in the mid-1990s, Emmanuel Buteau tried to reform the system from the inside and found there was not enough will on the part of those around him to change.
REUSING TO PARTICIPATE
Buteau said that as minister he tried to fight corruption simply by not participating in it and was persecuted for it.
When a school director wanted to admit students who had no evidence they had passed the required admissions exam but whose parents paid him, Buteau refused to allow the admissions, he said.
The school director responded by having a judge publicly condemn Buteau for blocking children’s education.
Today Buteau is the director of a Port-au-Prince high school where he continues to be haunted by a corrupt system. For example, Buteau said, he always pays his taxes on time, yet always gets letters from tax services saying he owes them.
“Are you a corrupt person if you pay someone at tax services to get them off your back?” he said.
Most people in Haiti are honest and ethical, said Buteau, “but unfortunately, the government is a corrupting one.”