Jeremy Smith – 25th July 2011
At the end of June, I returned to Haiti (see previous post) for a packed 2 week programme of capacity building and advocacy support work, with the two national associations of local authorities, representing the Communes (FENAMH) and Communal Sections (FENACAH) of Haiti. The programme is organised by the local government associations of Canada (FCM, UMQ) and the Netherlands – I was there on behalf of the Dutch association, VNG International.
It was my first time back for a year, and on the ground, nothing much had changed. The tent cities were as prevalent as before, and whilst there was less earthquake rubble in the streets, not much rebuilding had taken place in Port au Prince.
A new President had been elected, after a far-from-smooth process, but his proposed government was voted down by the Parliament. And yet, despite (or because of) all the problems, the 25 mayors and elected representatives we worked with, from all parts of Haiti, were committed to achieve positive change – which in their view can only come through a real process of decentralisation.
In fact, Haiti has had – on paper – a system of local democracy for almost 25 years. The 1987 constitution provides for four levels of sub-national government; surely too much for such a small (10m) and poor country. Moreover, the roles and responsibilities of the different tiers are not always clearly laid down, and even when they are, reality often differs from what the legal texts proclaim.
At the most local level, the country has around 140 communes, which outside the capital have about 60 – 80,000 average population, and which mainly cover an urban centre and surrounding villages. Each commune is then divided into Communal Sections, of which there are over 500. There is an elected trio of mayor and two deputy mayors for each Commune, and an elected executive (CASEC) for each Communal Section, together with an elected Assembly.
The problem is that the respective roles of Commune and Communal Section are not clearly defined, their finances are minimal, and there have been some tensions between the two. Some see this as deliberate ‘divide and rule’ by the central government. On the other hand, the Ministry of the Interior and Local Authorities has in recent years been a firm supporter of a more effective system of local democracy, so if this continues under the new government, there is some hope of real progress. But as we found out, there are also some pressing existential threats ….
SWOTS and Shots
Our local government support programme is mainly geared to helping rebuild a basic system around Léogane, which was at the epicentre of the 2010 earthquake. But every country needs effective representative national associations, as a voice for the local level, and as consultee and partner with central government. Hence our capacity-building work with FENAMH and FENACAH.
In the first week, we held a joint workshop at a hotel in Carrefour, a very poor suburb of Port au Prince, in which we carried out a SWOT analysis of the current environment, and defined common priorities.
This worked better than I had anticipated, given the linguistic mix (Canadian French, Haitian French, Haitian Creole, plus my French!) and the differences between the two types of association, and in the event the 25 local leaders present agreed a significant common set of priorities to work on.
Developing the action plan
The following days were spent working individually with each association, to develop their own one year and 3 year strategic action plans and outline work plans. This sounds nice and simple as I write, but in the reality of daily life in Haiti, delivering real results is a huge challenge… The picture below shows our colleagues from FENACAH… the man in the cap on the left had been one of the liveliest participants at the workshop, but on his way home, at the bus station, was robbed and shot at gunpoint… the bullet shaved his head (which was bandaged) and he spent 3 days in hospital… but by Wednesday the next week he was back with us as passionate and active as ever.
FENACAH’s elected leaders in their new office
Message to Martelly – don’t abolish our local democracy
What we learnt at the outset – and this united all of the different local government people – was that the new President is rumoured to have been ‘advised’ by his closest advisers to dismiss all the local elected representatives in the country and replace them by his own nominees – and this by delaying the local elections which are due to be held in November 2011, but as yet with no fixed date or process. To their credit, the senior civil servants of the Ministry were adamantly opposed to this.
There is nothing in writing from the Presidency at this stage, but an excellent letter had been sent to President Martelly in May asking him to confirm his commitment to maintaining local democracy, and for a meeting – but no reply had been received. We therefore used the opportunity to work on a wider advocacy strategy for maintaining local democracy, and keeping the November elections, using a range of international as well as national allies.
It would be a sad and damaging thing indeed, if one of the first acts of the new Presidency were to impose unelected people to replace those elected in Haiti’s localities – after all, a key challenge for the country is to build a democratic governmental infrastructure outsider the capital, through a mix of ‘deconcentration’ (providing central government services in the provinces) and ‘decentralisation’ (providing local government services, with adequate powers and resources devolved).
Rural hillside farming near Kenscoff
The lorry from Jérémie