Recent reports from Haiti shed light on why relief agencies are unable to provide timely aid deployment despite the significant funding and supplies that have been donated. Soledad O’Brien and Rose Arce from CNN filed a story outlining some of the challenges (please see
At the heart of this quagmire are new procedures issued by the Ministry of Economy and Finance requiring aid organizations to sign over their imported supplies to the Department of Civil Protection while their request for an import tax exemption is reviewed. Of course, in the meantime, should they wish to just pay the tax, their goods will be released in a timely manner. The Preval Administration is saying that they are merely trying to crack down on companies attempting to import their business goods under the guise of humanitarian aid and thus avoiding the import taxes. But to many organizations, this feels more like a shake down.
The importance of getting food, medicine and aid to the millions of displaced people and orphaned children is the clear priority now. Aid was already flowing a little too slowly to the people before this new procedural requirement, and public frustration continues to grow. There continue to be a myriad of challenges with the deployment of aid, including a lack of central coordination, some interagency turf battles and allegations of government officials selling goods on the black market. This was not the time to impose a bureaucratic hurdle on to an already disorganized and inefficient system.
Furthermore, businesses importing products for sale or for use in manufacturing merit a tax holiday. Any business that is operating in Haiti under these circumstances well deserves as tax incentive for continuing to contribute to the ravaged economy. Haiti is notorious for a cumbersome, opaque and corrupt business environment. The World Bank and other organizations rank Haiti as one of the worst countries in the world in which to do business. There is no time like the present to begin addressing those inefficiencies.
This is not to imply that public safety concerns should not remain a top priority. It is important to ensure that the chaos in Haiti is not exploited in order to, for example, import drugs or weapons into the country. Screening for dangerous products or illegal substances can be accomplished effectively and efficiently with the deployment of highly trained canine units. This was being effectively implemented prior to the imposition of the new regulations.
This is the time to simplify and streamline procedures and ensure that people are getting the aid they so desperately need. Therefore, the Preval Administration should implement a customs and import tax holiday effective immediately and get the aid flowing to the people again.
Unless, of course, this actually is a shakedown, Mr. Preval? I have been writing and speaking critically of my country for more than 20 years. It is no secret that our political and economic system has been infected by greed and corruption or that our leaders have failed us. Therefore, I should not be shocked or even surprised by these reports. I know that the Preval Administration has consistently taken from the people. But to me, it is unfathomable that anyone would be capable of taking from the people at this, the lowest point in the country’s 205-year history.