Reports detail how Haiti’s public administration is a cesspool of corruption

Jose A. Iglesias/jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

Fictitious government jobs and contracts, political patronage, embezzlement, and university employees and civil servants who use government bank accounts as their personal checkbooks.

Those are just some of the scandalous findings released late this week by Haiti’s Anti-Corruption Unit following the investigations of 10 different state-run institutions and agencies that include the municipalities of Petit Goâve, Fort-Liberté, Saint-Raphaël and Anse Rouge; the national lottery; Haiti National Police and the School of Law and Economics in Gonaives.

In all, the conclusion was the same: Haiti’s public administration is a cesspool of corruption in which the actions of civil servants and elected officials go unchecked and they do as they like without concerns about the consequences. The cost has been the loss of millions of dollars from state coffers in a poverty-stricken country lagging behind in development and unable to address deepening inequality in the face of multiple crises.

“There is vast disorder, and waste,” Hans Jacques Ludwig Joseph, the unit’s anti-corruption chief, told the Miami Herald after the release of the 25-page report. “It’s a public administration that has been totally weakened because of this phenomenon we call corruption that is multidimensional and has among its actors prominent personalities.”

The report singles out a number of well-known figures —town mayors, the head of the national lottery, a current member of the board of director of the Central Bank, the government’s regulatory agency, and the former head of the Haiti National Police. The findings range from abuse of office and mismanagement leading to the loss of government revenue to the more serious acts of embezzlement of state funds and property.

The allegations in the reports date back to the government of late Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, who took office in 2017 and was killed on Jul 7, 2021. The reports were released this week, Joseph said, because the investigations were just completed. His investigators have dozens of other allegations they are pursuing on corruption in public administration across the country that they hope to soon publish, he added.

“The system that has been established to verify, control, to anticipate these kinds of actions that public employees and representatives of the state are doing, they are not sufficiently effective,” said Joseph, adding that the next step is for the country’s justice system to do its job. ”I always say that corruption has a name. It’s called impunity. If you do not have an effective justice system that has the political will to pursue individuals, to judge and sanction those that need to be, then it’s difficult to achieve the results that you want.... Now the justice system needs to take the wheel; if it doesn’t than we will be producing reports without getting any results.”

In some cases, Joseph is asking for criminal prosecution on charges of influence peddling, embezzlement of government funds and other acts of corruption. In others, like the one involving the former head of the Haiti National Police, Léon Charles, Joseph wants the government auditors to follow up because laws were violated. The Superior Court of Accounts and Administrative Disputes, investigators note, is required by law to be contacted about certain expenditures.

In the report, Charles is accused of “mismanagement” after failing to inform human resource officials and others within the Haitian national police about officers and civilian employees who had retired, or had been fired or laid off, who were no longer eligible for a stipend increase on their debit cards. Charles resigned last year and is currently assigned to the Organization of American States in Washington.

“This slowness caused, for the period from December 2020 to February 2021, a shortfall of around eighteen million two hundred and forty thousand” gourdes the report said, about $144,080 in current exchange rates.

The findings on Charles are among the least egregious. More serious accusations involved loans by the Industrial Development Fund that were given based on political patronage and failed to be reimbursed. Joseph is recommending criminal action against Edgar Jeudy, a current member of the board of directors of the Central Bank, for abuse of office and preventing the function of the justice system in an investigation involving the fund.

Among other allegations in the findings:

The mayor of Petit Goave, Limongy Samson, housed the town’s city hall in the home of his mother. He is accused of using government funds to make improvements, and his mother is accused of not paying property taxes.

In Fort-Liberté in northeast Haiti, authorities found “various acts of corruption,” including embezzlement, were carried out “from start to finish” in a project to electrify the town of Dumas. Funds were misappropriated, investigators found, and the laws on public contracts were not respected by either town officials or representatives of the contracting firm.

In Saint-Raphaël, investigators found that funds were granted for a soccer stadium that was never built and the contractors used non-existent addresses.

There was a shortfall of more than $2.1 million in the national lottery that should have gone to the government treasury. The anti-corruption unit is recommending public action against the head of the lottery, Marie Margareth Fortune Daudier, for embezzlement of public property and abuse of office, and Jean Moïse Fortune for complicity in the embezzlement of public property.

If there is one case that shows how public employees think of themselves as running fiefdoms it’s the Gonaives law school. Investigators said they found “a situation of anarchy, generalized disorder and almost total opacity in the mode of operation” of the school both academically and in terms of administrative and financial plan.

The school’s former president, Luc Benoît Pierre, told investigators that 25% of the 3,000 students were accepted without proof that they had even gradudated from high school. Investigators found that despite multiple efforts by Pierre to take corrective measures, a group of employees circumvented him and succeeded “because of the opposition and bad faith of [law school] officials who take pleasure in this chaotic situation that characterizes the functioning of [the law school] today.”

Two employees, Roland Paphius and Cheddlie Cherenfant, are accused of embezzling $67,396 by issuing checks to staffers for “fictitious services that have nothing to do with the assignments of their respective positions.”

When Pierre learned about what was happening and tried to put an end to the administrative mismanagement by blocking access to the bank accounts for law school officials, the culprits opened a new account, allegedly with the help of the vice dean.