By Ericq Pierre
Submitted to AlterPresse on 18 July 2007
It is rather unfortunate that the recent Conference on the Caribbean held 19-21 June 2007 in Washington D.C. seems not to have elicited much interest in Haiti. Some of the press commentary even described it as a useless endeavor, or even a total failure. The reason may be that the conference was wrongly perceived as a United States/CARICOM summit, although it appears to have been held in Washington D.C. merely for logistical reasons.
The press’s disenchantment may also stem from the fact that the U.S. government’s representative at the opening ceremony, which lasted for over two hours, only stayed for around thirty minutes. He left soon after delivering his speech, although he arrived late. Another possible cause could be that the Interim Managing Director of the World Bank, which hosted the opening ceremony, did not even wait for the coffee break to hurry out of the hall, citing his interim duties. But not too much should be made of this, especially since other VIPs, like the Secretary General of the Organization of American States and the President of the Inter-American Development Bank, stayed to the end, as did the CARICOM heads of state and government.
To put things in perspective, it should be recalled that the Conference on the Caribbean was the culmination of an initiative begun in 2004. Task forces representing many industries from all member countries took an active part in preparing the various technical, institutional, and policy studies making up CARICOM’s 20/20 Vision, meant to give its leaders the clear, keen eyesight worthy of the ophthalmologist’s term.
More importantly, the stated goal of most CARICOM countries is to be no longer ranked among the least developed countries from the year 2020 onward. CARICOM has set the bar very high in this regard by clearly defining where it wants to go, and when and how to get there. Its clear 20/20 Vision is no less than to cease being an underdeveloped region by 2020. The meeting in Washington was to share this vision and secure the formal cooperation of the United States in making it a reality.
It is difficult to say precisely what contribution Haiti made, as a CARICOM member, in framing and developing this vision. From 2004 through the first quarter of 2006, when the task forces were formed, CARICOM and Haiti were engaged in a serious political dispute. Unless I am mistaken, there were no Haitian experts on the multidisciplinary task forces. Later, talks on the 20/20 Vision were held on several occasions between the CARICOM foreign ministers the U.S. Secretary of State. Here again, I cannot say whether Haiti was represented or, if so, what was our contribution.
Whatever the case, the topics on the agendas of these meetings, whose outcomes were announced at the conference and in the final declaration, are of vital interest to our country. They address not just the Millennium Development Goals, but immigration (deportees), energy (biofuels), capital investment, trade, natural disasters, international terrorism, drug trafficking, environmental protection, shrinking development aid, security, public-private partnerships, human capital building, and U.S. policy in general.
Ever pragmatic, CARICOM knows that the subregion is broadly affected not only by what the United States does, but by what it fails to do. It did not hold back, therefore, in expressing concerns about its powerful neighbor’s position on certain global issues, particularly climate change and global warming and their impact on the Caribbean countries. All these topics were supported by documents describing very clearly CARICOM’s position, the measures being taken or explored by its member countries, and what they expect from the United States, both individually and collectively.
Our country is a party to the 20/20 Vision. Although our universities and experts did not fully participate in its preparation due to the aforementioned constraints, they certainly welcome the initiative and content (albeit with some nuances), as do the Haitian authorities. Furthermore, the delegation led by the President of the Republic included, as is customary, eminent private-sector experts in addition to diplomats, government figures, and members of civil society. I do not know whether they were included in the delegation as individuals or as representatives of their institutions. In either case, it would be good if they compared notes with the government delegates to formulate joint proposals for the next steps in follow-up and implementation of the 20/20 Vision.
This strikes me as all the more important since, at the start of his term, President Préval proposed a 25-year governance and development pact over that seemed to embody the same principles as 20/20 Vision. I do not recall the idea of this pact being poorly received. Although the broad contours of the governance aspects seem clear enough (security, political stability, fiscal and budgetary discipline, the fight against corruption, etc.), thanks to action taken by the executive branch, this is not the case for the pact’s development aspects. Why wouldn’t the private sector in general, and the “private business sector” in particular, exercise or bolster the leadership that is crucial to formulating and carrying out this development component?
I do not think I am mistaken in saying that the “private business sector” and political organizations now have privileged access to the highest governmental authorities. Even though the institutional framework still needs to be better defined, it is not an occasional dialogue in my view. To be sure, up until now, the Executive branch has mainly initiated the meetings and chosen the discussion topics, but no issue would appear to be taboo. The private sector itself may have suggested certain meeting topics and has taken part in all of the discussions, whether involving a possible amendment to Haiti’s Constitution, reform of its justice system, the social security system, and education, not to mention economic issues. Several members of the private sector regularly accompany the President in his travels abroad.
How, then, did we get the impression that no Haitian public-private partnership truly exists? Or, if it does, why doesn’t it work? Could it be due to divergent interests among the various arms of the private sector? Or a lack of leadership? Or must we resign ourselves to the fact that our private sector is both too diverse for true consensus on major national issues and too individualistic for a shared position on government initiatives? These are the questions that the private sector itself should try to answer. It is a question of transparency for the private sector, and of reaffirming its resolve to support the country’s development.
Judging by its words and deeds, the Executive branch accepts the principle that the private sector should become the principal engine of growth. But, it also realizes that the long-term success of such a policy depends on an efficient public sector and a government that promotes economic and social development. Well aware of the public sector’s weaknesses that keep it from effectively playing its role in the country’s development, Haitian leaders are working to remedy them, bit by bit. This requires time, organization, and major investments in building Haitian institutions, training human resources, technology, and other areas. But, as they say, the first step is the hardest.
Is our private sector aware of its own weaknesses, aside from a few praiseworthy efforts? What should be done to remedy them? Does it not go without saying that no true, productive public-private partnership will be possible unless the public and private sectors work together to become more effective? Our private sector should conquer its shyness, step forward, and take full advantage of the current climate of dialogue and accommodation to improve its workings and make tangible proposals on the best way to make the public-private partnership effective. This might not be a 20/20 Vision, but it would be a big step in the right direction, and would send a very strong signal that our country has truly entered the twenty-first century under better auspices.
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