Originally: Text of speech by Haitian President René Préval
People of GonaVves, good morning. Haitian people, good morning. The year 2007 has passed. Good morning, 2008. Last year, here in GonaVves, on January 1, 2007, I called on the nation for dialogue, union, and unity so we could manage to establish peace and security. Remember how the country was during the years 2004, 2005, and 2006? It was a period of total anarchy, with a lot of armed groups that were moving around freely with heavy automatic guns. They held the country hostage. Today, there is nothing like that.
We congratulate the Haitian National Police (PNH), in particular Director Mario Andresol. We congratulate MINUSTAH (UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti) for this beautiful job, which has resulted in security for the Haitian people. We congratulate the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reinsertion) team, particularly Alix Fils-Aime and Samba Boukman, for their significant contributions to the program for the disarmament of the armed groups. We cannot forget the important contribution of Artists for Peace. Singer Don Kato, valiant man, the nation asks you to congratulate on its behalf all of the Artists for Peace who have worked with you.
Is the security work for peace over? No. There are still too many kidnappings even though the kidnapping rate has dropped considerably. But one kidnapping is already unbearable. Therefore, we have already begun working with DCPJ (Central Management of the Judicial Police) so it can have more means, so it can be more professional, and so it can be more effective in thwarting bandits and kidnappers.
In addition to security, there are other fields in which we have moved forward. For example, we know the government needs more money to work. The fight to get more money into the state coffers has moved forward. If the state does not have any money, it will not be able to provide services. I congratulate Customs Director General Jean-Jacques Valentin, who is fighting as hard as he can to thwart smuggling. Director Valentin, we know the fight you are waging is not easy. We congratulate you for the good results you have had, and we encourage you to continue. We also congratulate DGI (General Directorate of Taxes) Director Jean Frantz Richard, who is fighting to prompt people to pay the taxes due to the state. Director, the struggle you are waging is not easy. You lack the legal tools. In Haiti, what is called tax evasion?that is, the nonpayment of taxes?is not a crime. It is a crime in many other countries, such as the United States, where it is a crime punishable by imprisonment. In Haiti, if you are caught not paying taxes, you only have to pay a fine. Director Valentin, we have already prepared a bill aimed at criminalizing tax evasion. We will submit it to the parliament at the opening of the next session this January.
In 2007, we also made efforts in the struggle against corruption. I can tell you that the struggle against corruption is the most difficult one, because corruption is strong and its roots are deep. I congratulate all honest public prosecutors, especially Public Prosecutor Claudy Gassant, for his efforts in this field. Domestic Violence Attorney Doug Taylor and all the other public prosecutors, the struggle is not easy. I wish you courage and determination.
In 2007, the justice department made great progress. I congratulate and encourage every honest person in the judicial apparatus who is working under difficult conditions for justice to triumph and impunity to retreat. Congratulations to the entire judicial apparatus, particularly the deans of the courts. Special congratulations to Dean Rock Cadet. I offer him these congratulations on behalf of all he other deans. Thanks also to the Civil Society Commission that is accompanying the Ministry of Justice. Thanks for the coordination they have ensured between the executive branch and the parliament so the three laws on justice could be approved quickly. These laws are very important for the strengthening of the judicial system.
Thanks to the committee that is fighting so justice can be rendered to the murdered journalists. Thank you, Euvrard Saint-Amand, Louis Gary Cyprien, Joel Labady, Dieudonne Saint-Cyr, Guyler C Delva, Marimique Anne Marguerite Auguste, and Jean Wilner Mauvais. The country needs citizens like you, who do not stand by and observe, but who are cooperating. I am telling all those whose names I just mentioned that once one starts work, one may make mistakes. If you make mistakes, you must correct them. But it is worse if you do not do any work at all. I encourage you to continue. I encourage everyone in the government to keep working so we can get this country back on its feet.
We have just mentioned some essential fields in which we made progress in 2007. I would not say that we got ten out of ten. I do not even know if we got five out of ten. But we did move forward.
If I mentioned some points where we moved forward, there are fields in which there are major difficulties. We must talk about that, too. One of the problems, the biggest one, is the unemployment rate in the country.
Even though more money is entering the state coffers, especially thanks to the efforts of the Customs Office and the DGI, even though funds put at the disposal of the country by the international community, the government has not managed to spend all the money it should have spent. The ministers must make even more efforts. The cases must be documented properly so the projects can be executed successfully. The Ministry of Planning, the National Council of Public Markets, and the Superior Court of Accounts and Administrative Litigations (CSCCA) must have the cases move forward faster.
Another brake preventing the government from spending money is the weakness of the private sector. For example, many construction firms are weak. They lack execution capabilities. Their projects drag on. If the work does not move forward, the government cannot pay. If the small enterprises have a hard time moving forward with the jobs they are in charge of, it is difficult for the government to give them other jobs. The weakness of the private sector is something the government must look into. The small enterprises often have financial problems in terms of buy materials, financial problems with regard to guaranteeing the funds that must be deposited as insurance in case the projects are not executed properly.
In the meantime, we must use our imagination to create jobs immediately. We must use our imagination. We must invent formulas to create jobs immediately.
We need cultural and sporting installations where the youths can find basketball fields, soccer fields, study rooms, and lights to study by, computers with internet connections to open their minds, to carry out searches, and to communicate with other countries. I believe this is possible.
There is land. If you get in touch with the mayors, you can get state land. You can get up to five or ten carreaus ( 1 carreau equals 3.19 acres) of state land, and no parliamentarian?deputy or senator?will disagree with financing such a project in the interest of every commune in the country. This is an initiative that can create jobs throughout the country and that will be good for all of the country’s children.
Here is another example of what can be done to create jobs immediately. In my first term, we worked with INDEPCO, which opened sewing workshops in several communes and communal sections in the country in order to make school uniforms. We will resume this activity, and we will contribute to give jobs to many tailors in many communes.
I am going to give two other examples where we can create jobs. Gentlemen, journalists, come here. I need some policemen, too, about five policemen. The journalists are coming. I will have you taste this, gentlemen, but do not stand in front of me. Go behind. Gentlemen, how is it that you have left with the juice? Come taste it and then tell me whether it tasted good. Is it good? Come and tell me if it is good. Step back. Is the juice delicious? Well, step back. Let me tell you where this juice comes from. After I left the presidency, I went to live in Marmelade, my hometown. I observed that every peasant who had an orange tree in his or her yard had to walk about fourteen kilometers to Carrefour Puilboro to sell the oranges. The orange price drops as the hours of the day pass. Sometimes, at the end of the day, they simply left the remaining oranges on the floor so they would not have to carry them back home. We have now established a fund to buy oranges from the peasants at a guaranteed price, and the peasants do not waste their time waiting at the market all day long. They have money in their hands, and they are interested in growing orange trees. When we see that all of the oranges are ripening at the same time, we set up a factory to put these oranges in bags. What do we do with these oranges? We sell them to the School Canteen Program, which provides locally produced orange juice to schoolchildren. We have not yet managed to provide such juice to all schoolchildren. Therefore, I am asking the parliament to allow the government to finance a program to set up several such factories so that? instead of giving our children imported juice that was made from powder and that has nothing in it ? we can give them local juice made by local peasants. It will put money in the peasants’ hands. It will encourage the peasants to plant trees. It will create wealth in the peasant sector.
I am giving a second example of how we can create jobs. You will not be able to see it, but I will ask one of the journalists here to serve as witness. Are you a journalist? What do you see here? Come here, come here. Oh, this gentleman is just taking pictures. What do you see here?
I see a peasant who has apparently plantain trees to make hats. Oh, well, he has a fish over his head.
(Préval) What do you see?
(Correspondent) I see a fish over his head.
(Préval ) You see a fish over the head of the peasant.
(Correspondent) Yes, a big fish.
(Préval ) How big is the fish?
(Correspondent) I would say it is about 6 or 7 feet long.
(Préval ) The fish is that big, right?
(Préval ) Where does this fish come from? From the sea? No. Here are other fish. Here they are. Gentlemen, let the people see. These fish come from Lac Collinaire (a man-made lake). If you look at the picture, you will realize that Lac Collinaire was a dry place, a place where nothing used to grow. Now, there are many big fish there. We have a country that receives a lot of water, a lot of rain. Instead of letting rain devastate the entire country, we can undertake a great campaign to establish artificial lakes in the country. We simply have to block the passage of the rainwater, which will fill the basin. This water can be used for homes, to water gardens, and to raise fish. This is our resource. Instead of letting it destroy our country, as happened here with Hurricane Jane and when it rains a lot, we can turn the rain into wealth, instead of misfortune.
Journalists, you will explain what you have seen. I thank you. Since the journalists have television stations, since they have microphones, they will show the people what they saw and tell the people whether the juice I gave them was delicious.
Another major problem that exists in the country is the high cost of living. Here is our opinion on the high cost of living. The first solution to the high cost of living is employment. If you do not have any money in your pocket, regardless of whether goods are expensive or cheap, you will always have a cost of living problem. The first thing is to create jobs. The second problem associated with the high cost of living is that it is a phenomenon that is happening around the world. The price of everything is rising. Gasoline prices are rising in every country. The price of the wheat that is used to make bread is rising around the world. The prices of iron and all metals are rising around the world. Haiti imports all of these things. Their prices are determined by the world market. When prices increase on the world market, they inevitably increase in Haiti.
A second problem that explains the high cost of living, we think, is the lack of competition in the local market. More people must be able to import goods. The government should consider taking measures to allow other investors to enter the market. That way, competition can cause the profit margins and the prices of the products to drop.
The high cost of living has other causes, such as the APN (National Port Authority). The APN is the most expensive port in the Caribbean. When the goods arrive in APN, businesspeople pay high fees, a lot of money, so their goods can be unloaded. But make no mistake, they will add these fees to the selling price of the goods, and we are the ones who will pay. This means that order must be established at the APN, so the prices of goods can go down.
There is another way to look at the high cost of living, because the true problem is not the cost of the goods but what you can buy with the money you have in your hands. If today you have ten gourdes and can buy such and such product and the price of this particular rises tomorrow, you will realize that the cost of living has risen for you, because you can buy fewer goods with your money. This is called purchasing power. The more money you have, the more you can buy. When the price of the goods increases, if you have the same amount of money in your hands, you can buy less. Therefore, the government gave all civil servants a 17 percent salary increase in 2006. In 2007, the increase went from 25 to 35 percent. That is for state employees. With regard to private sector employees, we must get in touch with the employers, the unions, and the parliament to see what can be done as far as salaries are concerned. But it must be done under the appropriate conditions, because there is something called competition. If salaries here become higher than those in other countries, it will prevent us from being able to export. This requires dialogue, but it must be done in order to see if the private sector can make the effort that was made by the government.
I am going to list some other measures that can be taken against waste, that is to say, measures aimed at allowing us to save money on some expenses. For example, electricity costs the government a lot. There are measures that can save us money on electricity. The government is going to convert all of its diesel power stations into oil-fired power stations, because fuel oil costs less than diesel. GonaVves’s fifteen-megawatt power station, which Mayor Topa (nickname for GonaVves Mayor Stephen MoVse) just talked about, will be using fuel oil, which costs less than diesel. The fifteen-megawatt power station that is being built in Cap-HaVtien and the thirty-megawatt power station that is being built in Port-au-Prince will use fuel oil, and all other power stations will use fuel oil. Similarly, we have begun changing for free all of the light bulbs that consume a lot of electricity for energy-saving bulbs to reduce the state’s electricity cost and so that it can do other things with the savings.
The true solution to the high cost of living is national production, including agricultural and handicraft production. But peace is necessary for this to happen.
Haitians, things are not easy. We have come a long way. In 2004, 2005, and 2006, the country was almost at war. Peace returned in 2007. Do not let unemployment, hunger, and the high cost of living disturb that peace. Be patient. The government has seen the problems. The parliament has seen the problems. We are going to work to take some additional steps. Everybody knows that birds build their nests little by little. There is no miracle, and there will not be any miracles. Only God knows how to work miracles. Some people say they used to work miracles, but they are telling you lies. Thank God, we do not have the power to lie to the people.
Haitian people, today, January 1, we are celebrating three anniversaries. Today, January 1 , is International Peace Day. We wish peace on Earth, especially in Haiti and GonaVves. Today marks the 204th anniversary of the country’s independence. Let us learn two lessons from our ancestors. The first lesson is unity. Unity gave us independence. Unity is supposed to provide stability, and stability will result in development and employment. We thank the parliament for its cooperation in creating unity between itself and the executive branch. We say thanks to the political leaders, the private sector, the unions, and the Haitian people in general for the unity they have managed to achieve so far. We hope this dialogue, this unity, and this solidarity will continue in 2008. The date 1 January marks the beginning of a new year. We wish all people?I will not say a Happy New Year?but instead a better year than the year that has just passed.