Montreal, April 9, 2013 -- Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) has just completed a two month investigation of the state of the education system in Haiti. The investigation has revealed that the “Program for Universal Free and Obligatory Education” (Programme de scolarisation universelle gratuite et obligatoire -- PSUGO) has encountered major problems; including allegations of fraud, mismanagement, and corruption.
Michel Martelly made education one of the four top priorities of his mandate in his 2010-11 run for the presidency of Haiti. The two-round election was fraught with interference from foreign governments. Many political parties, most notably Fanmi Lavalas, were blocked from participating.
Upon assuming office in May 2011, President Martelly announced the creation of the National Fund for Education (Fonds national pour l’éducation--FNE). The FNE would fund PSUGO and guarantee classroom seats for 1.5 million Haitian children.
An education system in shambles
In 2009, approximately 50% of Haitians were illiterate. Half of school aged children were not in school. Haiti’s school system was then devastated by the earthquake of January 12, 2010.
According to Rea Dol, the director of the SOPUDEP School in Pétionville, a district of Port au Prince, “25 per cent of our schools were destroyed, 50 per cent were seriously damaged, and another 25 per cent are standing but staff and students won’t work in the buildings. Classes have resumed under tarps, but at least half of the students haven’t returned. Many died and others have been dispersed throughout the city in the tent cities, often far from their schools. It’s a very difficult time for education.”
Upon his assumption to office, Martelly proposed taxing all international phone calls in and out of Haiti at five cents per minute and all international money transfers at $1.50 per transfer. The goal was to raise 360 million dollars over five years. In Haiti, new taxes cannot be levied without the approval of Parliament. Martelly eventually pressured and cajoled a majority of deputies in the Legislature to accept the plan. But a majority of senators refused, saying they would not act as a rubber stamp. Among their concerns was that the taxes disproportionately affect the poor who rely on family members in the Haitian Diaspora to help support their families via money transfers.
So collection of the levies proceeded without the required constitutional approval. Almost two years after the FNE was unilaterally implemented, it seems that the education plan has failed to achieve any significant change.
According to Haiti’s Ministry of Education (MENFP), the PSUGO program aims to pay all school fees for the first and second cycles of schooling, roughly equivalent to primary school. The annual amounts allocated are 250 gourdes, about 6 Canadian dollars, for each public school student and 3,600 gourdes (about CAN$90) for those at private school. In Haiti a little over 80% of schools are private.
A recent article by Francklyn B. Geffrard, published by the weekly newspaper Haiti Liberté, reveals a huge discrepancy between the amount of money the government claims to have raised and the much larger amount that the taxation formula would indicate has been raised.
Geffrard’s findings echo criticisms from other writers and observers. As far back as 2011, Digicel mobile phone company CEO Denis O'Brien requested an audit of the fund when 26 million dollars went unaccounted only six months after the FNE was created.
On December 10, 2012, at a meeting in Miami with some members of the Haitian community, Martelly announced that 16 million dollars had been collected. Geffrard shows that by the Martelly regime’s own formula, the figure ought to have been several times higher. And that does not include the money collected from levies on money transfers.
While an exact total of money collected from phone taxes is unavailable, the numbers presented by Martelly’s representatives have fluctuated widely. Geffrard concludes, “Nobody seems to know exactly how much money has been collected on behalf of this organization by the Central Bank and CONATEL (National Telecommunications Council).” The disparity has reached tens of millions of dollars and continues to climb.
In early March 2013, Haiti’s central bank finally announced that 100 million dollars had been collected for the FNE.
The stated number of school aged children claimed to be supported by PSUGO varies, depending on who the number is coming from. The government has promoted claimed successes through publicity campaigns consisting of radio and television ads, giant posters, tweets, Facebook postings and articles in state-owned newspapers. The publicity states that at least 1,021,144 children are now in school thanks to the president’s policies. HGW’s investigation was unable to confirm the number.
In a document filed by the government with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), reports Haiti Grassroots Watch, the figure was only 165,000.
Lamothe & Global Voice telecom
Laurent Lamothe, Haiti’s current prime minister, is also a co-founder of international telecom company, Global Voice Group. The company has developed quasi-taxation levy systems for foreign governments and has reportedly negotiated agreements that see it receiving up to 50% of the value of all levies collected in such schemes.
Lamothe first worked his company into the Haitian economy through a “Sweet Mickey” telephone calling card marketing campaign in 2002. Martelly was then a popular konpa singer who went by that name. Calling cards are frequently used by Haitians to maintain contact with family members around the world. The branded calling cards became very popular in Haiti.
Some PSUGO funding has found its way to Haitian schools. HGW interviewed staff from over twenty schools in and around Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The investigation has shown that while some schools have received funds to pay for school entrance fees, funding for school supplies, infrastructure and staff has yet to appear.
In an interview with HGW, the director of a public school in Darbonne explained that “The only benefit that the students get is that they don’t pay anything. Apart from that, there’s nothing. The students come to school, but they don’t have the books that were promised so that they can follow courses.”
As of late November 2012, only one of the 20 schools reported having been paid its per-student subsidy for the current school year. Sixteen out of 20 said the school still had not received the subsidies for the previous school year. The National Confederation of Haitian Teachers (Confédération nationale des éducateurs et éducatrices haïtiens), one of the country’s national teachers’ unions, confirmed the claim.
The 2012 report by Michel Forst, the UN Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Haiti, concurs with the observations of the school directors interviewed by HGW. His report estimates that 60 per cent of schools are housed in unsuitable premises (small churches or hangars) with up to 75 students per class and no teaching equipment. (Forst recently submitted a surprise resignation, one year before his six-year term was to end.)
HGW’s investigation also revealed a stunning lack of supervision of schools on the part of the MENFP. Some schools are unclear over whether they are even participating. Most of the schools the investigation looked into had never received a visit from a government education inspector.
The mismanagement of funds and lack of supervision has facilitated several instances of fraud. Rosny Desroches, a former Education Minister, told HGW that a recent study of PSUGO concluded that the program had created a number of phantom schools. “In our study, we discovered that a third or a quarter of the schools being paid by the government hadn’t even been officially approved.”
A free public education system?
Article 32 of Haiti's constitution says: "the state guarantees the right to education" and "education is the responsibility of the state and its territorial divisions. They must make schooling available to all, free of charge, and assure that public and private sector teachers are properly trained."
Despite Martelly and Lamothe's claims to the contrary, it is clear the implementation of the education plan has been disorganized and dysfunctional. School enrolment has increased but schools have not received the necessary funds to meet their needs.
Martelly has publicly denounced school directors who have spoken out about the education plan’s failings.
The failings underlie two fundamental problems with the Martelly government. First, PSUGO pays private schools six times the amount paid to public schools. This formula makes building a viable public school system virtually impossible.
In an interview with HGW, Edith Délourdes Delouis, a teacher and General Secretary for the National Confederation of Haitian Teachers explained: "There is the category for the rich people... one for the poor, one for those who are extremely poor... This means that children, citizens, do not meet one another, when in fact a school should be a place where all levels of society mix."
Second, the failure to obtain constitutional approval for the education levies mirrors contempt for democracy that has characterized the Martelly government. Nearly three quarters of Haitians did not vote in the 2010/11 presidential election.
According to Roger Annis, a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network, "Martelly has taken many unilateral executive actions since coming to power, including the ousting nationwide of municipal government representatives whom he replaced with his own appointees."
Haiti’s former dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, has been able to freely roam in Haiti in defiance of a court order that placed him under house arrest shortly following his return to the country from exile in early 2011. Late last year, the government provided Duvalier with a diplomatic passport and Martelly has mused that the former tyrant should be granted amnesty for his past crimes.
Concern about the drift to authoritarian government in Haiti is being voiced by growing numbers of observers, including those otherwise inclined to favor Martelly's "open for business" verbal pronouncements.
In an interview with HGW, Professor Haram Joseph, the director of a school in Darbonne, described what is needed to meet the education needs of the Haiti's poor majority. "We have to invest billions of gourdes in education. And in five years, we need to see a result. In my opinion, if the government continues the way it has started, we will have a lot of school directors with full pockets, but children who don't know anything."
Travis Ross is a teacher in the public school system in Montreal.