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Cablegate: A More Effective Parliament Is Sign of Democratic

VZCZCXRO0782
OO RUEHQU
DE RUEHPU #0881/01 2881149
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 151149Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY PORT AU PRINCE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0453
INFO RUEHZH/HAITI COLLECTIVE
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 2396
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 0434
RUEHSA/AMEMBASSY PRETORIA 2109
RUEHMT/AMCONSUL MONTREAL 0414
RUEHQU/AMCONSUL QUEBEC 1473
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RUCOWCV/CCGDSEVEN MIAMI FL
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM J2 MIAMI FL

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PORT AU PRINCE 000881

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CAR, DRL, S/CRS,
INL FOR KEVIN BROWN, HEATHER WILD AND MEAGAN MCBRIDE
INR/IAA
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD
STATE PASS AID FOR LAC/CAR

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR EAID HA
SUBJECT: A MORE EFFECTIVE PARLIAMENT IS SIGN OF DEMOCRATIC
MATURITY

PORT AU PR 00000881 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: A historically discredited legislature
greatly improved its performance in the current
parliamentary session by passing a record number of laws.
For the first time in many years, many parliamentarians are
considering presenting their candidacies for a second
term. The professionalization of Parliament comes against
the backdrop of emerging populism and increasing influence
over the legislature. Popular confidence in Parliament has
improved in 2009 as the legislative has shown signs of
seriousness and maturity. END SUMMARY.

WHERE IS MY IMMUNITY?
---------------------

2. (SBU) The Haitian Parliament, especially the lower
Chamber, has historically been seen as incompetent and
inefficient. The primary motivation for Parliamentarians
to run for office was to receive immunity, use government
resources for monetary gains (sometimes in illicit
activities) and for political self-aggrandizement. Few
elected officials seemed concerned with the work of
parliament, and even fewer contemplated running for a
second-term (about five percent are usually re-elected for
a second term). Needless to say, Parliament's output
remained dismal and the image it projected was even worse.
Based on a Greenberg survey in June 2008, 74 percent of
Haitian adults evaluated parliament negatively.

EXPERIENCE REQUIRED
-------------------

3. (SBU) For the first time in recent history, a majority
of the Lower Chamber is considering seeking re-election,
and international observers expect up to 30 percent of the
current Parliament will return following the next
parliamentary elections (the law requires elections in
November, but they will almost certainly be postponed to
early 2010). Edgar Leblanc, head of the opposition party
OPL, told PolCouns that 90 percent of deputies are likely
to present their candidacies at the next election.

4. (SBU) The significance of having a critical number of
deputies win a second term lies in the institutional
knowledge that is kept and the mentorship and continuity
afforded to the new comers. Rather than having to
re-establish procedures and get new members to actually
show up to work (as unusual as it may sound), Parliament
may for once continue to carry on its work fairly smoothly
after elections are over.

(LAWS VOTED) SQUARED
--------------------

5. (SBU) This is especially important given two important
trends. First, a distinct sense of professionalism has
taken root in Parliamentary work, thanks to attitudes of
select members of Parliament and the leadership of the
Presidents of the Chambers, Deputy Levaillant Louis-Jeune
and Senator Kely Bastien. Louis-Jeune, for example, pushed
for the impartial and competitive selection of a Secretary
General at the Lower Chamber, in stark contradiction to the
previous culture of political appointments. He is also
encouraging the creation of an independent parliamentary
civil service and is committed to having internal
procedures applied consistently. A number of
parliamentarians have aligned themselves with president
Louis-Jeune's agenda for professionalizing the
institution. Town hall meetings, during which
parliamentarians respond to questions from their
constituents, have become not only a campaigning tool, but
also one by which parliamentarians are detaching themselves
from their roles as local development agents and focusing
on a national agenda by communicating Parliament's role to
the population.

6. (SBU) Parliament has also exponentially increased its
productivity during this legislature. In the first two and
half years, Parliament passed 16 laws, compared to 14 laws
passed solely in the past year. Several key initiatives
were passed, including those on the minimum wage,
constitutional amendments and the budget. The budget was
approved on time before the beginning of the new fiscal
year, a first and a surprise to many even inside
government. At least in part as a result of Parliament's
unusual productivity, President Preval convoked the
Parliament to an extra-ordinary session on September 29th,
putting 28 items on the agenda. By law, Parliament can
continue working on these items until completion or until a
new legislature is voted in.

NOT SO FAST
-----------

7. (SBU) However as the media and observers pay more
attention to the legislative, parliamentarians are tempted
to promote increasingly relevant populist proposals as
launching pads for creating a national image for themselves
(whether for future senatorial or presidential campaigns).
Deputy Steven Benoit garnered popularity when he proposed a
minimum wage law that did not take economic reality into
account but that appealed to the unemployed and underpaid
masses. Senator Rudy Heriveaux, seemingly in the
footsteps of Benoit, has proposed a law capping both
commercial and residential rent at an unprofitable rate.
Both proposals have drawn negative feedback from foreign
investors and the private sector alike, but have served
their proponents' populist political image well.

8. (SBU) COMMENT: The increased productivity and the
interest in returning on second terms are signs of
democratic maturity. They contribute to legitimizing an
institution long deemed irrelevant by the population and
the political class. The same Greenberg survey mentioned
above noted an improved perception of Parliament's
performance between June 2008 and June 2009. Nonetheless,
much remains to be done, given that the changes described
above are characteristic of a core group only, and the
attitudes prevalent in the majority in Parliament remain
counter-productive. The next elections will determine to
what extent this positive trend in Haiti's institutional
development continues. With November elections almost
certainly delayed, the credibility Parliament is slowly
building with voters may be eroded.
LINDWALL

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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