Haiti: a new anti-corruption law brings hope

It has taken a long time but Haiti finally has a comprehensive anti-corruption law. On 11 March the lower house of Parliament passed legislation first drafted in 2007.

For a country that has been stuck on the lowest rungs of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for years, this is big and welcome news. And the law is good. Not least because La Fondation Héritage pour Haïti (LFHH), the Transparency International chapter in Haiti, was able to help provide input from the start.

The new law criminalises some of the practices that have become so common in Haiti that there was almost a sense they will never be punished: conflicts of interest in awarding contracts, nepotism, the passing of insider information on procurement and the use of sexual harassment when people, mostly women, seek employment or everyday services.

In 2004 LFHH published a French and Creole booklet adapting Transparency International’s Source Book for our local context. It defined corruption in terms that people could understand and showed that it is not just one person demanding a bribe of another person.

This booklet was circulated widely in government and to members of parliament and contributed to the definitions and the language to frame the anti-corruption law we have today.

It took several long years of advocacy, which were cruelly and tragically interrupted in 2010 when the terrible earthquake destroyed so many lives and levelled the parliament building. But when Parliament reconvened in temporary buildings 2011, it prioritised legislation that tackled the issue of the rule of law. Nevertheless it took until 2013 for the upper house to vote on the anti-corruption legislation.

Now the lower house has followed suit just in time to impress a delegation from the Organisation of American States (OAS), which arrives in Haiti on 8 April to review the country’s compliance with the Inter-American Convention against Corruption – a review that might have been less than stellar if the law had not been passed.

I will also be presenting to the OAS delegation and will underscore that the new law is welcome and that we, at LFHH, are particularly pleased that it has defined corruption crimes broadly.

What I will tell the OAS delegation is that this law is only a first step. There are three more draft bills that LFHH has drafted and proposed to Parliament. They are essential parts of a successful anti-corruption strategy.

We need an access to information law, strong whistleblower protection legislation and a new law on financing of political parties.

LFHH runs an advocacy and legal advice centre, or ALAC, as it is known in the Transparency International movement. When we talk to other local chapters within the movement we see that our ALAC hotline receives comparatively fewer corruption-related calls from the public asking for help. One big reason for this is the lack of whistleblower protection: Haitians are frightened that if they speak up they will suffer reprisals.

Unfortunately, the law pertaining to the functioning of political parties is not as strong as we would like, as it is very lax in regards to the need for transparency in political party and campaign financing. The text that LFHH proposed to Parliament to increase transparency of funding was not included in the law that was adopted. LFHH would like to see a revision of the current law.

But I will also applaud where we are now. Our new anti-corruption law is a good one. It’s now up to the government to implement it. Making sure that this happens will be our next challenge.

Carousel image: Creative commons, Flickr/ Breezy Baldwin

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