EspañolHaitians voted on Sunday, August 9, in long-delayed parliamentary elections, amid sporadic acts of violence that forced dozens of voting centers to be shut down.
Despite the scattered incidents, and low voter turnout, Haitian authorities say they are satisfied with the first election since President Michel Martelly came to power in May 2011.
“Globally, I am satisfied with the performance,” said Pierre-Louis Opont, head of the Provisional Electoral Council.
Opont, however, acknowledged “a lot of acts of violence” that affected 4 percent of the 1,508 voting centers. By midday, 26 voting centers were closed across the country.
“I hope that the election officials are better organized for the presidential elections in October,” President Martelly said after casting his vote.
International election observers agreed that despite the violence, the vote, overall, was valid. Pre-election polls in Haiti had predicted a turnout no greater than 15 percent.
“These problems that appear are not so generalized or so big as to be able to question the whole process,” said Enrique Castillo, head of an international delegation from the Organization of American States.
“The whole process stands, and that’s the first conclusion, and we also acknowledge that the council made efforts to resolve the situations that appeared in the day.”
His European colleague, Elena Valenciano, agreed: “Although there have been incidents in some polling centers, these problems have generally been corrected.”
The election attracted 1,855 candidates to fill 20 seats in the Senate and 119 in the Chamber of Deputies. Delayed since 2012, the legislative elections have become a test for one of the world’s poorest countries to prove it can hold fair, transparent elections.
Next October, Haitians will return to the polls to choose a replacement for President Martelly, who has ruled the country by decree since January, when the legislators’ terms expired and Parliament was dissolved.
Election results are expected to be released on August 19.
EspañolEver since I entered the Honduran job market, I have understood that the best way to pull this Central American nation out of her mess is to strengthen the private sector. After all, the private sector employs more economically active Hondurans than the public sector, which it funds through taxes. In 2010, I founded my first business with the hopes of making a tiny contribution. Before we began operations, I spent months thinking how I could help other small firms grow by providing them with graphic and web-design services. I hadn't fully anticipated, however, the crippling regulatory hurdles that come with starting a business in Honduras, and the heavy tax burden that would eventually drive me to close in 2012. A Block on New Businesses The first of many steps was to draw up a certificate of incorporation and meet the requirement of a depósito a la vista (demand deposit). This means acquiring a certificate of deposit with a predetermined minimum capital. In this case it was 5,000 Honduran lempiras, roughly US$230, an amount equivalent to anywhere from 65 to 133 percent of the monthly minimum wage in Honduras, depending on the industry. Rather than burden the private sector with more regulations and more taxes, why not strengthen our economy by unleashing our entrepreneurial potential? I could not use this demand deposit, which was frozen while I went through all the paperwork to set up my business. Back in 2010, the 13-step process took at least 14 business days to complete. Today, there are 12 steps, but it still takes the same 14 business days in the capital Tegucigalpa. It's shorter than in similar developing countries — the average in Latin America and the Caribbean is 30.1 days — but this still meant my seed money was out of reach for approximately three weeks, a harsh obstacle for start-ups on a shoestring budget in a poor nation. Aren’t We Paying for This Already? After surviving for two years, I made the difficult decision to close my shop. This came after banks began retaining percentages of each business-account withdrawal, to comply with the temporary security tax rolled out during the Porfirio Lobo administration (2010-2014). This felt like the government’s version of the "war tax," an extortion racket that gangs in Honduras impose on businesses operating in their area. Mine was a service-based company that didn’t require a storefront, so fortunately I wasn’t exposed to direct pressure from the maras. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for small-business owners who have to deal with both taxes. How can they stay afloat? Isn’t it already part of the government’s job to protect us (not that they do)? Aren’t we already paying for this service with the sales tax, income tax, and many others that support our bloated state? No Incentives for Entrepreneurs In light of the current situation in Honduras, with corruption scandals ensuing, frustration abounds. The weakened economy has had an effect not only on the businesses themselves: problems trickle down to the general population with rises in product prices and massive unemployment. Tech entrepreneur Eddy Ordoñez expressed frustration at the limit on growth his company has had in the past four years during an airing of Treinta Treinta on July 26. Ordoñez would like the government to "set eyes on the problems [Hondurans] are really facing." He compares the government's attitude about taxes and the private sector with a piñata they can just strike to get to the treats inside. Eléutera Foundation CEO, Guillermo Peña, thinks "the Honduran government should exit the tax-collection business and focus on economic growth." The liberal policy institute is promoting the abolition of the 1.5 percent tax on gross profits that exceed 10 million Honduran lempiras (US$450,000). Marlon Tábora, former president of the Central Bank of Honduras, believes “there is no way for the country to rise above its problems without support from the private sector,” and he has come out in favor of “fiscal discipline … to promote growth and develop the country.” Furthermore, he has expressed support for tax reforms proposed by the private sector since early last year. Meanwhile, the Honduran tax agency (DEI) is hellbent on preying on small businesses. It seems that the head of the DEI is preoccupied with meeting tax-collection objectives and doesn’t realize she is doing more harm than good. Rather than burden the private sector with more regulations and more taxes, why not strengthen our economy by unleashing our entrepreneurial potential? Economics is not my forte, but I have seen and experienced why businesses struggle here, and we have experts who can turn the country around if given the chance. It’s a matter of getting their ideas out in the open, getting more people to understand that how things have always been is not good enough, and working toward effective change in legislation.