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Date: Mon, 6 Jul 98 13:58:57 CDT
From: Haiti Progres <haiticom@blythe.org>
Organization: Haiti Progres
Subject: This Week in Haiti 16:15 7/1/98
Article: 38461
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.1167.19980707061528@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Government employees plan resistance to voluntary termination

Haiti Progres, This Week in Haiti,
Vol. 16, no. 15, 1-7 July 1998

Some 8,000 Haitian state workers may soon be out of a job if the government of President Rene Preval gets its way. Washington, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have all promised to loan the Haitian government millions of dollars on the condition that it layoff public-sector workers as well as sell off state enterprises and lower tariff walls to imports.

But most Haitians are steadfastly opposed to such moves, and the project to slash state payrolls is meeting the same stiff resistance as have other neo-liberal austerity drives.

They are just scooping people out of state offices so that they can continue servicing the debt, declared Deputy Joseph Jasmin of the Parliament's Anti-Neoliberal Block. For months, popular organizations and like-minded legislators have protested that Haiti is having to eliminate state services to pay back some $800 million in debt rung up and then largely embezzled by the Duvalier dictatorship and subsequent military regimes. The IMF has decreed that paying interest on this misappropriated debt is the number-one priority of the Haitian government, not providing services to the population.

Everybody knows that the Haitian public administration would need three times more people if it were going to give adequate services, which it doesn't give now, Jasmin said. We are by no means encouraging mediocrity or incompetence. On the contrary, a clean-up should be done, but they should start by going after the corrupt and unproductive employees who just want a sinecure.

Indeed, the Haitian state apparatus, which is by far the country's largest employer, is riddled with inept appointees who obtained and hold on to their posts through nepotism, political deals, or, sometimes, threats of violence. Many are hold-overs from the Duvalier years.

Consequently, right-wing currents, fearing the loss of strategic state foot-holds, have tried to piggy back on the rejectionist front developing among the Haitian people. They are trying to create a crisis so that they can fire anybody in the public administration who is not of their political tendency, warned arch-reactionary former deputy Reynold Georges, before he lapsed into a tirade. It is a trap of the Lavalas people, that is their specialty, to lie, steal, and destroy, he frothed.

The original Lavalas government of February to September 1991, which was cut short by a bloody coup d'etat, did start efforts to weed out corruption and cronyism in state offices, but the present government, which has long since forsaken the Lavalas mantle, intends nothing of the sort.

These are just measures dictated by the IMF which do not correspond to our reality or needs, said Deputy Jasmin.

Under the current neoliberal initiative, the Preval government has distributed to all state workers a form, which, if they sign, provides their consent to early retirement or voluntary termination. The Finance Ministry also promises to provide to terminated state employees a bonus and enrollment in a re- insertion agency which would provide 24 months of technical training. Under the agency's 10-point plan, terminated employees would learn how to go into business for themselves, how to formulate and set up a business plan, deal with legal, administrative, and financial details, or draw up a market analysis to decide into what sector to make their move. Of course, such considerations appear more like a cruel joke in the depressed and capital-and-loan-starved Haitian economy.

This voluntary termination is really a forced termination, said Deputy Jasmin. The little money which they pretend they are going to give to people as a departure reward, if it ever gets into their hands, will probably be spent after only two or three months. And as for the agency to convert people into a private sector, this will never really be done because there has been no planning or study. This whole thing is improvised.

State employee unions are urging their members not to sign the forms, particularly in the education sector, where the majority of cuts would take place. We formally forbid teachers to sign any form of resignation, declared Jean Hugues Maurice, the secretary general of Teachers Association of Petit Goave. He said that the law compelling state employees to sign the forms was inapplicable, because the 1987 Constitution clearly states in Article 159 that the prime minister has to implement laws in the country and the country has had no prime minister since June 9, 1997, when former Prime Minister Rosny Smarth resigned.

It is a line of reasoning which has found growing support not just among those targeted for layoffs, but also among lawmakers such as Deputy Gabriel Fortune. We now have a de facto government, he declared. It is unacceptable that the country pass more days without a prime minister contrary to the will of the Constitution; it is unacceptable that a de facto government continue to spend public funds without the slightest control over it; it is unacceptable that the parliamentarians of all political persuasions continue to condone the aberrant conduct of an illegitimate, unconstitutional and, above all, irresponsible government.

Even the Organization of People in Struggle (OPL), which subscribes wholeheartedly to structural adjustment and the call for mass layoffs, has condemned the move as illegal, if only to further their own unrelenting drive to recapture the premier's post. It is not possible for a de facto government or a government which doesn't even really exist to implement laws, said OPL Deputy Harry Marsant.

Although the Haitian masses are currently neutralized by World Cup telecasts, when they emerge from their trance after the final match on July 12, there could be hell to pay. The state employee layoffs, if they happen, will impact more directly on the Haitian people, being less abstract and more immediate, than previous neoliberal measures like the sale of state assets or the lowering of tariff barriers.

The impact would surely spark a fierce backlash against the politicians which once condemned structural adjustment. Here is a government with ministers from the Lavalas Family [FL], the Open the Gate Party [PLB], the Movement for the Organization of the Country [MOP], and other independent ministers, exclaimed Andre Lafontant Joseph of the National Confederation of Educators of Haiti (CNEH), referring to the turn-coats that once championed the diametrically-opposed Lavalas program of 1990. How can this government be the one applying the harshest measures of structural adjustment? he asked.

The irony was not lost on former U.S.-pet presidential candidate and neoliberal champion Marc Bazin. Referring to the clique around Preval now pushing for the mass layoffs, Bazin complained how they used to swear at me, insult me, and cover me with slander because I said that it was necessary to make a policy of structural adjustment. But now, here is their government carrying out this policy, even though they don't master it or understand it. Bazin predicted that the Preval group would continue to face serious problems because it gave the people false promises and should instead clearly state the policy it is carrying out, who will pay for it, who will benefit from it, and what it will cost.

The Preval government would have to answer that it is Washington's neoliberal austerity policy, which will be paid for by the people, to benefit foreign investors and the Haitian bourgeoisie, and it will cost Haiti jobs, farmland, dignity, and independence.

Thankfully, the Haitian people's response has been and will surely continue to be NO!