We’ve had this discussion before, and now we’re having it again. It’s about Haiti’s uncanny ability to get in its own way, to stop progress in its track, to be its own worst enemy.
It happens far too often: People who do their level best to extend kindness to Haiti’s poor, under-served working class are given a kick in the pants by the country’s morbidly greedy, ethically inept and persistently corrupt governing class. The Customs personnel at the Toussaint Louverture airport in Port-au-Prince are the prime culprits in this unhealthy connivance.
I arrived at the airport Monday morning with a shipment of 7 computers, two printers and 52 computer bags, which will be given to working journalists in Haiti to assist them in their jobs. The equipment cost a tad more than $3,300. Based on previous experience, I was fully prepared to pay the extortionate, but customary, fee of 30 percent (See “Mindless bureaucracy hurts Haiti’s cause” on this site).
This time, there is an additional, surprise cost. To retrieve the equipment, the ever-creative employees at Customs now tack onto the bill the cost of shipping the equipment to Haiti. Anyone who has shipped goods knows that shipping fees — calculated by weight and dimension — tally up to real dollars.
So the Customs’ fees for getting this load of donated goods into the country exceeds $1,800. At this point, a reasonable person is bound to ask: Why bother? What’s the point of extending the hand of friendship if the gatekeepers, with no limit to their discretion, can tack on 50+ percent for the privilege of entering the country? What sense does this make when the majority population is forced to eke out a living on roughly $1 per day? Why can’t government overseers suspend business as usual, even temporarily, to allow a generous world to help its people?
The government of outgoing president Rene Preval, after years of good intentions producing meager results, will soon be replaced by one of a dozen candidates who represent a vast array political perspectives. The favorite is the candidate hand-picked by Mr. Preval to be his successor.
One can only hope that the next occupant of that office is smart enough to make the government get out of its own way.