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Haiti's Road to Recovery

Attracting business could be Haiti’s way forward


Fri Feb 19 2010


As humanitarian efforts gradually wind down, thoughts are now turning to how Haiti can recover after the devastating earthquake that hit the nation last month.

The immediate challenge is to find shelter for the estimated one million survivors. But long-term challenges, experts say, will revolve around engaging the workforce, attracting foreign investment and fostering an entrepreneurial spirit.

 “Haiti can move forward by developing the infrastructure. The problem is very simple: you have a good number of the population that is unemployed yet you need to build this infrastructure, to match them up,” suggests Jackson Rockingster, president of the Haitian American Business Network Chamber of Commerce.

A UN initiative has already swung into action paying workers under $5 for a six-hour shift, more than the minimum wage, and creating jobs for 31,000 people. Workers can only sign up for a few weeks to spread the work around, reported the BBC.  

Aid pouring into Port-au-Prince and areas devastated by the earthquake is necessary to reach those most affected but some want to see this taken a step further.

“Aid should be spread over time and over the entire nation. The latter is to allow an easy move toward decentralization,” says Dr Evelyn Cartright, director of Africana Studies at Barry University in Miami.

In order to boost regional and national development, Haiti will need to fix its economy and improve political stability say commentators, a task easier said than done. 

The majority of Haitians are dependent on the agriculture sector, and the country is also reliant on imported goods from the likes of America and the Dominican Republic-Haiti imports over $2 billion worth of goods compared to exporting only $524 million worth’s

Remittances from a Diaspora mainly based in North America provide another source of income for Haiti where 54 per cent of its citizens live in abject poverty. Add to the mix deforestation, internal social divisions and corrupt administrations, it’s no wonder that Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. 

Although the odds are stacked against Haiti, hope lies in fostering an entrepreneurial spirit and implementing basic Capitalist structures, says Rockingster.

“People have to be taught and given the opportunity to earn a living wage.  Entrepreneurs have to be given an opportunity to provide a service that benefits the populace. You make money, the people have jobs and purchase the things that they need,” says Rockingster.

A recent trade agreement with America, which allows duty free access to the US for clothes manufactured in Haiti, could kick-start Haiti’s garment industry, says Ben Linkow, assistant professor of Economics at Miami University of Ohio

The combination of duty free access, proximity, and cheap labor means that there is certainly potential for Haiti to develop a viable garment sector that could be a significant source of employment.”

Draconian laws, a low-skilled workforce and other factors make the process for starting a business extremely challenging.

“Applying for an authorization to incorporate a business might become more onerous as the information required to ascertain your identity was destroyed during the quake and the public officers might capitalize on the situation and demand more than the legal amount to process your application,” says Thierry Joseph, a Haitian-born MBA from Florida International University.

Before investors can be attracted, Haiti has to instill confidence among domestic and international investors that the country offers a viable business investment, add Linkow and Thierry.

Recent debt cancellation by the G7 and multilateral lenders, totaling some $1.2 billion, means that money earmarked for interest payments can be directed to “developing the country’s human capital and physical infrastructure,” says Joseph.

Another important link in the reconstruction chain includes mobilizing the highly-skilled Diaspora.

“Diaspora are natural’s in our interest to see an economically thriving Haiti...we have a lot of education that is needed...and those skills can be used and brought back,” says Rockingster.

As long as Haiti can overcome its obstacles, this nation can use the earthquake as a turning point and return dignity to a “resilient” people.