Michaëlle Jean: 'You cannot build a sustainable economy on charity'

CBC News speaks to Michaëlle Jean, Canada's former governor general, on the second anniversary of the Haiti earthquake.

Canada's former GG describes Haiti as 'huge laboratory" for NGOs

Michaëlle Jean, Canada's former governor general, is visiting Haiti for the events marking the second anniversary of the earthquake that devastated the capital, Port-au-Prince, and the surrounding area.

She is there as UNESCO's special envoy to Haiti.

A year ago Jean was angry about the situation in the country of her birth. " The Haitian people feel abandoned and disheartened by the slowness in which the rebuilding is taking place," she wrote then.

Today, she is sounding more optimistic. She spoke to CBC News by phone from Port-au-Prince.

CBC News: Looking back at the situation in Haiti even six months ago, the words that might sum up the situation, at least for Port-au-Prince, were frustration, filth and futility. Has Haiti now turned a corner?

Michaelle Jean, UNESCO special envoy for Haiti, spoke to CBC News by telephone from Haiti. She is there for the second anniversary of the earthquake. On the first anniversary, she listens to speeches during a commemorative ceremony, Jan. 12, 2011 in Port-au-Prince. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Michaëlle Jean: I think it is starting to, actually. Frustrations there were, and there will continue to be some.

I think the frustrations had to do with the fact that there wasn't a government in place, there was a political struggle going on, elections that took nine months until a president was installed, the difficulties that the president has experienced trying to have a prime minister ratified by parliamentarians, and to form a government, because he doesn't have a majority in both chambers in Parliament.

So that was really a challenge and I think people were discouraged, including the international community, because there wasn't a strong interlocutor.

Of course the previous government was still in place but they were at the end of their mandate.

Now that it is done, in just a few months we can see the difference. This government is very pro-active.

They have a solid plan, validated by the international community. We can see them making decisions and taking actions every day.

For example, the president made education the priority of his mandate. He was able to get the funds together to make sure that more students could go to public schools, for free. In just a few months, 903,000 children are in school for free in Haiti.

For an organization like the one I represent — I am the special envoy for UNESCO — we make sure that we can reinforce the government's capacity to guarantee that this new system of public education has well-trained teachers, good programs, a solid curricula, so that quality is there for these children.

Besides education the other thing Haitians have been saying is that they need jobs. How are they doing on that front?

Michaëlle Jean: Yesterday, on the second anniversary of the quake, I was at the inauguration of a new university campus in the north. The campus is absolutely beautiful. It's spacious, it's modern, it's well equipped and it's the realization of the solidarity between the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Ecole Republique des Etats-Unis, a rare public school, has 1,400 students but no budget and no school supplies, the CBC's David Common reports. (David Common/CBC)
Post-secondary education is very important for a good workforce.

This new university campus is in the region where a new industrial park is being built, thanks to new foreign investment in Haiti. That new industrial park will create thousands of jobs.

The IMF report is quite encouraging. GDP grew by five per cent in 2011 and they foresee near 10 per cent growth in 2012.

Haiti is a country of youth, which means it's a country that has a future, because you have this incredible workforce that is reliable. And so many young people who want to work. For that they need to be skilled.

You cannot have job creation without reinforcing capacities and reinforcing skills in the country. The government is determined about this crucial objective.

Investment in sustainable tourism, investment in infrastructure —airports, roads, ports — is really important and this is where you will see Haiti rebuilding its economy and emerging from the situation that has prevailed here for decades, which is total dependency on international aid and Haiti has had enough of that.

On the aid front, a criticism often heard about the many NGOs in Haiti and the foreign governments is that they have not been listening to Haitians enough. How's progress on that front? You have a foot on both sides.

Michaëlle Jean: There are many people in the humanitarian organizations with goodwill, delivering essential services. But the problem is a lack of coordination.

A man plays a guitar in the earthquake damaged Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 12. Haitians are marking the second anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake. More than 500,000 people are still in temporary settlement camps. Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press
This country has been transformed into a huge laboratory of all kinds of projects and experiments that has not delivered anything really sustainable. It's total chaos and confusion and they are not connected to the government policies. There is the problem.

After the international embargo that followed the coup d'etat that ousted President Aristide in 1991, the international community decided to redirect funds to international NGOs in Haiti. That created a problem.

Right now, the government of Haiti is completely decapitalized. Even after the earthquake, of all the money and the financial commitments of the international community to support the reconstruction of Haiti, only one per cent went to the government of Haiti.

Now the government cannot compete with the NGOs on the ground, which can pay a lot more for very skilled workers. That creates a total contradiction. The donor countries have validated the Haitian strategic plan for reconstruction but are not supporting the government in its capacity to implement those policies. It doesn't make sense.

And then it's very important that as you reinforce the capacities of good governance and accountable governance here, that the government of Haiti can take the lead to coordinate all these programs offered by thousands of NGOs in Haiti.

Rwanda, after the genocide, during their reconstruction period, had to do that, too. They had thousands of NGOs on the ground and they made the decision to coordinate efforts connected to the policies and objectives that they had identified that they wanted to implement for the reconstruction of the country.

Haiti needs to do that, Haiti wants to do that, and is determined to do that.

You cannot build a sustainable economy on charity. When you speak to the decision makers here in Haiti, this is one of their nightmares. They need the necessary funds to implement their policies.

Right now they are, in a way, completely beaten by the confusion of NGOs, who are getting a lot of the money while the government isn't capable of doing what they need to do at a national level.

We consider this a government that can be trusted. It's really important to be coherent and to make sure that it will succeed and will be able to use all its authority to fix the situation in Haiti.

It's interesting to hear how positive you sound about the Martelly government. I would have thought that with Martelly's past as a supporter of military dictatorships in Haiti, that you would be a little more cautious about the government, if that's the right word. How is he doing in your view, has it been a surprise?

Michaëlle Jean: Don't get me wrong. I am constantly vigilant. I am constantly vigilant with every party here in Haiti.

If change is to happen in Haiti it must be from all parts and all parties involved: on the government of Haiti's side, on the Haitian side, on the international community side.

Haiti's President Michel Martelly carries a wreath while attending a memorial service to commemorate the second anniversary of the 2010 earthquake, at the site of a mass grave where the earthquake victims are buried in Tit Tenyan, an area outside of Port-au-Prince, Jan. 12. (Swoan Parker/Reuters)
Vigilance is very important in this country. I understand clearly what you are saying. And of course I can see in that government, people who come from that front, too. I can see that. It's part of the history of Haiti.

I can see people from the private sector who only thought of profit for their own and for their clan. This is part of the political environment in Haiti. I am vigilant but at the same time what I am seeing is a government that is coming onboard.

And it's not just the president. The president is a man who says he doesn't have any political experience but he has good will for his country. He loves his country. He wants to leave a legacy that is a very meaningful one for this country and he's really addressing the right issues, in terms of making education a priority, also building a sustainable economy for his country.

There is also Prime Minister [Garry] Conille. He is a man of experience; he is a man of knowledge. He is very pragmatic. He wants to deliver. It is the first time you hear this word in Haiti among the decision makers: results. 'We want results.'

They are coming with a different approach, which is more entrepreneurial, that's for sure. But it's probably the best strategy right now to rebuild the economy of this country that has been paralyzed by total dependency on international aid.

Je suis très prudente! I am very cautious!

There's one thing that I know very well. There are things that I can say here that nobody else can say. And the government of Haiti, all the authorities in place, I work closely with them.

A woman who lost both her arms from injuries sustained in the 2010 earthquake and a group carrying funeral wreaths, arrive at the mass grave site in Titanyen to attend a memorial service for people who died in the 2010 earthquake, Jan. 12. Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press
Know that, when they deserve to be praised, I will praise them. I will validate their good actions and when time comes also for me to say, 'Hey! You are going in the wrong direction, this is wrong!' I will also say it clear and loud. They know that.

In the declaration that I made yesterday, I am very clear about extensive negligence that is murderous. This is what killed people here during the earthquake. If you carefully read my words I am very, very direct, straight forward, and people know me for that.

I feel very blessed that people here respect me for that. The same with the international community.

I will always speak of what's right and I will also raise the wrongs, that's for sure. And that's the only way for me to go, I cannot work differently.

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