Washington, D.C., April 14, 2009
Michèle Duvivier PIERRE-LOUIS
Prime Minister of Haiti
I would like to begin by thanking all those who have made this conference possible. I want to extend special thanks to President Moreno who has agreed to host this gathering, which publicized its importance and mobilized the Inter-American Development Bank’s staff to that effect. A special thank you to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her interest in Haiti -long before her present position. Our appreciation also goes to the Honorable Minister Oda who, on behalf of the Canadian Government has also taken a special interest in our country. We thank the United Nation’s Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and President Bill Clinton, for their constant support and for having stepped forward and help revive the momentum around Haiti. We thank the G10 and other donors represented in Haiti who have worked during the past months with our Ministers of Finance and Planning and their staff, to enable us to be here today to forcefully commit to a better future for Haiti.
Yes, we are here today to discuss the present and the future of Haiti, and I come here with a sense of urgency, but also with lots of optimism because I believe that together we will seize this opportunity to make a real difference and change forever the course of history. President Préval and myself have repeatedly said to all the distinguished visitors who came to Haiti during the past 7 months including Her Majesty the Queen of Spain, the Honorable Governor General of Canada Michaëlle Jean, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, President Clinton, all the members of the UN Security Council, that we strongly believe that Haiti is at a turning point, perhaps even a tipping point. We look in the horizon and we get a strong sense that now is the time to move forward, now is the time to launch the long awaited concerted effort to build a better future for the Haitian people. In Haiti, popular comedians have for the past 50 years parodied the almost theatrical repeated announcement of a “Great Beginning” in which they did not really believe themselves. The time has come to break away from such cynicism.
I am well aware of the challenges and of the overwhelming task ahead of us. I am also very conscious of the fact that I arrived at the head of this government in extremely difficult times, not only in Haiti which has been hit by a succession of external shocks, but also at a time when the world is facing the worst financial and economic crisis in decades. To many people, the future looks grim, marked with uncertainty and a feeling of helplessness. However, I come from a country with a long history of resilience: its people have acquired the capacity to rebound from painful experiences and to search for new ways to face challenges, guided by the vigor of our creativity and ingeniousness.
Moreover, it is at this precise juncture that our role as public leaders finds its true political meaning. We know that the population is watching us, judging us and commanding us to take action. We know we are accountable for meeting its needs and responsible for the betterment of the peoples’ lives. Timing is of extreme importance. If we cannot deliver today, if we do not find the means to transform our vision of the future into immediate and concrete accomplishments now, we will be held collectively responsible for not having heard the million voices from all over the country telling us “the time has come.”
Indeed, the time has come to invest in human resources who can carry out the indispensable reforms in the public administrations for an improved delivery of services to the population; the time has come to invest in new ventures and take advantage of the Hope II Act. Jobs need to be created and they will be created in the context of a constructive and strengthened partnership between the private and public sectors. Investments in road infrastructures are required to connect parts of the country which have been isolated for centuries; in electricity which is essential to manufactures and tourism, but also to the million of little boys and girls who attend school today and will experience for the very first time, in this 21st century, the joy of studying in the evening by the light of an electric lamp rather than by the flickering flame of a candlelight.
The so-called “hunger riots” of April 2008 exposed our extreme dependency on imports Back in the 1970’s, Haitian leaders of the private and public sectors were alerted of the country’s vulnerability as agriculture, which once represented 40 to 45% of the Gross Domestic Product (GMP), was gradually losing ground. There was then already a clear signal that the equation between population and local resources had reached its breaking point. Today agriculture represents less than 20% of the GDP. Yet about 60% of the working force lives off an agriculture of sorts. Productivity is very low and methods of production need to be seriously upgraded. Only massive investments in agricultural can lead to food security. People need to work under different terms and conditions so that there is added value to their produces. Most importantly and because it is only justice to the Haitian peasants that they be included, at last, in the country’s development not as beneficiaries of humanitarian aid but as economic actors that find dignity in their work and in their role in society.
As you can see, Ladies and Gentlemen, we have come here with a clear plan and with goals that are both reasonable and reachable. The details of our reconstruction and recovery program have been posted on the web, discussed in Ottawa and several other forums. I think that based on today’s attendance and judging on the increased mobilization and interest during the run-up to this conference, the need for urgent and immediate action has been well captured. The support that you will grant Haiti today will help us help provide a short-term response to basic needs in terms of economic reconstruction and rehabilitation, after the devastation caused last summer by four hurricanes in a row in less than a month.
However, as we measure the extent of our destitution, we also know that the state of extreme poverty, the deterioration of the environment and the marginalization of our developing nation is also partially rooted in ill-advised policies as well as repeated mismanagement practices. These can no longer be accepted. Unfortunately, the repercussions of these bad policies and practices will take years to be reversed. Nevertheless, it is imperative that we start now.
Today we are pleased to see that the international community does recognize that we too, from poor countries, can aspire to create sustainable development to ensure a better life for our people. It is imperative that we are supported in our efforts to consolidate and strengthen our institutions. Our vision for the future derives from our deeply rooted conviction that today it is possible for us to make life better for all Haitians and Haiti a better place to live. However, we can only achieve this goal if all of us together form a solid partnership: the donor community, the Haitian private sector, civil society and the Diaspora, international investors and all of Haiti’s friends who just like us in the Government, want to see change in Haiti. And this is today’s major challenge: building a strong and efficient partnership.
This is why we are here today; this is the meaning of this Washington Conference.
Our presence here today is already a vivid illustration of our readiness to meet the challenges that we face. We need to commit to different ways of doing business and better ways of collaborating. The context in which this Conference is taking place urges us to adopt new ways of thinking. Key principles have been lost along the way in these last decades and the time has come to reconsider their “raison d’être”.
The profit oriented market economy has always drawn on support from other institutional values. Indeed, markets and capital also required support from other institutions providing public services such as school, health care and state assistance to the poor, all this for preventing instability, inequity and injustice. And most of all, we all knew that an economy can operate effectively and successfully only on the basis of trust among different parties.
Where have all those values gone?
If this financial crisis that has rocked the world has brought anything salutary it is the imperative necessity to redefine the role of the economy, that of international cooperation institutions and of the State. In the industrial countries, the effects of the crisis have already commanded a series of “innovative” responses. Anticipative and proactive policies have been designed to cope with and to mitigate its impacts. However, in our poor, fragile and marginalized economies, the devastating and pervasive consequences are cumulative and they deepen our suffering. The cardinal basic values which were once at the core of the market regulated institutions need to be reestablished, in order to avoid the deepening of a situation which has already caused so much misery around the world.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There is no need to emphasize further the urgency to adopt a new paradigm of cooperation and international partnership. The world needs institutions that are effectively regulated and serve all peoples with dignity and mutual respect. It is a mandatory response to today’s world disorder as we are all, rich and poor, everywhere facing problems caused by climate changes, energy crisis, organized crime (illegal drugs and arms trade), and mass migration.
My personal commitments and years of experience in participative undertakings give me grounds to believe in the capacity of people of good will to influence positively the lives of thousands. In my position today, I have a moral responsibility to try even harder. The Donor’s conference, which I view as a step forward in a new process of collaboration and partnership, offers opportunities for concrete results. Today your pledges and commitments will not only be an appropriate answer to our urgent call but also a long lasting contribution to our efforts to better organize and structure our capacities for future development.
First and foremost, your engagement will help safeguard social stability. Overpopulated urban areas in all major cities, especially in our capital Port-au-Prince, are filled with unemployed young men and women whose future looks absolutely grim. They are impatiently waiting for signs of hope and can no longer wait. We are treading on very fragile grounds. If no action is taken now the consequences will be catastrophic. The demographic explosion that was called a “youth tsunami” by Professor Collier is a very real threat to stability.
Partners and Friends of Haiti, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The productive capacity and institutional reforms that my country needs in order to reach sustainable growth and economic development require significant investments that can no longer be wasted, as it occurred in the past. That is why, at the government level, we are resolutely engaged in a process of change and we know where our responsibilities lie. We anticipate resistance to change, as chaos and instability are profitable to some. However, President Préval and I are committed to a reengineering of the government’s legal framework and functions, and several decisions have already been made in that direction. We are putting the pressure to curtail undue government expenses and increase internal revenues ; we are strengthening institutions to ensure transparency and greater efficiency in the management of available resources from both internal and external sources ; we’re moving strongly to meet the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Debt Initiative (HIPC) triggers in a timely fashion so that we receive complete debt relief by June 2009 ; the efficiency of several state-owned enterprises is being enhanced so that they can open up to modernization; the absorptive capacity of external resources has been increased while better coordination mechanisms and more responsible governance are being put in place. Best practices are being extended in the public sector that Haiti can be driven out of the senseless trap of poverty and deprivation.
Steady efforts are also being made to increase citizen and democratic participation. The Executive Branch is engaged in building a skillful compromise and defining shared responsibilities among all actors: Parliament (at the end of this week, we are going to have legislative elections to complete the Senate), the private sector, Non Government Organizations (NGOs) and civil society at large. The process needs to be sustained along with continued support to law and order so that our gains in security and stability, thanks to the presence of United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), may be preserved and reinforced.
At the same time, we all agree that Haiti cannot continue to call repeatedly on international donors to provide assistance. We assume painfully the paradox we are in today as we are well aware that we cannot emancipate ourselves yet from high dependency on external assistance if we are to achieve our development goals in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and fight poverty as stated in the National Strategy Document on Development and Poverty Reduction (DSNCRP). However, we wish to move out of this uncomfortable position by making the best use of the aid resources and by being accountable to our people and to donors.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As I said earlier, the time has come. And we are in this together. At this stage, we acknowledge the diversity of actors in the aid spectrum. But, in spite of the best of intentions, the strategic partnerships, the solidarity expressed through good deeds with community organizations, the endeavors of the civil society, no institution is capable of replacing the regulating responsibility of the state. Government policies are essential to fight both corruption and chronic poverty and to establish good and transparent governance. This is what my government is aiming at. As you are going to make your pledges later today, this is my own pledge at this donors’ conference.
I came along here with the pride and dreams of a nation whose contribution to the universal struggle for freedom and justice has provided us with a place of honor in history. I want to take back with me the commitments and hope that we are longing for in our quest for lasting development and democracy.