Haiti's new president embarks on cross-country mission
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Jovenel Moïse, the president of Haiti, tells Michael Deibert how he is looking to effectively govern the whole country, through policies such as improving healthcare in all regions and building roads to prevent the more rural areas becoming isolated.
Jovenel Moïse became president of Haiti in February 2017, just after Hurricane Matthew hit the country’s southern peninsula. An agribusinessman from the north who is often referred to as 'Nèg Bannan' (the Banana Man) because of his previous life as a banana entrepreneur, Mr Moïse won more than half of the vote in a crowded field. Since entering office, he has repeatedly criss-crossed the country, initiating road-building programmes in the provinces and measures such as remobilising Haiti’s army (demobilised in 1995 but never officially disbanded).
Q: Tell me a little bit about your background before you became president.
A: The fact that I have lived both in a rural zone in the north – I was born in a small town, Trou-du-Nord – and in [the capital] Port-au-Prince helped me better understand the socioeconomic dimensions of the country. Haiti, like many countries in the world, has a kind of cleavage. You have urban zones, rural zones, people in the town and people in the country. As an agricultural entrepreneur, I was able to see the entire country and it helped me understand the challenges of governing here. My experience in the private sector – I was the president of the chamber of commerce in the north-west and the secretary general for the national chamber of commerce – helped me understand the economic problems of Haiti.
Q: You’ve been president for more than a year. How do you gauge your performance thus far?
A: I would say that during this first year I’ve developed a better understanding of the challenges of governing. We have taken a lot of decisions and done a lot of work all over the country. We’ve addressed healthcare, for example – now you have a dialysis centre in the north and one in the south, we’re putting another one here in the west where we only have one. And with infrastructure, we have teams working in every department [and region building roads]. We call our strategy 'the caravan of change'. I said that we were going to have a new army, a professional army, an army in service of development, with engineers and technicians to work on natural disasters, and now we’re building one. With this new approach, we want to move Haiti beyond being the republic of non-governmental organisations [NGOs]. We welcome NGOs but they cannot replace the state, which is what has been happening in Haiti. We are working to resolve that problem
Q: Can you speak a little about the opportunities for foreign investment in Haiti.
A: In energy, Haiti consumes [more energy than it produces], so people produce their own with generators, batteries in their houses and other means. So this is a great opportunity, with [energy sector regulator] Anarse, to democratise the energy sector. We are also prioritising renewable energy – wind, water, sun and biomass. In tourism we have opportunities for construction of hotels and cruise ports. There is enormous potential in tourism. And there is an opportunity in the assembly sector too, with the Hope and Help acts, which allow us to export [textiles and apparel] duty-free to the US.
Q: What was the motivation behind declaring the gourde the only legal currency for business in Haiti?
A: The same motivation that every country has. Our constitution, our law, is very clear on this – there is one legal currency: the gourde. [To have two currencies] provokes inflation for those, especially the poor, who have to continue paying in gourdes. We haven’t stopped people from having bank accounts in dollars, or transferring money in dollars. But transactions within the country will be in gourdes.
Q: Historically, there has been a big difference between the people in the cities, especially Port-au-Prince, and the people in the countryside. What steps has your government taken to end this?
A: I am against all forms of division, which is a big problem in this country. We want to make all the departments interconnected. We want the deconcentration of public services and the decentralisation of the structure of the state to the provinces.