PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (defend.ht) – Two citizens and lawyers rebuffed a request for an apology from Digicel and instead retaliated by filing an injunction against the telecommunications giant for it to disclose information on the circumstances and contracts that led to the sending of mass text messages to its clients in the early morning hours of May 14, 2013.
Digicel, on Thursday June 13, requested a public apology from Citizens and Lawyers, Newton Louis Saint Juste and André Michel by sending a court order for them to submit their apology within 24 hours of the notice.
The two lawyers had accused the telecommunications giant of being part of a vast money laundering, drug trafficking and kidnapping operations with the Haitian government, which helped fund the May 14, 2013 two year anniversary event of the President of the Republic.
Michel and Saint Juste retaliated by declaring a writ, Friday, June 14, 2013, to the Executive Director of Digicel in Haiti, Damian Blackburn, to make an invitation to the Tribunal of the jurisdiction. They requested that in a PERIOD OF ONE (1) DAY, Digicel is to communicate to the Central Financial Intelligent Unit (UCREF) the identity of the persons who signed the contract for messages to be sent to customers of Digicel, where no legal standing was in place, and invite them to visit the streets on May 14, 2013 to celebrate two years of “Tet Kale” in power. The injunction also requires that Digicel disclose the amount of the contract and other terms.
After this time, the lawyers request that the facts be at the behest of the two lawyer plaintiffs to be brought to the Prosecutor and with bodies involved in the fight against money laundering and organized crime.
The complaint reads:
That the applicants are surprised that Digicel would assume the right to send messages to citizens, called clients, with which it maintains no legal link from mafia contracts with unknown amounts for which origin is unknown.
That the applicants remind you that the Minister of Economy and Finance, Trade and Industry, Wilson Laleau said to the Honorable Members, that the festivities of May 14, 2013 to commemorate the second anniversary of Tet Kale in power, which Digicel is associated, were funded by supporters of President Martelly, whose names and addresses are unknown.
It is of dubious origin mobilized funds contrary to the law of 21 February 2001 on laundering of assets derived from illicit drug trafficking and other serious offenses.
“I left because of corruption in the palace, and infrastructure sabotage,” Richard Morse said of his reasons for leaving the Martelly administration. “If you are creating disasters, it can only be for aid money,” said Morse who says he saw evidence of workers filling drainage canals before the rainy season, which resulted in flooding.
It was in an interview with The Star columnist Catherine Porter, that the cousin and adviser for President Michel Martelly, even since the campaign, said that corruption is rampant at the National Palace. Morse says “fake cheques – people getting paid who no longer worked there,” were issued and when he would alert officials of these issues it seemed as if “rather than fight the corruption,” he said, “I feel like they have embraced it.”
When a major earthquake clobbered Haiti in January 2010, a shift in how international officials talked about solving the country’s ills was already under way. Starting with then-U.N. special envoy, Bill Clinton, the word “aid” had fallen from use, in favor of the new buzzword in international development: “investment.” The term was sexier, more optimistic, and promised something not only for recipients but also givers with diminishing economic and political confidence: a return.
After the catastrophe, investment fever was everywhere, expressing itself in hundreds of millions of dollars poured into efforts to scale up Haiti’s moribund export sector, particularly in low-wage textile factories, tourism, and niche-crop agriculture, such as mangoes. Another directly related trend was the investment of money and political capital in a new president, Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, a former pop musician whose core governing principle — expressed, in English, at his inaugural address — was to create “a new Haiti open for business, now.” Anything that threatened those investments, and the further investments they were meant to attract, could expect a cold reception.
That’s the greeting that awaited Michel Forst, the visiting U.N. independent expert on human rights in Haiti, when he returned to Port-au-Prince last November. His ensuing report was an ice bath in reply. Forst alleged police torture and pervasive judicial corruption, deteriorating security, crackdowns on press freedom, and a general inadequacy on the part of Haiti’s leaders — including Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe — to uphold the rule of law. He invoked the recent cases of Serge Démosthène, a groundskeeper allegedly tortured to death by police trying to elicit a confession in the killing of a major Haitian banker; and Calixte Valentin, a Martelly adviser arrested on murder charges but freed months later by a “judge believed to have been appointed solely for the purpose.” Forst even took a swipe at the United Nations for failing to “throw light on the causes of the outbreak of the cholera epidemic” its peacekeepers are suspected to have caused. (Evidence suggests U.N. soldiers introduced the disease, previously unknown in Haiti, by contaminating a major river with their sewage. With more than 8,000 dead, the U.N. has refused to apologize, and recently rejected a petition for redress.) “I cannot hide from you my concern and my disappointment in the face of how the situation has developed in the fields of the state of law and human rights,” Forst explained, as he presented his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva last month.
The report was Forst’s last as the U.N.’s expert on human rights in Haiti. Upon finishing his presentation, the French official announced that despite being eligible for an additional, sixth year on his term, he was resigning immediately “for personal reasons.” As if to underscore the improbability of that explanation, the council’s president, Remigiusz Henczel, thanked Forst for his work, “Regardless of the reasons for your resignation.”
To Haitians who had been following the story, it seemed clear that Forst hadn’t jumped on his own. “Michel Forst is very attached … to the rule of law and fight against impunity while we have a government that acts arbitrarily and encourages impunity and corruption. ” Haitian human-rights campaigner Pierre Espérance told the newspaper Haiti Progrès.
Private interviews with officials familiar with Forst’s departure, granted on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, confirmed this view: that a breakdown in relations with President Martelly, exacerbated by impatience inside a U.S. State Department invested in the Haitian administration’s credibility, resulted in his dismissal. At first, those sources said, the Caribbean nation‘s president simply wanted the human-rights council to deny the pro-forma yearly renewal of the independent expert’s mandate entirely. Eventually, pressured by allies who wanted to see the position maintained, Martelly relented — under the condition that someone other than Forst take over the position. “They felt Forst never really helped them at all. He’d just come pontificate,” one diplomat explained.
Forst’s critics blasted him for arrogance. But the departing official — who remains the voluntary chairman of the committee coordinating all U.N. special rapporteurs worldwide, and whose day job is secretary-general of the French government’s national human-rights council — wasn’t finished. In a parting op-ed reprinted in Haitian newspapers and made available to foreign journalists, he poked his opponents where it hurt, rejecting the notion that Martelly’s Haiti is “open for business” at all. Noting that economic development is linked to the rule of law and stability to human rights, he hoped for a Haiti where “human rights proclamations will finally become real.” (In late 2012, Forst had been even more blunt, telling a press conference: “Haiti is not ready at this time for the return of large companies.”)
The irony is that many of the same concerns Forst expressed are shared by many in the governments and organizations whose money and influence hold sway over Haiti’s leaders — including the United States — and even by Martelly himself. Forst praised many of the government’s efforts, including the dismissal of 79 police officers in November 2012, including chief inspectors, found guilty of crimes ranging from rape and drug trafficking to falsifying credentials. Aware of international concerns, Haiti’s president and prime minister — who both embarked in the middle of l’affaire Forst on investment — seeking tours of the Caribbean and West Africa — have affirmed they are in a “war against corruption.” But Forst seems to have broken an unwritten rule against criticizing the government’s efforts in public.
Haiti has long suffered from an often-unfairly negative image abroad. Its current government knows that in order to attract serious investment, that image has to change, and has been aggressive about pushing back against negative publicity — no matter the source. Regardless of whether any specific initiatives were threatened by Forst’s condemnations, it seems clear that his tone was no longer welcome. (The Haitian government did not respond to a request for public comment.)
Specifics may become clearer over time. Forst’s departure recalls the late-2010 dismissal of another outspoken diplomat — Organization of American States permanent representative Ricardo Seitenfus, who saw his contract expire after he criticized the heavy hand of the international community, particularly U.N. peacekeepers, in Haiti. In retrospect it seems clearer that Seitenfus was causing problems by airing public grievances at a moment when the OAS and other major players were embroiled in a debate over how and whether to intervene in a shambolic postquake presidential election. Following his dismissal, the OAS presented a highly controversial report alleging fraud in Haiti’s vote count that would have benefited the then-ruling party of President René Préval. That report, backed strongly by the Obama administration, upended the electoral tally, and paved Martelly’s path to the presidency.
Then, as now, it’s not that the international community was reticent to make its opinions felt in Haiti — even those far more condemnatory than Forst’s ultimately toothless reports. But when investments are on the line, it’s usually advantageous to keep embarrassing facts far from view. As one Western diplomat told me, “We find it’s better to beat them up in private than in public.”
22/04/2013 – Jean-Claude Duvalier Rule of Law and Reason of State?
23/04/2013 – Daily Life in Haiti for the Poor
24/04/2013- A look at Digicel and the Moral Compass of Denis O’Brien
O’Brian and Digicel Never far from Controversy – Haiti, Digicel National Fund for Education smells fishy
MIAMI, USA (defend.ht) – President Michel Martelly told the Haitian Diaspora community in Miami that the National Fund for Education, established in May 2011, had accumulated $16 million [US] and not a penny of it had been touched, although in January of 2012, Digicel CEO Denis O’Brien said the fund had collected $20 million [US], and in October 2011, the then-Minister of Education said the fund had $28 million [US].
The Miami Herald reported about Michel Martelly’s visit to Miami Monday December 10 and made this citing:
Martelly said $16 million has been raised since the tax was introduced in May 2011, and “we haven’t touched one penny of it.”
But on January 26, 2012, Digicel CEO Denis O’Brien was asked at his radio station NewsTalk about the National Fund for Education. O’Brien said:
“… just before the inauguration of President Martelly he brought the mobile phone operators together and said we want to bring a new tax on in-bound calls so that American people ringing-in or European people ringing-in Haiti there will be a 5 cents tax collected by the operators in Haiti and we agreed immediately.”
“This money now is in the Central Bank and it’s part of the money being used to send children back to school for the first time… it’s raised probably now at this stage, about $20 million.”
Take note, that Denis O’Brien also said at this interview in January that the tax had initially slowed down the volume of calls but now the volume of calls were back to where they were before the tax.
Two weeks before this interview, Digicel Haiti sent out a press note on the FNE stating that its contribution to the fund as of the end of December 2011 was $13 million [US]. Other mobile carriers at the time also made contributions and money was also being collected on money transfers for the FNE, the other contributions totaled about $10 million [US] in January 2012.
Further raising questions was an October 2011 declaration by President Martelly’s Counselor on Education Gaston Mercier who reported that $28 million [US] had been collected.
Defend Haiti projects that the National Fund for Education should have $136 million [US]. DH is using the figure of $8.5 million [US] per month given at the launch of the FNE that was attended by Digicel Haiti, NatCom and Voila CEOs, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) representative Bashire Lamine, and International Monetary Fund representative in Haiti, Bouleau Loko.
The National Fund for Education still to this day is illegal in Haiti. It is an unlawful tax that was imparted without the authorization of Parliament.
The administration says none of the FNE money is being used to fund education, in fact, they say none has been used at all while continuing to promote it as the reason for the free education program in Haiti which, in fact, existed years before Martelly began running for office.
Digicel, which has a public perception that it financed the campaign of Michel Martelly, has a heavy hand in the National Fund for Education that is illegal in Haiti. It is believed by many that the fall of Digicel’s main competitor, Voila, was due to the implementation of the tax.
Denis O’Brien, Digicel’s CEO, has been the subject of multiple corruption and bribery scandals in other countries in the past.
01.27.2012: Michel Martelly and Denis O’Brien in cahoots.
Tomorrow: O’Brian and Digicel Never far from Controversy – A Gate for Whom
When Haitian President Michel Martelly visited the Dominican Republic last month, he was awarded the country’s highest honor for a foreign head of state, in large part for his efforts to lure reconstruction investment to Haiti after its catastrophic 2010 earthquake, which killed more than 200,000 people. In an interview in Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital, Martelly told TIME he’s “tried to change the perception [the world] has of Haiti as a place where nothing works,” and he listed his accomplishments so far, including $450 million in tourism investment. “Haiti is a land of opportunity,” the boisterous former carnival singer said. “Because Haiti is still a virgin.”
But a few days later, accusations of less than virgin behavior were swirling around both Martelly and one of the Dominican Republic’s most prominent politicos. In a March 31 national television broadcast, Dominican investigative reporter Nuria Piera alleged that Dominican Senator Félix Bautista — who owns or controls construction companies that in the past year have received Haitian government contracts worth more than $200 million — paid Martelly a total of almost $2.6 million during Martelly’s presidential campaign and after his landslide victory in Haiti’s 2011 election. The charge, based on spreadsheets of bank records Piera displayed on the air, was serious enough to prompt Dominican federal prosecutors to declare Bautista under investigation. Both the Senator and Martelly, whose office calls the allegation “a media lynching,” deny it.
(PHOTOS: After Quake, Carnival Returns to Haiti)
The Bautista controversy, fairly or not, is a jolting reminder of Martelly’s mixed record — and the governmental dysfunction still plaguing Haiti during its recovery — as he approaches his first year in office next month. The construction contracts in question, including one to rebuild Haiti’s legislative palace, were awarded in 2010. But late last year they became the targets of an audit by Martelly’s then Prime Minister, Garry Conille — who in February resigned largely because of pressure from members of Haiti’s parliament and Martelly’s government, who resented the scrutiny. The exit of Conille, a trusted technocrat whose appointment was backed by the U.S. and the international community, set back Haiti’s recovery efforts and highlighted the acrimonious relationship between Martelly and Parliament.
Piera’s corruption investigation suggests that Bautista, a leader of the ruling party of Dominican President Leonel Fernández, made the payments to Martelly, who was a heavy favorite to win Haiti’s March 2011 presidential vote, in order to keep winning contracts under the new Haitian government. In a joint declaration on Thursday, April 12, both Fernández’s and Martelly’s administrations called the journalist’s charges part of a vague “plot” by opponents to discredit Martelly and aid the Dominican opposition in that nation’s May presidential election.
(MORE: Quake-Ravaged Haiti Still Without a Government)
Either way, the controversy has forced Martelly off message yet again. When he met with TIME last month, he seemed to have put the Conille resignation flap behind him — his new Prime Minister choice, longtime friend and business associate Laurent Lamothe, has been approved by the Senate — and talked confidently of new investment ventures that he hoped were a signal that “Haiti is open for business.” He emphasized the positive reception he’d gotten at the World Economic Forum gathering in Davos, Switzerland, in January, when Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien, head of cellphone powerhouse Digicel, as well as the chairmen of Marriott, Heineken and Nestle, all spoke “about what an opportunity Haiti is,” he said.
Digicel and Marriott, in fact, have since joined forces to build a $45 million, 173-room hotel in Port-au-Prince, and last month an arm of the World Bank Group pledged a $10 million fund to spur small- and medium-size businesses. The “Invest in Haiti” forum that Martelly hosted last November drew a thousand capitalists from industries like tourism, infrastructure, agriculture and textiles and resulted in $200 million in contracts. The Haitian government itself is poised to spend up to $700 million, meaning the western hemisphere’s poorest nation could see at least $1.25 billion invested inside its borders in the coming months. “Once we invest that,” Martelly told TIME, “you attract other investors and companies and they feel like things are moving. You’ll have more of that coming.”
Tomorrow:- O’Brian and Digicel Never far from Controversy – Haiti, Digicel National Fund for Education smells fishy