By Zachary Fagenson
Miami sees plenty of business missions from around the globe jet into town for a few days to look for opportunities. Few, however, are anything like Haitian President Joseph Michel Martelly coming in for face-to-face meetings with developers with money and plans to develop tourism attractions on the island.
In his first official visit to the US since taking office May 14, he held court at a private fundraiser at Miami Beach’s Soho House on Saturday with an enthusiastic crowd of more than 100.
After brief comments and a welcome from Miami Beach Commissioner Jerry Libbin and Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness, Mr. Martelly laughed his way through a flurry of handshakes and well-wishers to get down to business.
He said he was in town to tell potential investors that Haiti is open for business, particularly investment, and is in the process of doing everything it can to get the ball rolling.
“We need to create jobs, and in order to create jobs we need to create security,” Mr. Martelly said. “We need to let [investors] know we’re going to change our laws, our investment laws, and let them know we will secure their investments.”
A devastating earthquake in January 2010 leveled much of Haiti’s capital city Port-Au-Prince. Though thousands still live in tent cities around the nation, Mr. Martelly’s administration is emphasizing foreign direct investment, particularly tourism, to leverage its location in the Caribbean.
The country currently offers incentives to investors through the Centre de Facilitation des Investissements, called the CFI, which among other things offers investors and hotel developers tax exemptions for 15 years.
“The old mentality was you need to know somebody, but we have framework for investment. The framework is the law,” said presidential adviser Patrick Rouzier.
Very often, he added, there are land disputes when an investor comes into the country looking to develop a piece of property. The new administration, Mr. Martelly said, will come and declare the land state domain, send the two parties to court and back whoever prevails.
Small groups with armed with blueprints and laptops declined to discuss their projects but were shuttled in and out of meetings with the president and his team throughout the evening.
The goal seemed to be to get projects similar to the one Miami-based Capponi Group and the Haiti Invest Team are developing in Jacmel on Haiti’s Southern coast. The project has served as a beacon for possible redevelopment of Haiti and drawn international attention, most recently from designer Donna Karan.
At the same time, Mr. Rouzier said the country has several proposals for infrastructure projects, such as an international airport, but he warned investors not to “wait for everything to be perfect.
“It will never be perfect,” he added.
Beyond brick-and-mortar infrastructure, Haiti needs to continue developing intangibles that the new government has put in place.
“Before any investor comes in, it needs a prime minister and it needs to facilitate investments so that foreigners know how to invest,” said Reza Bundy, CEO of Mota, which helps facilitate used car sales and is a founder of the Haiti Investment Team. The Haitian parliament recently rejected Mr. Martelly’s choice for prime minister, Daniel-Gerard Rouzier.
Haiti “needs to create an investment facilitation committee focused on foreign investments and basically make sure that the opportunities in the country are recognized in a way that gives companies looking to make investment a real structure looking-glass into the opportunity,” Mr. Bundy added. “The government needs to create a matrix of who those people are for the foreign investors coming in.”
Once a prime minister is in place, he said, that process can move forward.
For hard infrastructure, the real opportunity is in power.
“Sixty percent of their [gross domestic product] is spent buying oil for power generators,” Mr. Bundy said. “Energy expenditure in Haiti is what keeps Haiti poor. [When] you have an electrical grid system, then you have the ability to fundamentally change infrastructure.”
By Zachary Fagenson