Ambassador Sison’s Remarks 8th Annual NAAHP Conference Miami, FL November 22, 2019

Thank you, JP, for the kind introduction, and for serving as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the National Alliance for the Advancement of Haitian Professionals, NAAHP.

At the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, we recognize the key role the U.S. based diaspora plays in addressing global challenges.  Given your important role, and your influential voices, we want to make sure we are engaged with you to exchange ideas, and to scale up diaspora-focused or diaspora-driven partnerships and activities that are positioned to complement and support our Embassy’s economic development, institution-building, and governance-focused goals.

It is a pleasure to be with you today to explore the question of “Haiti Forward-Building Collectively on the Roadmap 2020-2040 Vision.”  I see so many folks here in the audience today who are connected to Haiti, who care deeply about Haiti, who want to help Haiti, and who want to see Haiti help itself.

As some of you know, my own connection with Haiti goes back several decades.  Haiti was my first assignment in the U.S. Foreign Service; I served at our Embassy in Port au Prince from 1982-1984 as a young officer.  Thirty-plus years later, I’m back in Port au Prince – and like you, I’m concerned by the current situation in Haiti, where gridlock has impacted the capital and the rest of the country.

We are seeing that Haitian families are unfortunately bearing the brunt of this…kids haven’t been able to go to school, and local entrepreneurs and their businesses are being impacted, which has jeopardized livelihoods.  So, we are all asking ourselves: How can we help Haiti move forward?  How can we accompany Haiti in its path forward?

As the U.S. government — as the U.S. Embassy — we support the Haitian people’s aspirations for a better life.  We recognize that Haiti’s citizens have said they want something better.

On the political and diplomatic front, the U.S. government has continued to call on Haiti’s political, economic, and civil-society leaders to form a government that is responsive to the needs of all Haitian citizens.

I want to highlight the U.S. commitment to working with the Haitian people to strengthen democratic, accountable institutions that can sustain Haiti’s stability and economic growth.  On the people-to-people front, we believe that we must start by partnering with ordinary Haitians, the men and women who seek to provide for themselves, their children, and their families, and who simply want lives of dignity.

You all are U.S. taxpayers.  You’ve come here to this conference from California, Boston, Miami, New York, and Atlanta.  Let me tell you what your U.S. taxpayer dollars are supporting in Haiti.  Let me start by sharing with you two November developments in terms of U.S. humanitarian support for Haiti.

On November 1st, in response to deteriorating food-security conditions, USAID Administrator Mark Green authorized the release of 2,000 metric tons of emergency food stocks for distribution via the UN World Food Program.  These emergency food stocks are now moving on the ground, in addition to $20 million dollars in USAID emergency food assistance currently being distributed throughout the country.  The U.S. is the major donor in Haiti to the World Food Program.

In many areas where there is food insecurity, after WFP sees to the immediate food needs for families, U.S. assistance follows up with multiple weeks of short-term employment programs.  This means that those same families can have one or more family members go to work to earn money, learn a skill on the job, and support a local improvement project.  In doing so, we aim to address the immediate need while also helping the families and communities return to providing for themselves.

However, while this food assistance will help alleviate some urgent needs, it will not — and cannot — address the root causes of the current economic and political challenges in Haiti.

You might have seen that from November 4th -11th, it was our honor to be able to offer no-cost medical services during the visit of the U.S. Naval Ship Comfort.  The USNS Comfort concluded its five-month “Enduring Promise” mission through Latin America and the Caribbean with a Port au Prince stop that provided medical treatment to over 3,500 men, women, and children.  The USNS Comfort offered a range of medical specialties, including general family medicine, surgical care, optometry, dentistry, and pediatric care.  This was the sixth time the USNS Comfort had visited Haiti in the past dozen years, and it really made me proud to see our U.S. Navy colleagues in action, as well as the great partnership displayed with Haiti’s Health Ministry, National Police, and Coast Guard.

We have many other ongoing programs designed to support and empower Haitian men and women, including youth.  These are the folks who can, and will, bring about meaningful change.  A key factor in helping Haiti move forward is addressing the obstacles that create frustrated and disenfranchised youth, the obstacles that prevent women from having equal opportunities, the obstacles that hold back budding entrepreneurs.  Meanwhile, we are focused at the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. Mission, on working to help make communities more resilient in the event of natural disaster.  We also want to help lift up Haiti’s people through education, livelihoods creation, and alternatives that lead to self-sufficiency with dignity.

How can we best support and empower Haitian families and communities?  As I’m speaking to such a distinguished gathering of private sector leaders and professionals, let me first highlight those of our programs that promote entrepreneurship and economic self-sufficiency.

USAID has a long history of promoting small and medium enterprise growth around the world, including Haiti.  We continue to believe that supporting entrepreneurship is key to driving Haiti’s economic development. For the past ten years, USAID has been addressing this challenge through grants, technical assistance, and partial credit guarantee programs for businesses and financial institutions, which have provided much-needed financing to high-potential (but capital-starved) small and medium-sized enterprises.

During that period, over 120 small businesses (15 of which are diaspora-owned) in high-growth sectors such as agri-business, construction, garment, tourism, and renewable energy received matching grants and business developing services.  They were able to expand, generating over $110 million dollars in sales and creating more than 27,000 jobs.  The goal of our assistance projects is self-reliance.

We believe that two mutually-reinforcing factors determine a country’s self-reliance: commitment and capacity.  Commitment is the degree to which a country’s laws, policies, actions, and formal and informal governance mechanisms support progress toward self-reliance.  Capacity refers to how far a country has come in its ability to plan, finance, and manage its own development agenda.  This approach to development – which prioritizes fostering stable, resilient, prosperous, inclusive and self-reliant countries – is good for Haiti and is good for the United States as a close friend and neighbor of Haiti.

Our new USAID Haiti INVEST project aims to create an investment facilitation platform to support the raising of capital for growing small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Haiti, to increase investment, create jobs, and contribute to inclusive economic growth.  While there are certainly other factors that impede investment, limited access to finance is one of the major constraints to private sector development and job creation in Haiti.  According to the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, credit to the private sector in Haiti (as a percentage of GDP) was only 17% in 2017, compared with an average of 44% for countries in the Caribbean region.

The Haiti INVEST platform will facilitate small businesses’ access to credit while also providing mentorship and advisory services to those businesses.

As any successful businessperson knows — and there are obviously plenty of successful businesspeople right here in this room – expanding beyond the small-scale startup stage requires access to capital.  Equally as important as access is the know-how to prepare a business for the next stage.  Small businesses need guidance to qualify for credit and attract investors, as well as knowledge about how to effectively use that capital long-term growth.

Haiti INVEST will take a new, results-oriented approach to catalyze financing through a pay-for-performance compensation model.  USAID will pay the fees to business advisory service providers, transaction advisors, and intermediaries who help qualified Haitian businesses access financing.  This will promote investment in small and medium enterprises from both local and overseas investors.  It will also bring long-term equity financing to Haiti.  Simultaneously, this approach will help professionalize the business advisory sector by encouraging recognized norms and standards.  Haiti INVEST is in the process of signing up qualified business advisors and intermediaries to work with small and medium-sized Haitian businesses.

Now, many of you likely may already contribute to Haiti by sending remittances to members of the extended family to help out.  We know that these remittances provide a lifeline of support for many families — but remittances in Haiti mostly go toward consumption.  For Haiti’s long-term growth, the country would benefit if additional funding could be directed toward investment, and not just to consumption.

In the fiscal year that just ended in September, Haiti’s estimated gross domestic product growth was essentially flat.  Haiti needs investment, and the Haiti INVEST project is one tool to help match Haitian businesses with sources of capital.

During the month of October, USAID Haiti INVEST project hosted its final roadshow in New York City after having hit Miami, Boston, Montreal, and Atlanta — bringing together entrepreneurs and investment professionals to catalyze private funding into Haitian small and medium-sized enterprises.  I’ve brought some handout sheets with me on the project and I’ll leave more details with Serge and JP.

While the Haiti INVEST platform is aimed at access to capital needs of $500,000 and below, the U.S. government has another financing tool for large-scale investment.  You may have heard that the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is transforming into the new U.S. International Development Finance Corporation,

to be called the DFC, to mobilize financing for development.  Haiti will be a prioritized country for the DFC.  The DFC will serve as a financing tool when the commercial lending sector is not an option.  Of course, the DFC is not foreign aid – investment projects must be commercially viable, and meet due diligence standards.  In addition, the project owners must bring their own equity to the table.

Beyond project finance, how else are we at the U.S. Mission partnering here in Haiti?

Strengthening Haiti’s law enforcement capacity is also a key U.S. Government priority.  Augmenting the Haitian National Police’s ability to protect Haiti’s citizens is a key goal, and we work with the HNP in a variety of training programs and other support to improve law enforcement capabilities. This assistance focuses on helping the HNP develop strategic planning, and the capabilities needed to sustain a professional, well-trained police force, including training new cadets.  As a direct result of INL support to the Police School, Haiti’s cadre of trained police officers grew from just over 6,000 in 2010 to over 15,000 today. Our U.S. assistance has also helped build the capacity of the HNP counternarcotics unit and establish a new border security unit in order to expand law enforcement presence at key maritime, airport, and land borders.

On the economic front, we are working with the Haitian government to increase domestic resource mobilization, specifically through technical assistance for customs collection and tax revenues.  The goal is to work towards greater transparency and accountability.  We also provide targeted technical assistance to help improve the regulatory framework for the energy and electricity sectors.

We have a number of other agriculture, health, education, and water/sanitation projects also ongoing in Haiti.  At a community and individual level, we seek to deepen support for shared values such as civic participation, rule of law, transparency, and entrepreneurship.  We do this through U.S. Mission support for democracy and governance.  For example,USAID has a program called CIVITAX that helps local municipalities effectively collect and use tax revenues to provide services to their residents.  Once a municipality has proven that it can and will increase its services to the community, we’ve seen local residents voluntarily head to the town hall to pay their tax bill.

We also have projects to train economic journalists, and grants to raise awareness on the importance of fiscal transparency.  I’m equally proud that our Embassy team has developed full-year entrepreneurship programming in Haiti which provides training and a support network for participants, with a particular focus on start-ups.

From the Haiti Tech Summit, to TechCamps, and the State Department’s newly-inaugurated Academy for Women Entrepreneurs we see on a daily basis the desire and determination of Haitian youth and women to design and create their own business and future.  We were pleased to be designated as part of the 26-nation pilot of the Academy of Women Entrepreneurs.  These 30 leading Haitian women entrepreneurs have attended Saturday sessions studying the curriculum designed by Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management throughout these past two months of gridlock.  And we are working now to determine the Haitian finalists for the fourth cohort of our regional exchange program, the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative, which exposes participants to entrepreneurs from the Western Hemisphere and partners them with small businesses working in similar fields across the United States.  We’ve already witnessed four of these U.S. business partners travel to Haiti to share with other entrepreneurs their experiences of creating their own business.

We are also pleased to partner with the Georgia Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce, and the University of Iowa’s Institute for International Business for the 2020 Business, Entrepreneurship, and Leadership (“BEL”) Initiative, which will provide an exchange and mentoring opportunity for up to twenty Haitian entrepreneurs in July, 2020.

These exchanges and programs help to address the opportunity gap for youth — especially women — by giving them the tools, networks, and resources they need to transform their societies and promote economic development, prosperity, security, human rights, and good governance.  In fact, we’ve repeatedly heard from participants of our entrepreneurship programs that providing a venue for a structured approach to mentorship and networking is one of the best resources we can give them.

There is a role for all of us to support Haitian citizens who want to improve their lives.   As we continue our partnership with Haiti, we are also focused on enabling Haitian men and women to take the next step – whatever that step is for them – to bring about meaningful change in their lives, for their families, for their communities, and ultimately for their country.

But, while we partner with the Haitian people, we also recognize that this assistance will not, and cannot, address the root causes of the current challenges in Haiti.  A sustainable solution will require, in our view, an inclusive dialogue and a Haitian-led solution to the current gridlock.  Again, I’ll repeat here what I’ve been saying in Port au Prince:  Haiti needs a confirmed, functioning government to serve the needs of the Haitian people, and a National Assembly that will pass critical legislation such as the budget law, electoral law, etc.

As everyone in this room knows, these past few months in Haiti have been extremely difficult for families across Haiti.  The U.S. deplores the current gridlock in Haiti, which has directly contributed to a spike in humanitarian needs, and an interruption of daily life for the people of Haiti.  We continue urge All Haitian stakeholders — political, economic and civil society leaders — to find a democratic solution together, to join in an inclusive dialogue without preconditions — without violence, and with an urgency of purpose to address Haiti’s needs.  We stand with all Haitians who value peaceful change, while courageously calling for accountability, the rule of law, and an end to the corrupt practices that have held Haiti back.

Let me repeat the words of our Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said on November 7:  “We call on all of Haiti’s leaders to come together to solve the ongoing political and economic gridlock through dialogue and institutions.  We stand with all Haitians who peacefully call for accountability.”

This week we had the visit of Ambassador Kelly Craft, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, to Port au Prince.  Ambassador Craft engaged with political and economic stakeholders to reinforce the urgent need to support Haiti’s state institutions.  Ambassador Craft noted the need for a fully functioning government to fight corruption, to investigate and prosecute human rights abuses, and combat narcotics trafficking and human trafficking.  She specifically mentioned La Saline and Bel Air.  She also emphasized that President Moise and other democratically-elected leaders have an obligation to put aside their differences and to find an inclusive solution that will benefit the people of Haiti.

So as you can see, the United States remains committed to working with Haiti towards a more secure, prosperous, and democratic future for the Haitian people.  This is a goal that we all share, to move Haiti forward; this is a goal we can all invest in.  Now the question is: what we can do together, NAAHP, to help Haiti move forward?

Thank you for having invited me here today to meet all of you.

I look forward to continuing to brainstorm as we search for ways to partner.