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State Corruption In Haiti Saps Public Services

HAITI'S rainy season is a mixed blessing. It helps fill the desperately low reservoir that feeds the capital's power plant. Some neighborhoods have electricity all day, while others, the poorer sections, have it only a few hours every few days. Like most things here, the decisions apparently are political.

The daily downpours also flood Port-au-Prince's streets with run-off garbage. Mounds of debris block intersections, cut off access to entire streets, and contribute to sanitation problems.

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Since the September 1991 coup, garbage collection is one of the many public services that has been neglected. It was never very good, but under the ousted administration of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, there was an attempt to clean things up. A return for Aristide?

United Nations Special Envoy Dante Caputo has been negotiating a return of the democratically elected Aristide government to Haiti. Reportedly, Mr. Caputo is now offering a plan that calls for President Aristide's return, the dismissal of military officers who helped overthrow him, an extensive aid program to help rebuild the country, and the lifting of international sanctions.

"Aristide's administration was interested in not only major reforms within administrations, but also with reforming the way people thought about things," says Gerard Pierre-Charles, an exiled economist who returned to Haiti with Aristide's inauguration.

"Since the coup, the bureaucratic sector and others with personal interests have invaded the public administrations, taking back the system of privilege it affords...."

Mr. Pierre-Charles, who now conducts research and educational workshops on politics in Haiti, rattles off recent examples of corruption. State workers take government cars home and put their personal license plates on them. Under Aristide, state cars had to be parked in their respective garages at the end of the work day, he says.

Then there is Finance Minister Weiner Fort, who allegedly got his job because he is a good friend of Police Chief Michel Francois, according to Pierre-Charles. And Mr. Fort's friend, Max Paul, former director of the Ethnology Bureau at the State University, is now head of the National Port Authority, he adds.

Favoritism in job placement isn't restricted to management. Corruption in state institutions filters down to all levels. Many Aristide supporters were fired after the coup. Their replacements are personal friends of the new directors or are members of the same political party.

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Pierre Lissado, post-coup director of TeleCo, the state-owned communications company, fired 600 employees after coming into office, says a former TeleCo administrator of 20 years. Many were union members. Others were responsible for the financial accounts of the employee-run credit union.

Mr. Lissada replaced these employees with "consultants" - personal friends who cash monthly paychecks of $800 to $1300 without earning it. Four million dollars has been "borrowed" from the credit unions by the new directors of TeleCo, the former administrator says, and he doesn't think it will ever be repaid.

"Of the 2,300 employees, there are far more administrators than technicians," the former TeleCo administrator says. "The few technicians who are employed have no tools to work with, while administrators drive around in $15,000 Pajaro jeeps." Job placement favoritism

Jacques Ted St. Dic, former director of the National Office for Insurance of Worker Accidents and Maternity (OFATMA) under Aristide, weeded out many employees, reducing the staff to 180. Arnold Ney Pierre, current OFATMA director, has increased the number of employees to 450, says one worker speaking softly for fear of being overheard.

"We as employees can't say anything. Aristide wasn't in long enough to do anything concrete, but we all saw his intentions. When St. Dic came in, he said the military was in power and he wouldn't tolerate protests. If you try, you're just hurting yourself," the OFATMA employee adds.

Margareth Lamur, another close friend of Police Chief Francois, is the new director of the National Office of Insurance (ONA).

Ms. Lamur formerly ran the snack bar for the Haitian police and was promoted to the ONA director position without receiving additional training. ONA officials refused interview requests.

According to the law, ONA - which administers Haiti's social security system - collects from both the employee and employer. Since its inception in 1956 under dictator Francois Duvalier, employees have never received notification of how much money is available for them.

"The only people who profit from this system," says one factory owner who refuses to take the money out of his employees' salaries, "is the military or friends of those in the government.

When the inspector from ONA comes around you grease his palm, and he marks you off as paid. It hurts less to lose $50 every now and then than to constantly feed the government's pockets." Lengthy reform process

Even if the political crisis is resolved with a negotiated solution between the ousted president and the de facto government, reform within the country will take a long time. Corruption has become the norm.

"We have a long road ahead of us," says Michel Hector, director of an organization that works with unions. "We have to change not just the personnel of administrations, but the attitude of the population. They have to be vigilant about combatting corruption. Without that, change will be very, very difficult."

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