For a Plate of Beans:
How Laurent Lamothe Became Prime Minister
by Edner Paillère
(The first of two parts)
Whether you are a staunch ally or an outspoken adversary of Laurent Lamothe, it will be very difficult for you to dismiss the serious charges of corruption made by some deputies who, in full session, claim to have witnessed some of their colleagues in meetings where two million gourdes (USD $50,000) was offered to each of them for their vote in favor of ratifying the designated Prime Minister. A senator has also publicly declared that, to encourage them to vote favorably, several of his peers were handsomely paid off by Laurent Lamothe. This strategy, apparently, worked for the Prime Minister-designate during his passage through the upper house. So why not use it for the deputies also?
Haiti certainly has no monopoly on corruption. It is a global phenomenon. But there are different scales, different degrees, of corruption. A country where corruption is rife at all levels of government, where justice is riddled with corruption, where parliamentarians are perceived as corrupt, where a Prime Minister is, internationally, associated with practices tainted with corruption and fraud, where the Head of State is mired in corruption scandals that transcend national boundaries, where government contracts signed with private companies are tainted by corruption: such a country loses all credibility, all respectability. Its economic development is compromised. Because, just as for democratic development, widespread corruption and economic development are mutually exclusive.
Whether it’s university productions, reports of international political organizations or financial institutions, non-governmental organizations or government agencies, independent researchers, the findings are damning: econometric studies show that when we cross index perceived corruption (as established by Transparency International) with the human development index established by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), it appears that countries with low levels of corruption are the countries with the highest levels of human development, with democratic structures that are solid and functional. Meanwhile, countries with high levels of corruption have the lowest human development levels and democratic institutions that are unstable and failing.
Corruption is indeed a scourge. It exerts a negative influence on democratic development, economic development, and human development. It undermines institutions, does a disservice to private investment, increases budget deficits, hinders economic growth, and leads to the decline of public aid for development. Corruption eliminates transparency in government procurement, and without this, we cannot speak of good economic governance. The chairman of Transparency International described the phenomenon in these terms: « Corruption is a major cause of poverty and is an obstacle to combat…” He added that “these two scourges feed off each other, trapping populations in a cycle of poverty. » The result: unending crises and political and social convulsions.
Back to the Ratification
Between the radical rejection and unconditional acceptance of Mr. Lamothe as Prime Minister, there is a third option: that of the ethic which refuses to subscribe to the idea of selling such a high office for hard cash, or shipments of rice, cartons of milk, and boxes of spaghetti. Simply disgusting! There are some things that have no market value, which one should not be able to buy or sell.
One thing immediately raised strong suspicions even before the ratification session in the Chamber of Deputies: the members of the commission tasked with reviewing the record of the Prime Minister-designate had only 48 hours to analyze the 58 documents Lamothe presented, and to prepare and submit their report to the secretariat’s office of the Lower House. President Levaillant Louis-Jeune, sensing foul play in the report’s preparation, tried to denounce the wrongdoing. He warned that this stunt would « not help the Parliament in it quest for a better image before public opinion.” But according to a deputy who was a member of the ratification commission, it « had been helped by a group of experts. »
Although it is not forbidden for a parliamentary committee to hire experts, here, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to know the identity of these experts: Who were they? Were they volunteers? Were they independent experts or front men in the pay of …? What about the source of funds used to pay the bill? Who was involved? Who set their fees? If it turns out that this was a report prepared by experts close to Mr. Laurent Lamothe, then this document is fundamentally flawed.
Basically, the ratification commission of the Chamber of Deputies has, it seems, just regurgitated the legal gibberish of the Senate Committee which was repeated throughout the debates by pro-Lamothe deputies. These quibbles go as follows: « The commission certainly found irregularities in the case of the Prime Minister-designate. However it is not able to attribute the errors found to the concerned person himself [Lamothe] or to rule on the validity of the documents placed in the file.” Never mind that their authenticity was confirmed by the authorities that issued them according to the audit of sub-committees formed for this purpose. As a result, in strictly legal terms, the Committee can only consider them as valid since they were issued either by competent administrative authorities or by sworn ministerial officers whose seals on the documents are taken in good faith until there is an allegation of forgery. But whenever an opponent tried to raise the question of forgery, that deputy ran into a brick wall of committee members who did not want to consider in any way any contradictory facts presented, arguing that their mission was only to verify the authenticity of the documents filed. As for the publicly made charges of corruption, they were simply ignored. And the report’s findings in favor of ratification of Mr. Lamothe were eventually adopted by an overwhelming majority of deputies present.
So the complacent blindness of the Senate will be added to the deafness of the Chamber of Deputies, some of whom were waiting, without much hope admittedly, for a small victory for dignity.
If the accusations of corruption are found to be true, to attain the post of prime minister Mr. Lamothe has used a weapon which has already served him well in his business dealings in Africa: corruption. Indeed, on the African continent, journalists, trade unionists, politicians and lawyers portray him as « the perfect con man, » others as a master corrupter. « He bribed authorities with money, trips to South Africa paid for by him… Many people, including a minister, a presidential adviser, a woman senator, a CEO earned $29 million on the back of the Senegalese taxpayers. » Even the Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade himself admitted to taking bribes for a 2 billion CFA francs. (The GRIOT of November 11, 2010, Steven Addamah).
It will have taken much less to buy the ratification vote of Haitian senators and deputies. Two million gourdes [$50,000], that was the price of the vote, negotiated in private meetings and denounced during in the middle of the ratification session. A trifle, some might tell us, compared with the millions that his company is making from a surcharge on incoming calls into Haiti thanks to a contract with [the Haitian telecommunications agency] Conatel which was signed in complete secrecy. Yes and this seems to give credence to the reports of some newspapers, including Haiti Observateur, which announced weeks before the vote that to achieve the prime ministerial ratification Mr. Lamothe had a small envelope of $10 million at his disposal.
(To be continued)
(Translated from the original French by Kim Ives)