Press Briefing by the acting Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Nigel Fisher
Port-au-Prince, Friday 15 February 2013
Good morning all. Thank you for coming today. As you know, this is my first general press briefing since being appointed as RSSG a.i.. I look forward to meeting with you regularly whilst I am in this position.
As you may know, I have been in Haiti for just over three years. I arrived in early February 2010 to lead the UN team which worked with national authorities to undertake the post-earthquake assessment of losses and damage which formed the basis of the recovery plan which Haiti presented to the donors conference which took place at the end of March 2010.
I then stayed on as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, leading the agencies of the UN in the early humanitarian and recovery efforts.
I bring from that experience the conviction that whatever we do to support Haiti to strengthen security and stability, to support democratic governance and state legitimacy, to establish the rule of law and respect for human rights – whatever we do, we must constantly ask ourselves one question: what difference is this making for the poorest Haitian? Is it improving his or her life in a very tangible way?
I completely understand and support the desire of Haitians to be fully in charge of Haiti’s own affairs. It is the job of MINUSTAH and of other partners of Haiti to accompany you on that road.
But what is sovereignty if it is not inclusive of every Haitian?
What is sovereignty for the vast majority of Haitians who live in poverty, who do not know where the next meal is coming from, who cannot find a job that pays a decent wage, who are mired in debt?
What is sovereignty for the mother who is forced to send her child to the city as a restavek?
What is sovereignty if all Haitians are not equal before the law?
What is sovereignty if opportunity is limited to the few?
I have just returned from the United Nations in New York, where I met members of the Security Council, member states who form the group known as the Friends of Haiti, as well as senior officials in the United Nations. I have to say that the common sentiments I encountered were those of concern and some frustration.
A year ago, we celebrated some progress, like the creation of the Conseil Supérieur du Pouvoir Judiciaire, the publication of some constitutional amendments and an improvement of the security situation. But today, the general impression of Security Council members and of Haiti’s friends is one of impasse. While of course, there has been progress in the last year, it has been much, much slower than had been anticipated at the start of 2012. Investment has not been generated at the level expected. GDP grew by only 2.5% last year – far from the 8% predicted at the start of 2012.
Why is this? You might blame Haiti’s external partners for being too slow in disbursing promised assistance. But the problem is broader than that. When Haiti’s friends and potential investors ask themselves “Is Haiti open for business?”, a few say “yes”, but the majority, after a pause, say …. “Not yet”. Why is this?
Well, start with tenders, contracts and procurement processes: few feel that these processes are yet sufficiently fair and transparent to ensure an equal playing field for competition. President Martelly has indeed identified these as issues requiring redress – as well as reformed customs and taxation regimes, conditions for setting up a business, for assuring adequate protection of investment. But they are still a work in progress.
Other friends of Haiti have expressed concerns about the independence of the judiciary. Il est primordial que la justice puisse faire son travail indépendamment et que les garanties de procédures soient respectées. Le peuple haïtien doit pouvoir jouir d’un système judiciaire ou tous sont égaux devant la loi.
But if there is one issue that dominates the discourse, if there is one issue that symbolizes the disappointment of Haiti’s friends today, it is the elections impasse. According to Haiti’s Constitution, senatorial elections should have been held before January 2012. Here we are, 13 months later, and Haiti’s political elite is still struggling to find the elusive compromise that can form the basis of the agreement to move ahead with elections. And not just any elections, but elections than can be considered credible, fair and inclusive.
If anything symbolizes the politics of exclusion, institutional weakness and why Haiti is not yet open for business, it is the lack of progress in laying the groundwork for such elections.
Just last week when I met the Presidents of the two chambers of the legislature, I was led to believe that the commission bicamerale to decide on the representatives of the legislature on the CTCEP would be announced yesterday, 14 February. This is what I told Security Council members and Haiti’s friends in New York this week.
But it did not happen. As one very good friend of Haiti, from this hemisphere, remarked to me last Tuesday: « Siempre manana. Seguro que un dia, tiene que ser hoy ». « Always tomorrow. For sure, one day, it will have to be today».
In one month’s time, the latest report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on Haiti will be discussed by the Security Council. I will be there to present that report. The current draft is not an optimistic one. Therefore, over the next few weeks – and time is short – I hope to work with the country’s leaders, in the Government, in the Executive, in the Legislature so that I am able to report on progress.
The symbol of such progress, as I have said, will be evidence of progress beyond the elections impasse: an agreement on a date, the establishment of the CTCEP and, I hope, at least a minimal political accord on the necessary steps to be achieved, as soon as possible, to set the elections process in motion. MINUSTAH and the Friends of Haiti are ready to accompany Haiti at every step to ensure the conduct of credible elections this year.
The Security Council and the Secretary-General have also asked me to prepare, together with the Haitian government, a road map which will very clearly outline a limited set of priorities which MINUSTAH will seek to achieve together with Haiti, to promote stability and security, strengthen the rule of law, the respect for human rights and good governance. This road map will also set out, transparently, the conditions under which MINUSTAH will be able to continue the draw-down upon which it has already embarked.
It is expected that the road map will be included in the Report of the Secretary-General which the Security Council will review in mid-March. So time is short.
Yesterday I met Prime Minister Lamothe and we have agreed that in the next few weeks, government and MINUSTAH will work together to finalize an agreed road map which will allow us to monitor progress together and which will also allow the Security Council to periodically assess progress.
I have proposed four core priorities for this road map: - First, to strengthen security, especially in extending the numbers, quality and distribution of the Police Nationale d’Haiti; - Second, to strengthen the authority of a Conseil Electoral Permanent to assume full responsibility and national ownership for organizing and conducting elections. - Third, to strengthen the culture of the rule of law and human rights by supporting the strengthening of functioning, basic accountability mechanisms such as the Superior Council of the Judiciary, the Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes, the Inspectorate-General of the PNH, the Office of the Protection du Citoyen and de la Citoyenne, for example; and to support crucial legislative reform. - Fourth, in the area of good governance, to support the strengthening of state institutions to undertake key policy reforms and to strengthen decentralized and participatory mechanisms.
I will be able to revert to you with further details once the Government and MINUSTAH have reached agreement on the specific benchmarks to be included in the road map.
MINUSTAH is here to accompany Haiti on this road, as are other friends and partners of Haiti. We do so with great respect for your country and people.
It is not MINUSTAH that determines how long MINUSTAH will stay in Haiti. We are here by request of Haiti and by mandate of the Security Council of the United Nations. Haiti is one of the founding members of the United Nations. And it is Haiti – with our full support and accompagnement – which will ultimately create the conditions that will create the conditions that will determine the pace of MINUSTAH’s withdrawal.
I have talked for too long, so let me draw to a close by encapsulating all that I have said in two closing points.
I have said that progress towards elections this year – or lack of progress – has become a symbol, a touchstone, for progress – or the lack of it – in Haiti today.
MINUSTAH urges the Haitian authorities to take all necessary steps to hold inclusive and credible elections by the end of 2013. I emphasize ‘inclusiveness’ here, as Haitian history has shown that elections have only ever been deemed successful when there has been a political consensus between the different players, including the composition of the electoral consul, the bylaws, electoral law and party political funding.
We believe that Haiti today needs such a consensus to initiate the establishment of an operational electoral apparatus in order to ensure not only political stability, but good governance and the rule of law. The holding of elections is a constitutional requirement that emanates from the Haitian Constitution – and not a diktat from the international community.
We qualify the agreement reached on December 24th  – concerning the establishment of the Collège Transitoire du Conseil Electoral Permanent (CTCEP) between the government, the Parliament and the group that served as a mediator in discussions, Religions for Peace – to be a major step forward. However, the operability of the agreement has not yet been clearly demonstrated. Therefore, we urge the three powers to continue the momentum and to take every step to agree on the appointment of the electoral body.
Two: Human Rights
The United Nations in general, and MINUSTAH, in particular, have made the respect of human rights their battle. In fact, through our teams deployed throughout the territory, we are working to ensure that all Haitians – civil as well as political – have their economic, social and cultural rights respected. We are concerned by various allegations of infringement of certain fundamental freedoms including those relating to the freedom of expression. On behalf of MINUSTAH, I am personally committed to processing quickly any allegation of abuse or misconduct by Mission personnel. We are here to assist Haitians in respect for their dignity and their rights.
We look forward to defining the road map together and to being able to advance, step by step, in a visible and measurable way, to a secure and stable Haiti where the rights of all Haitians are respected and protected. Thank you.
**QUESTIONS & ANSWERS **
Radio RCH 2000: You say that you feel the living conditions of Haitians have not improved… In addition to the irresponsibility of our leaders, may we also consider your statement as an admission of the ineffectiveness of MINUSTAH’s support, or that of the United Nations in Haiti?
Nigel Fisher: We can always do better. I did not say that there has been no progress. Progress is much slower than expected and desired. On all sides – MINUSTAH, the United Nations, other partners – we always try to do our best. So, here we are in partnership supporting Haiti… It’s always a shared responsibility to move together effectively. I stressed the need to focus MINUSTAH’s collaboration with Haiti on the four key points mentioned to achieve results.
Radio Caraïbes: You mentioned four points necessary to establish the roadmap for working with the Haitian government, and also the report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to be presented shortly. Do you think that if the government focuses on these four priorities, this will allow for a better presentation for Haiti in this report?
Nigel Fisher: I’m not saying that this report will be unfavorable, but perhaps not so encouraging… There is a difference. I think that if, in the coming weeks, we see an agreement on the creation of the CTCEP (Collège transitoire du Conseil électoral permanent) with the members already appointed; if we can see that there is a roadmap to move forward with the elections – because there are many things to do, for example, examine the electoral law, the law on political parties – if we can see some progress; and if we can go to the [UN Security] Council saying « this roadmap was agreed with the government… » along with the four points I’ve already mentioned, then the dynamic can be improved…
Radio Caraïbes: What is the position of the United Nations regarding the elections? Does the UN want the elections to take place in 2013, as the government desires? And regarding the government’s slogan ‘Haiti is open for business,’ do you think – you who have worked in Haiti for three years in the field of development – that Haiti is actually ready to receive foreign investment?
Nigel Fisher: Regarding the elections – we’ve already had 13 months delay; I think it is very important that they are held this year. It is essential and important for the credibility of the process. But, as I’ve said, this delay has become a symbol of the problems here, it’s a subject of symbolic significance that we proceed with these elections.
Is Haiti open for business? As I’ve said, many people are concerned about the situation. I’ve been here three years. I’ve seen a lot of progress. It is not that nothing happens in Haiti, but we could move much faster if conditions were improved. Why has GDP grown just 2.5% [in 2012]? One can talk, for example, about the slow [inflow of] foreign investment, because it is a factor, but we must also ask ‘Why this delay?’ If the conditions to ensure the protection of investment do not exist, if there is not an open process to offer a contract, this creates doubts.
On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of movement, especially on the humanitarian side. I have spoken often to those people in the [IDP] camps. Of the total number of people in the camps in July 2010, only 20% are left. There are other factors… There has been progress. However, we really thought that Haiti could jump to a better development… But instead of jumping, we walk…. We must now start to run – and then jump.
RFM Radio: You mentioned earlier that the Haitian people should enjoy a healthy justice. Does the situation developing within the CSPJ (Conseil Supérieur du Pouvoir Judiciaire) concern MINUSTAH?
Nigel Fisher: This is a new opportunity to continue working with the government to make the Supreme Council more effective. It is very important that justice be done independently and – particularly – that procedural safeguards are respected. There is much to do, but we are on the right track.
Radio/ Télé Métropole: Today it seems that MINUSTAH spills over into other sectors… MINUSTAH deviates from its mission – at least that’s the impression we have… We see MINUSTAH representatives talk about elections, the CSPJ voice wishes that are often heard as lessons… Today, can you help us identify MINUSTAH’s real mission?
Nigel Fisher: I have already explained that the four points are for me, the key points of our mission. As I said, we are here to fulfil a mandate; we are here on the invitation of the Haitian government. And it is neither for me nor MINUSTAH to decide when to leave… We are not here to promote interference or to stand-by just watching. Our mandate is to engage with Haiti, to support Haiti’s institution building, strengthen the rule of law, and strengthen the national police. That’s our job. And we will focus on these four points in the immediate future. After the earthquake, we actually expanded the mandate to respond to humanitarian needs. But now we are entering a consolidation period.
Télévision Nationale d’Haïti: If I may continue in the same vein as my colleague… Are you satisfied with the work of MINUSTAH since [the Mission] arrived in Haiti? Because right up until today we wade in the same misery. If you are there to support us, what support do you give us?
Nigel Fisher: If you know me at all, you’ll know that I’m never satisfied. It’s too easy to say « pa fot mwen » [Haitian Creole for ‘It’s not my fault’] and blame the other… I think we need serious dialogue on how to work together. And all the country’s problems are not within the mandate of MINUSTAH. The level of poverty that existed before the earthquake… the 50% of children who were not attending primary school before the earthquake… [these] are not within the mandate of MINUSTAH [to solve]. We can criticize the investment rate but [economic] development is not part of MINUSTAH’s mandate, even if our engineers, our soldiers, our policemen and civilians have given so much through their humanitarian actions… But, as I said, an overriding principle, which I understood as Resident Coordinator is to sit down with not only the government but also with civil society, the private sector, to determine how we can assist you in taking the reins of Haiti in the next two or three years. It’s so easy to blame… On the second anniversary of the earthquake, I travelled to New York, to Geneva, to counter the negativity that dominated [discussion], claims that « after two years, nothing is happening in Haiti. » This is not true. There is progress, even if it is not always visible. We must assume responsibilities on both sides. On the side of MINUSTAH, our responsibility is to respect the dignity of the Haitian people, but it is a joint work we are pursuing, and this is a principle that I will follow in my work.