Haiti Ambassador:We are in deep trouble if we do not decentralize
By Nicole Ferguson
In a visit to Nashville's Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church, Haitian Ambassador Raymond Alcide Joseph opened up about his country's latest challenges and their plan to move forward. Their immediate mission is to house the 500,000 people who don't have shelter before next month's rainy season.
"There is a race against the clock to find tents and to house them away from areas that will be flooded," said Joseph. "That's the big issue for us right now."
Another big issue is figuring out how to maintain tabs of relief aid flowing into the island nation.
"There has to be some accounting for all the money that has been given for Haiti," said Joseph, who believes the Haitian government can now be trusted after years of maintaining a stigma of corruption and little transparency. He says the nation has been forgiven for millions of dollars of debt, and they need to control money that can be used for much-needed infrastructure reshaping.
"So I'm telling the international community, time has come to work with the Haitian government directly that it can get aid to do the work it needs to be done because NGOs (non-governmental organizations) cannot build the roads, cannot provide the energy, cannot build the major water purification system, cannot build the airports either."
Joseph says an estimated $2 billion dollars have been collected in relief efforts, but the Haitian government has only seen $10 million of those dollars. On Wednesday, the Haitian government plans to meet with President Barack Obama and the United Nations to discuss infrastructure and financial plans moving forward. Joseph says the country would like to establish a trust fund overseen by an international board. He said that would give the government an accountable way to utilize funds and direct them toward decentralizing resources that were placed in Port-au-Prince during the dictatorship in the 1950s. While just a fifth of the country was destroyed by the earthquake, it represented 80 percent of the country's economic resources.
"Because there was too much concentration, centralization in Port-au-Prince. Of commerce, education, you name it- culture. Everything was in Port-au-Prince," said Joseph, who explained the country wants to expand commerce by building two additional international airports in the north and south, and expanding the airport in Port-au-Prince.
Joseph said much of the goods being transported to Haiti are being lost in the shuffle, and encourages donors to send money straight to the Haitian embassy by visiting www.embassyofHaiti.org.
"I even discourage people to send in clothes, shoes and all these things because it takes so much money for transportation, and a lot of time-not only in Haiti, but in a lot of places where they have had crisis--they rot in customs whereas if you send the money, they can buy the things locally or next door in the Dominican Republic," said Joseph. "And don't forget--only 1/5 of Haiti was hit by this earthquake. That means 4/5 of the country still safe."
In response to criticism of his nephew Wyclef Jean, and alleged misappropriation of funds through the YELE foundation, Joseph said he believes Jean was targeted by other NGOs wanting to filter more money through their organizations.
"I'm not a financial accountant, I haven't seen everything, but I think they had people go through the books and they did find some irregularities that were repaired, but as far as wholesale corruption--I say 'no.' It's not because Wyclef Jean is my nephew and I'm defending him but I know his heart is good and he's been doing good work in Haiti long, long before these people who have appeared on the scene. "
Joseph said he envisions prosperity in his country over the next few decades, as long as continued support from the international community is in place.
"When President Barack Obama met me on the 27th of January, after his address to the nation for a photo opp with his wife, he gave me a big handshake and he said 'Soon, you will be off the glare of television. You will be off the front pages, but I want you to know that I and this country are with you and with Haiti for the long haul,' said Joseph. "We will need the constancy of the international community for the long haul with Haiti, and in 5, 10, 15, 20 years expect to see a Haiti that will become a Mecca."