Originally: Corruption and Us (Part 2)

Corruption and Us (part II)
by Ericq Pierre

Corruption again! This is the first time that I?ve added a second installment to a text I?ve published in over eight months . But I have read?rather belatedly?the reports by the Financial Intelligence Unit (UCREF) and the Administrative Investigation Commission (CEA) headed by former senator Paul Denis, dissecting the mechanisms of corruption in the government, and bringing new facets of this phenomenon to light. Others will probably emerge after each wave of investigation. Or after each government. And it seemed necessary to me to revisit this issue. Not to exhaustively analyze the reports, but to begin to open up new lines of thought.

It is to be expected that the transition government, which made the fight against corruption its primary battle cry, will not leave behind any messes that are too conspicuous. Ideally, it wouldn?t leave behind any at all. That is both my wish and my hope that I would like to see become reality. In any case, whatever happens, this government deserves credit for creating what must be considered permanent investigative commissions: UCREF and the ULC (Anti-corruption Unit), thus laying the institutional foundation for ethical accountability in Haitian public life. Because we must put an end to these practices that disgrace us all.

From now on, civil servants, elected officials, business people, consultants, accountants, or auditors, regardless of their rank, know that their dealings with the public sector are subject to investigation. Their actions may follow them, to be used against them. Those who secretly profit from a regime, but distance themselves from it in public can no longer play this popular little game. Of course, everyone is entitled to a defense or arguments that can clear their names or prove their innocence. The members and officials of the current administration are not protected from investigations either. Transparency would actually require, when the time comes, UCREF, the ULC, and the Haitian Court of Auditors (or other authorities), each in matters concerning them, to investigate the actions of the transition government.

But, the primary innovation here is the public?s access to these reports. This is a huge step in the long battle against corruption?especially when the outlines of a kind of social condemnation are taking shape. Many Haitians were surprised and indignant to learn that several high-level government officials have behaved like thieves, lacking any scruples whatsoever, while others truly persevered, trying to do their jobs under the worst of circumstances.

Many Haitians are also indignant at the attitude of senior civil servants who seem to accept no responsibility for their actions, while putting on airs of grandeur. Confirming, in passing, that some of our politicians are men of little virtue. One wonders how individuals so concerned with projecting an image of respectability, responsibility, and integrity could have played a role in such stunning affairs. There is always this question of the conscience of convenience. And of passion for power. At any price.

One of the reports also showed that ?outraged honesty? can behave exactly the same way as haughty arrogance. A scandal within a scandal. All at once, a slap in the face, a smack, or better yet a kalòt was unleashed. In the very offices of the Commission. It is quite strange that the honorable president of the Port-au-Prince Bar Association and the Chairman of the Commission were silent and even cautionary witnesses to this incongruous act of violence. Who knows? The slap in this case may not be what it seems. Honesty can provoke these kinds of reactions! It is better to be seen as violent than corrupt. Unless it is a message in code…

Of course, the reports are far from perfect. Some even find major weaknesses in them, whether they be methodological, technical, or otherwise. But these do nothing to diminish their impact. Others think they are a mixed bag, and that there was really no need to mix the big fish with the small. But there again, this does nothing to diminish the intrinsic value of these reports. Because we must not forget that, next to the ?big feeders? as they were called not too long ago, there have always been ?little nibblers.? And both groups can be insatiable. Are the little nibblers any less guilty than the big feeders? It is up to the courts to decide who corrupted whom and each one?s level of involvement. But again, we must put an end to these practices that disgrace us all.

On another note, these reports also provide insight into the tribulations of certain career public servants who have to shrink before anyone working at the Palais National, or claiming to be a representative of the private staff of the president or a minister who is influential (or claims to be).

I have tried to imagine the state of mind of a highly qualified government official, who, without groveling, climbed up through the government hierarchy on merit alone, and from one day to the next finds him- or herself faced with situations in which they must choose between submitting or resigning.

Because above him is a Minister who wields enormous discretionary power and who can end his career in the blink of an eye. Because he is afraid that, even after resigning, he will not be protected from reprisals that could go so far as to put his life in danger. Because he has bills to pay, a family to support, and only one salary to make ends meet every month. Because he loves his work and the institution where he has already spent a good part of his professional life. Because he has no institutional recourse. Or simply because he is afraid of losing all he has worked for.

Because he knows it is not easy to find a job in Haiti. Because he has carefully considered all the questions without finding any adequate answers, he finally decides to submit, and thus gets swept up into the web. Fighting a losing battle, he makes the choice he considers the safest: the wrong one. And still does so at his own risk. It?s the wrong choice, but it?s his. Extenuating circumstances probably won?t apply in his case. Except, perhaps to regret, when it is already too late, that governments that place their civil servants in this type of situation are cannibalistic governments, man- and woman-eating governments. Both literally and figuratively.

The Haitian government must take the necessary steps to protect the few civil servants who are still willing to expose themselves to this. Otherwise, it risks losing the best among them. It could start by reducing the scope of the discretionary power held by some high-level officials, particularly ministers, over their subordinates. Then it could update the Civil Service Act to clearly define the rights, obligations, responsibilities, and privileges of civil servants. And for the upcoming elections, civil servants themselves should try to get to know different candidates? opinions not only on the general situation of public service, but also on the corruption they will eventually have to face.

And we must not forget that the justice system is the key to the war on corruption. If it doesn?t work, this war can never be won. This really is one case that won?t be closed soon.

Rochasse091@yahoo.com                                                                          24 August 2005