By Jacqueline Charles
In poverty-stricken Haiti where there is a revolving door for Cabinet ministers, being a government official used to be an unprofitable sacrifice. Now, however, such service is about to yield golden parachutes worth more than $50,000 for each minister.
With just four months left before the end of his five-year term, President Michel Martelly has issued an order giving his 23 government ministers and 15 secretaries of state lucrative departure packages. The plan has prompted an outcry.
Upon leaving office, not only will every minister get free police protection for six months — or two officers free-of-charge for thee months for lower-ranking secretaries of state — but according to the official register, Le Moniteur, each minister will receive the equivalent of $46,818.22 as a departure bonus. The secretaries of state will each get $37,454.58. All will be able to import a vehicle for personal use duty-free.
In a country where school teachers and other civil servants often go months without their salaries and 6.3 million out of 10 million Haitians are still unable to meet their basic food needs, many Haitians are scandalized. Government spokesman Mario Dupuy calls the decision an anti-corruption measure.
“You have a large number of ministers who don’t even have the ability to buy a vehicle when they leave office. These are people who are often in an extremely precarious situation,” Dupuy said. “It’s a way for people not to fall into corruption after they leave office.”
Boosting departure payouts, he said, has long been under discussion.
“This bonus separation initiative is very regrettable and unacceptable in a context where begging has become exponential in Haiti,” said Claude Beauboeuf, a former chief economist for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Haiti. “The government has itself stated many times that government coffers were empty.
“This move is not only morally questionable but unlawful. A parliament should have approved it.”
The legality of the decision remains a matter of debate. While Haiti’s constitution does allow Martelly, who has been ruling without a functioning parliament since January, to issue presidential orders, decisions impacting the national budget usually require approval by parliament. But the measure goes against the spirit of the December 2014 political accord in which Martelly promised not to issue any orders not related to elections.
At the very least, say some observers, the decision, taken weeks before the country’s Oct. 25 presidential elections, smacks of bad public policy. They point to a depreciating currency, decreasing government revenues, and stalled reconstruction five years after the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Meanwhile, once-debt free Haiti now owes nearly $2 billion to Venezuela for its Petrocaribe discounted oil program.
Martelly and his guys seem to manage state funds like college kids with their parents’ credit card, said Robert Maguire, Haiti expert
“This is rather consistent with the attitude on the handling of state resources that has been symptomatic throughout Martelly’s presidency,” said Robert Maguire, a Haiti expert at George Washington University. “It parallels the controversies with the management of the Petrocaribe funds. Martelly and his guys seem to manage state funds like college kids with their parents’ credit card.”