The education plan of President Martelly under fire

Below are the translations of two articles that have appeared recently in Haiti Liberté newsweekly on the subject of the National Education Fund of President Martelly. Apologies for not being able to translate several Haitian proverbs that are contained in the text.

The National Fund for Education in the spotlight

By Isabelle L. Butterfly, Haiti Liberté, edition of 18 to 24 January 2012 Original French here

On June 15, 2011, a month after taking office, President Michel Joseph Martelly authorized the illegal taking of 1.5 cents on each dollar of money transfer and 0.5 cents on international phone calls to be directed towards a National Education Fund (FNE). No legislation for approval by Parliament was presented. The Haitian Constitution on this is clear with respect to public finance, in Article 218, which states: "No tax in favor of the state can be established except by law." The question we must now ask is the following: Are these illegal levies on incoming and outgoing calls and money transfers for the benefit of the State or of the presidential family in power?

Approximately six (6) months later, doubts began to hover over the use of funds already collected and measured in the tens of millions of dollars. In an interview with the New York Times, the director of the mobile phone company Digicel, Denis O'Brien, has requested an audit of the fund, following relevant information suggesting that 26 million dollars were diverted from it. In a memo made public, the company Digicel announced that it had already paid 11.1 million dollars.*

For its part, the Director General of the National Telecommunications Council (CONATEL), Jean Marie Guillaume, responsible for the collection of these funds, said in a note that from June 16 to November 30, 2011 he has already collected from Digicel and Comcel an amount of US$4,897,558.26, or 336,159,069.13 gourdes. This makes a total of 13,116,606.40 U.S. dollars, calculated using the reference rate of 40.90 gourdes for one dollar (Bank of the Republic of Haiti (BRH)).

On September 30, 2011, then Minister of Education, Gaston Georges Cherry, indicated that the fund had already raised 28 million USD and President Michel Martelly had confirmed that in one of its statements, at the time of his announcement, even before the ratification of his prime minister, that George Birch is "my Minister of Education." (Under the Haitian Constitution, it is the job of the prime minister, not the president, to form the government.--ed)

The Governor of the National Bank of Haiti , Charles Castel, responded in saying that he only has about 2 million dollars in the account of FNE. So who is telling the truth? Where is the money collected for the so-called free education program? When will the light be shone on illegal withdrawals of funds from the meagre resources of hard working Haitians and those in the Diaspora? When do we cease to feel Chodyè a monte sou non Timoun, pou l desann sou non granmanjè yo nan Leta aloufa sa a.

While we wait for light to be shone on the National Fund for Education, the President tried to offer some vague explanations on the management of this fund. He said that to date he does not know the exact amount of funds available. And more, he said that the money is managed by CONATEL, so he referred journalists asking him for information to CONATEL. CONATEL, for its part, stated that only the revenues generated from the two largest operators (Digicel and COMCEL) are in its account and these will be transferred to the Treasury once the authorities there request them.

In the absence of a legal framework, Parliament has no control over the fund. Nearly four months after the opening of classes, no amount has been paid to the school officials involved in the program said to be "free education". In the beginning, they were promised transfers of funds as of the beginning of November 2011. So far, the leaders of these schools continue to rely, "ze nan Vant poul" while every information suggests suggest unauthorized removal of the money in the National Education Fund.

* Note:

The New York Times on January 6, 2012 reports:

Mr. O'Brien said that despite opposition from his senior management, who knew the charges would be unpopular with customers, he regarded them as an innovative means of raising needed revenue and a promising sign of government resolve.

Two months later (November 2011), word broke that $26 million in the new National Fund for Education was missing. "I've spoken with President Martelly about this, and there will be an audit, Mr. O'Brien said. "I will make it my business that it will be audited, one way or the other."


 

Lourdes Edith Joseph , Secretary General of the National Confederation of Educators in Haiti (CNEH), speaks

By Jackson Rateau, Haiti Liberté, January 11, 2012, page 3, http://www.haiti-liberte.com.
Original French here 

The following is the text of an interview by Lourdes Edith Joseph with a journalist on Radio Kiskeya:

This election propaganda talking about quality education and free schooling that is promoted by President Martelly is not new, it’s been around since 2001.

Yes, every year since 2001 in the month of April there is a world day of action under the theme, ‘Education for All.’ We in the CNEH have always requested the State to build many more schools. For it is unacceptable that that there is so much inequality in this country, so many nameless children who are of school age but not in school. We are aware of the importance of education in developing countries.

In the framework of the free school program of this government, we in the CNEH have since last September warned the officials responsible, saying, wake up!. For free education to become a reality, it will require a lot of conditions. Good will is not enough, you also need skills.

When we saw the postponement of the beginning of classes until October 2011 (academic year 2011-2012), we thought that the Haitian state was already planning the program according to its means and would make its due contribution, but that was false. We left out of our calculations the matter of public schools because they were already free in the full sense of the word, excepting the modest , if not symbolic, fees charged to parents.

We thought the free education program of President Martelly would mean more schools and classrooms. That’s why we were talking of planning. Scientifically, if you want to improve the delivery of education, this inevitably means increasing the numbers of schools, classrooms and teachers.

The President speaks of 903,000 children to benefit from his program but we have yet to confirm that number. We are investigating but we are not yet able to verify it. The children in those public schools that are not entirely free are included in the number trumpeted by the President. There is also talk of the children in private schools whose school fees are paid on a contractual basis (presumably meaning lasting funding arrangements--editor). But still there is this figure of 903 000. There is no statistical detail of the number of children who are in subsidized private, public and community schools. We have heard spoken of the program on the radio, but concretely, we don’t know more than that.

The program will give US$90 per child in the first year in a public school. This money should be used for other children in the institution. It was actually on that basis that we eliminated school fees (in anticipation of the new Fund beginning to flow--editor)...

There are teachers who until now have not received their salaries for this school year because principals are waiting for the funds that are due from the program. It was a quite dilemma for them to get through the first quarter of the school year... Thus, the teacher who worked so hard spent the holiday season without a penny. Morally, psychologically, he or she is not ready to start work for the new year.

At the same time, officials expect to see quality schools at every turn. How can we speak of quality school when a teacher is not able to receive his/her salary? It's total confusion. School administrators are under pressure from all sides. Parents hear that their children's schooling is being paid by the state, but it’s not true. Having no money for the printing of report cards, students return to class after the holidays without their results, it's a dilemma. Now there are major conflicts between parents and school officials. There are also conflicts between the directors of private schools and teachers because they are not able to pay salaries.

The state officials--authors of all this confusion, all these conflicts, all of these dilemmas-- we are asking them to provide solutions immediately. Free education, yes, but in a timely and efficient manner.

We even asked, unsuccessfully of course, that a list of those schools that have benefited from this program for 903 000 children be published. We take the opportunity right here of this microphone broadcasting to the public to ask this…

The president’s office has told parents not to pay school fees, it has not advanced a penny of funding since October 2011, and now the directors of public schools are facing enormous difficulties. Concerning teaching materials, schools are without chalk, brushes, books, brooms, disinfectants, geometrical instruments, and so on. Canteens are not functional ...