Monday, February 19, 2018

Haiti deserves a chance


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THE fall-out from crime, and prospects of international oversight of the arms trade, understandably dominated the headlines out of this week's Caricom summit in Haiti. One big part of the story, however, richly deserving of wider attention, is that of the host country itself. Just three years after the earthquake that levelled the country, killed 300,000, and left 1.5 million homeless, Haiti has been able to provide the venue for such a summit.

This by itself marks a historic achievement.

The summit showed Haiti capable of taking its place alongside Caricom member countries who should no longer consider the northern Caribbean country as just a basket case and a destination for aid.

As President Michel Martelly declared, there is more to see than just "a Haiti of misery, a Haiti of problems".

"Haiti no longer wants to be left behind," said the President.

And Caricom Secretary General Irwin Laroque stated: "There can be no greater indicator, symbolic and substantive, that Haiti has taken its rightful place within the Caribbean Community."

Mr Laroque said Haiti's implementation of a single market--which will permit the free movement of goods and services--presents "opportunities for improving the lives of the people of Haiti through co-operation in areas such as health and education, and economic benefits to be derived from commerce and trade".

Regional interests at various levels--including government, business and cultural--should thus be invited to look anew at Haiti and recognise there, for mutual benefit, a land of rich opportunity.

It is nothing less than Haiti deserves, a fair chance to overcome all the debilitating events that have stymied its progress over the years.

And upon her return from the Caricom conference, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar reminded local manufacturers that Haiti has a duty-free concession for goods entering the United States, pointing out that Trinidad and Tobago businessmen could make use of that gateway.

It is left to be seen, though, if any T&T entrepreneurs, or others from around the region, take up that challenge.

But while the opportunities are there, and if implemented will speed up Haiti's recovery, President Martelly and his countrymen also have to play their part in the process.

Because, according to United Nations acting Special Representative Nigel Fisher, Haiti is still "not yet" ready for foreign investment.

The UN Representative cited the bidding process for contracts; not enough transparency to ensure healthy competition; and concerns about an independent justice system as reasons for outsiders to hesitate in doing business in Haiti.

He also noted concerns that the Haitian authorities have yet to organise legislative and local elections that were to have been held since November 2011.

The United Nations, US and European Union have increased pressure in recent weeks for Haiti to hold the vote before year's end.

It will take an effort from both within and outside Haiti for it to continue on its upward path, but it should no longer be looked upon as a poor relation and instead given every opportunity to stand on its own two feet.