Haiti is not the only country with a frail and easily abused Constitution. And besides the ease with which the structures and processes of governance have been derailed, their sheer cost is a burden to the Haitian state and a threat to its resilience. Cost and frailty are only two of the many reasons so many Haitians are generally dissatisfied with their Constitution. Worse, efforts to revise parts of the Constitution have been undertaken by political actors with a very obvious stake in the outcome, and have therefore been met with deep suspicion. Trust and the mechanisms and resources required for an inclusive national dialog on the Constitution and how to reform it are therefore in short supply. But a strategy to strengthen the Rule of Law would not be complete without a concerted and comprehensive review of the Constitution that brings together all sectors of Haitian society. How to do that in a society where trust has been so badly eroded?
Since the adoption of the Constitution in 1987 the citizens of Haiti have seen repeated abuse and disregard of the institutions and processes of governance, including the composition of the supreme court, access to justice, respect of property law, and local and national elections. Abuses of power and egregious acts of corruption have been perpetrated by many of Haiti’s executive, judicial, and legislative leaders with impunity. The population is disillusioned and confidence in the institutions and processes of governance is declining. This poses a danger for democracy and the Rule of Law, especially among young people, who have little positive experience in this area. Even traditional systems of leadership have been coopted by abusive leaders who, over generations, have been able to take advantage of institutional weaknesses, class inequities and rural poverty to insert themselves into the very traditional systems that were once the bedrock of Haiti’s centuries of resilience.
It is no surprise that some form of national dialog is necessary to revise or build consensus on a Constitution. It is also the only way to build trust. To be done properly would require holding listening events throughout the country, and what is learned from a national listening process would have to be widely shared across sectors and classes. This activity will hold Interviews and discussions to gather recommendations for designing different types of listening events across the country (such as open-air public discussions at neighborhood level and small communities, radio call-in programs, facilitated discussions in civil society organizations, university workshops, neighborhood associations, professional associations and guilds, farmers’ discussions in open fields and during farmer koumbits, policy dialogues such as the highly successful “debats nationaux”facilitated by USAID-ASOSYE (Appui à la Societe Civile) program), and so on.
What farmers have to say is relevant to merchants. What merchants have to say is relevant to teachers. What teachers have to say is relevant to investors. And so on. Every citizen is a partner in the building of governance. National facilitators can document and bundle areas of agreement for a transparent constitutional review process.
This is bold but not new. It’s been successfully done in many different ways in many countries over many centuries. The first step in building governance is listening.