Above: Nigel Fisher (UN Photo)
By the Caribbean Journal staff
Nigel Fisher, the new chief of the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Haiti, made his first public appearance since succeeding Mariano Fernandez Friday, calling for Haiti to move forward on long-delayed elections and suggesting the country was not yet ready for full-fledged foreign investment.
Fisher, whose tours with the UN have taken him across the world, has been in Haiti for three years, most recently as the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti.
For the Canadian diplomat, there must be one overriding question, whatever way the world body supports Haiti: what difference has the UN’s work made for the poorest Haitians?
“What is the sovereignty for the vast majority of Haitians who live in poverty, who do not know where their next meal will come from, who cannot find employment at a decent wage, who are deep in debt?” he asked. “What sovereignty if all Haitians are not equal before the law? What sovereignty if the opportunities are restricted to a small group?”
Fisher said he had just returned from New York, where he had met with members of the Security Council and the Group of Friends of Haiti.
“I must tell you that the common feelings that I faced were concern and frustration,” he said.
“A year ago, we celebrated the successes, such as the creation of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary, the publication of constitutional amendments and improved security, particularly in terms of violence, homicide and kidnapping cases,” he said.
But he pointed to an impression of “impasse” in Haiti.
“Of course there has been progress, but it was much, much slower than we expected at the beginning of 2012,” he said. “Investments have not reached the expected level. GDP growth was only 2.5 percent last year, far from the 8 percent forecast earlier this year.” (Of course, much of that reduction came from a pair of crippling tropical storms, along with low execution of public capital spending, according to the IMF.)
Fisher said that external partners could also be blamed for their slowness in paying aid, but the problem was “much broader.”
“When friends of Haiti and potential investors are wondering if ‘Haiti is open for business,’ referring to a constant theme of international partners and Haiti’s government. “Some say yes — but for the majority, after a period of reflection, they are saying, ‘not yet.'”
There were several reasons for this, he said, including a lack of a “fair and transparent” process to ensure healthy competition.
“President Martelly has identified the issues as problems requiring reform to ensure the protection of investments, as well as customs and taxes, as well as the conditions for entrepreneurship,” he said. “But these reforms are still ongoing.”
But Fisher, who succeeded Mariano Fernandez as head of MINUSTAH, echoed his predecessor’s call for a focus on elections, which have been delayed for over a year.
“According to the Constitution of Haiti, elections for Senators elected in 2006 would have taken place by the end of their term in January 2012,” he said. “Here we are today, more than 13 months later, and Haiti and the political elite are still in the process of trying to find a compromise that seems unattainable to form the basis of an agreement to move toward elections.”
Fisher, who will soon present the latest report of the Secretary General on Haiti, said the latest draft is “not so optimistic.”
He said the symbols of progress in Haiti would be evidence of a departure from the elections impasse, an agreement on an election date, and at least one political agreement on the minimum steps to put the electoral process in motion.
Fisher will be preparing a roadmap for the Security Council, with four main prongs: one, to strengthen security and increase the number of officers and quality of the Haitian National Police; two, to strengthen the authority of the Permanent Electoral Council to take full responsibility and ownership of the organization of future elections; three, to strengthen the culture of the Rule of Law and human rights and four, to support the strengthening of Haitian state institutions.
But elections remain the priority, he said.
“Progress towards elections this year — or lack of progress —have become the symbol of progress or lack of progress in Haiti today,” he said. “This is why MINUSTAH urges Haitian authorities to take all necessary steps to hold inclusive and credible elections by the end of 2013.”
Echoing the recent words of Fernandez, Fisher said the Christmas Eve agreement for a transitional college of the Permanent Electoral Council represented a “major step forward.”
But the quality of the agreement “has not yet been clearly demonstrated,” he said, urging Haitian officials to continue their momentum and agree on the appointment of electoral machinery.
Responding to a question about whether the UN took any blame for the situation in Haiti, he said the UN “could always do better.”
“I did not say that there has been no progress,” he said. “Progress is much slower than expected. On all sides, MINUSTAH and the UN, we alwasy try to do our best. So here we are in partnership in supporting Haiti.”