Toronto Star / Lucas Oleniuk
Richard Morse said he saw evidence of workers filling drainage canals before the rainy season, which resulted in flooding. When he alerted the minister, nothing was done.
Throughout his campaign and into the second year of his term, Haiti’s president Michel Martelly had a constant companion: his cousin and fellow musician Richard Morse.
Morse was a powerful ally for two reasons. He is the lead singer in a hugely popular Haitian band, called RAM, boosting Martelly’s appeal to the young voters. (Whoever didn’t like Martelly’s own music, as Sweet Micky, were likely drawn to Morse’s). Second, Morse runs the Hotel Oloffson, a historic downtown hotel immortalized in Graham Greene’s The Comedians, where John F. Kennedy once stayed, and now the international press, diplomatic corps and aid workers hang out.
So, Morse has the ears of the Haitian voters and the country’s outside influencers alike.
He’s a character too — a Princeton grad, and voudou priest who was political long before his cousin-turned-president, railing against corruption in Haiti on his ever-firing Twitter feed. (He has more than 20,000 followers at @RAMHaiti)
During the election, Morse was often Martelly’s spokesperson. After his cousin won, he was named special envoy for political affairs, leaving every few weeks for Washington to negotiate and plead on behalf of the Haitian government.
Then, last January, Morse announced he’d left the government in a simple tweet: “I handed in my resignation on December 26, 2012. I no longer work for the Haitian Government.”
But after two Martelly cabinet ministers abruptly quit their posts last week, Morse agreed to go public for his own departure.
“I left because of corruption in the palace, and infrastructure sabotage,” he told me over the phone.
Morse said he saw evidence of workers filling drainage canals before the rainy season, which resulted in flooding. When he alerted the minister, nothing was done, he says.
“If you are creating disasters, it can only be for aid money,” he said.
As for corruption in the palace, Morse says he saw evidence of “fake cheques – people getting paid who no longer worked there.”
Morse said he flagged that issue too, and nothing was done.
“Rather than fight the corruption,” he said, “I feel like they have embraced it.”
Both Communications Minister Regine Godefroy and Finance Minister Marie-Carmelle Jean-Marie handed in their resignations this week. In her resignation letter, obtained by the newspaper Haiti Libre, Jean-Marie said she decided to leave after her attempts to introduce transparency reforms were rebuffed.
“I can fight against adversity and against external hazards that affect our country with regularity,” she wrote in French, “but not against the lack of solidarity with my own peers.”
None of this is good for the Martelly government, which had a very rocky start with a revolving door of prime ministers and much international criticism for delaying elections to the Senate. In recent months, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe has made fighting corruption a flag-waving issue.
Instead of refuting Morse’s claims, Lamothe said his administration is trying to address them, establishing a new anti-corruption task force that in recent months has arrested 65 people, including the former mayor of Petionville.
“This is endemic to Haiti and endemic to poorer countries,” Lamothe said during a phone interview. “We understand fighting corruption is key to getting investment. We are taking all the measures necessary…. But it’s not going to happen from one day to the next.”
The government has established a telephone hotline for anonymous tips, and is setting up a similar website, he said.
“The money corrupt individuals steal from the state is money stolen from the people of Haiti,” Lamothe wrote on his blog.
Perceived corruption one of the reasons Haitian state only received less than 10 per cent of the $6.4 billion in foreign aid since the earthquake. Most donors circumvented the government, sending money instead to non-profit organizations.
Transparency International ranked Haiti 165 out of 176 countries for the perception of corruption last year.
Lamothe said the Finance Minister’s departure was sparked by interpersonal friction not related to corruption. As for Morse, “we have a lot of respect for him. We are doing our best under very difficult circumstances in this country.”