President Michel Martelly promises to institute reforms as the international community expresses regret and concerns over Friday’s resignation of Prime Minister Garry Conille.
By Jacqueline Charles
Haiti President Michel Martelly promised Friday to move swiftly to fill the political void left by the surprised resignation of his prime minister and to implement critical reforms demanded by the international community.
Martelly’s promises to hold senatorial elections and revive an expired commission overseeing billions in earthquake aid, among others, came as the international community expressed deep “regret” and concerns over the resignation of Prime Minister Garry Conille, a gynecologist and former U.N. diplomat, after only four months.
A protracted political battle over Conille’s replacement not only puts Haiti’s fragile stability at risk two years after a devastating earthquake, but it gravely endangers attempts to secure foreign investments and desperately needed funds for its recovery. In past years, donors have held back dollars until a working government is in place.
“I regret that it’s at this moment when the country is taking off,” that Conille has resigned, Martelly said in brief address to the nation Friday night. Saying he was working to improve relations with parliament and to find a replacement, he urged Haitians and the international community “to stay calm.”
For weeks, Conille and Martelly, a former singer known as ‘Sweet Micky,’ had been at odds, disagreeing over how to handle a Senate commission charged with investigating the nationality of government officials including both of them; an audit of $300 million in post-earthquake contracts and who controls government ministers.
In recent days, pressure for Conille to resign mounted as senators close to Martelly threatened him with a confidence vote in parliament, and presidential advisers personally asked him to step down.
On Thursday, rumors circulated that Martelly would formally ask for Conille’s resignation in a letter. Less than an hour before he was scheduled to appear at the National Palace for an 11 a.m. meeting with Martelly and government ministers, Conille had his resignation letter hand delivered.
“We are muddling through from crisis to crisis,” said Robert Fatton, a Haiti expert at the University of Virginia. “The immediate future is likely to be very turbulent and a major crisis may be in the making.”
The international community, which had worked unsuccessfully to get a truce in the political infighting, responded quickly to the resignation. Canada said “he inspired a great deal of hope” and urgently appealed to Martelly and parliament to move quickly to name and confirm a new prime minister.
Conille said he did what he thought was in the best interest of the country.
“I’ve always been committed to being part of the solution and not part of the problem,’’ he told The Miami Herald. “I hope that the president will work with parliament to quickly ensure we have a functioning government and continue to institute necessary reforms.”
For days, Martelly and his supporters had been trying to negotiate a replacement for Conille, say lawmakers. They include foreign minister Laurent Lamothe and the former interim director of the recovery commission, now his chief of staff, Ann-Valerie Milfort. Another possible candidate is Florence Guillaume, minister of health. All are close to Martelly. And with the presidents of both chambers telling Conille as late as Thursday evening the votes did not exist for his ouster, it could be difficult for the president to get his choices through.
Early Friday, in a meeting with visiting U.S. lawmakers, Martelly reassured them that the political hiccup would not hinder Haiti’s recovery. He promised to hold senatorial elections and to revive the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission to oversee billions in donor aid. Former President Bill Clinton co-chairs the commission.
“He spoke about his determination to move quickly,” Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., told The Miami Herald. “He has concrete plans around education, water and healthcare and I was encouraged he has a passion for making progress and is determined to get elections moving.”
But U.S Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said from Washington that Martelly “must take much stronger measures to eliminate corruption, including committing to full transparency regarding international donor funds.’’
U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, said she hoped “this process will not take as long as it did initially.”
For months, diplomats have pressed on Martelly the importance of a political plan that includes not just a timetable for elections, but also the publication of languishing constitutional amendments. Among the new changes: the prime minister, and not the head of the Haitian Supreme Court, would replace the president should something happen.
Conille’s departure plunged Haiti, a country of 10 million people not known for speedy change, into uncertainty. The U.S. and others have been working to promote jobs, and on Friday potential investors were worried.
“I’ve been at this for 12 years with Haiti and I have yet to get anything going with the government down there,’’ said Louis Stephens, an Arkansas businessman promoting a $170 million investment package for the area round Gonaives. “I had high hope the new president was going to change thing for me.’’
Conille is a former U.N. diplomat, who served as Clinton’s chief of staff in his role as the special U.N. envoy. He had served as an unofficial adviser to Martelly before his appointment as prime minister.
With all of the government ministers owing their jobs to Martelly, Conille struggled to govern. The international community expressed frustration over the stalemate and parliamentarians accused him of not delivering on his promises.
On Friday, in an unusual show of public support, the international community lauded Conille. The U.S. said it welcomed his “effort, insight and energy” while Canada Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called him “a capable leader, a friend of Canada and a man who inspired a great deal of hope.”
“The absence of a prime minister causes further instability at a time when the Haitian people face serious hardship in rebuilding their livelihoods and their country,” Baird said in a statement.
Haitian President Michel Martelly’s statement to his people (in Creole):
Maten an Premye Minis Garry Conille prezante m lèt demisyon l e mwen aksepte li . Map pwofite remesye li pou engajman li te pran. Se vre mwen regrèt se nan moman ke peyi a ap dekole sa rive.
Men rete poze. Mwen deja pran kontak ak prezidan 2 chanm yo ki yo menm tou, te resevwa yon kopi de lèt la. Nou pran angajman pou nou chita prese prese, pou mwen pwopoze yon nouvo Premye Minis.
Tout patnè nasyonal ak entènasyonal kap fè jefò pou envesti, kap kreye djòb, map mande yo pou rete tèt frèt. Nou gen tan pran tout dispozisyon pou leta kontinye travay nòmalman .
Ekzekitif la ak palman ki deja ap travay pou soude bonjan relasyon, kòm sa dwa, pral degaje yo, rapido presto, pou tout bagay rantre nan plas yo.
Nou konnen ke nou mèt konte sou mwen, menm jan mwen konte sou nou.
Mwen te fè nou pwomès. Pwomès se dèt. Wè pa wè Viktwa a se pou pèp la !
In face of Martelly’s effort to dictate all facets, it seems as though presidents of the Chamber of Deputies, and Senate told Conille that a non-confidence vote would not work. Had Martelly tried for one, and it failed, another non-confidence vote could not be proposed for another year.
Conille should have stayed in the game and fought, as he promised to fight.
Politics, in Haiti… and elsewhere, is a nasty, hard fought game. If you are not ready to fight “bare knuckles” you should avoid the conflict.
We agree that Conille had little, or no control of a cabinet he did not select. There were many other problems he faced, but a real man would have stayed in the game until the last blow. This is what his supporters expected.
Unfortunately, for Haiti, Conille is a person unwilling to fight, fight, fight, demanding audits of the contracts that supposedly saw, on the three Dominican ones amounting the hundred of millions…some $34,000,000 skimmed off the top by Martelly/Bellerive team members.
Impunity must end and Conille had the opportunity to move in this direction. His surrender and hasty retreat has left Haiti in a situation wherein Martelly can move one step towards a totalitarian situation through the appointment of someone under his control, such as the Minister of Planification…Bellerive’s cousin…and Bellerive is Martelly’s cousin.
Keep it in the family.