Kept Under Guard, Haitian Government Struggles to Survive


IN Washington, exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is struggling to find a solution that will permit him to return to his country. In Haiti, his government is trying just to hold on to the limited power they have.

Prime Minister Robert Malval is a virtual house-prisoner. Tight 24-hour security protects his newly enforced home, and bulletproof cars recently donated by the United States facilitate his travel. But he conducts his official business, including daily Cabinet meetings and interviews, in his home under the watchful eye of rotating Haitian military units.

Several Cabinet members, including the finance and information ministers, are unable to work out of their offices for security reasons. Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul has been underground since armed civilians attacked his investiture service Sept. 8, leaving five dead.

``We are working in a climate of insecurity, filled with verbal threats, phone-threats, and rumors of assassinations,'' says Education Minister Victor Benoit.

IN addition to security problems, the Malval government is lacking financial resources. A Nov. 19 press release reveals a 2.8 million gourde (US$224,000) deficit for the month of October. For the first nine days of November, state income was 14 million gourdes. The government has already spent 19.2 million gourdes on salaries, but the majority of people working in the public administration has not yet been paid.

``There are some professors who haven't collected the salaries owed to them by the [previous] de facto governments for the last two years,'' Mr. Benoit explains. ``Our administrative staff hasn't been paid for the last two months. We have a 13-million gourde debt. We can't even supply the most basic school supplies for the 1,000 state schools that we have. We need to repair 95 schools, and we have no resources.''

The Malval government took office at the end of the fiscal year and were thus forced to work with the budget and spending of the de facto government. Between 90 and 96 percent of the ministry's budget is allocated just for salaries.

``Reducing the number of employees during this crisis period is extremely delicate,'' says the director of one ministry. ``Of the approximately 40,000 public sector employees, 40 percent, at best, are qualified. But firing someone ... could exaggerate an already desperate situation.''

A consultant to Mr. Malval's Cabinet says a number of money-making public administrations, such as the Bureau of Tax Collecting, the National Port Authority, and the state health-insurance and pension programs are still run by directors appointed by the former de facto government. Revenue from these institutions could add millions of dollars to the state account, but instead stays in the hands of those controlling these organizations.

In addition, the United Nations embargo imposed last month to pressure the military to allow Fr. Aristide to return has further ravaged the economy. Only 24 merchant boats landed in October, compared with 55 in September. Air traffic has been reduced by 40 percent.

Malval had threatened to quit if Aristide didn't return on Oct. 30, but backed down under international pressure.

``Why can't Malval and his cabinet resign?'' a Haitian businessman well versed in international affairs asks rhetorically. ``There is nothing to be gained by it. To do so would not only be an embarrassment for President Aristide, but it would throw the whole basis for current negotiations out the window.''

President Clinton has not pushed for further sanctions, nor has the UN Security Council. The international community seems satisfied to wait out the results of the current measures - an arms and oil embargo coupled with targeted sanctions against the military, including withdrawing visas and freezing assets.

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