Haiti: Digicel CEO Wants to Know Where the Education Money

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti ( – President Michel Martelly received a request from Haiti’s largest tax payer, Digicel, who’s Chief Executive Officer, Denis O’Brien, appealed for an audit of the National Fund for Education that would amount to millions of the Haitian Diaspora's money.

In a New York Times article, O’Brien said he was warned by his senior management that the taxes imposed on international calls would be unpopular but found President Michel Martelly’s plan to put students through school for free as a promising sign of the government’s resolve.

With a $0.05/per minute surcharge on international phone calls and a $1.50 charge on money transfers the National Fund for Education had hoped to raise $8.5 million [US] per month to send Haiti's children to school for free.

The fund was instituted without passing through the Haitian legislature and unless Haiti's telecommunications companies and money transfer offices take ownership for instituting the charges, it is deemed illegal by Haitian law as it would be a tax. Compounding matters, up until now, no government official can produce records on how much money has been collected or where the money is being held.

The CEO of the single largest employer in Haiti, Digicel, is one characterized as having a take-charge manner and was not coy about wanting to know the status of the National Fund for Education. Denis O’Brien has heard the rumblings about the fund and told the Times:

”I’ve spoken with President Martelly about this, and there will be an audit... I will make it my business that it will be audited, one way or the other.” - Denis O'Brien, Digicel CEO

The Haitian Senate Economy and Finance Committee convened the Governor of the Bank of the Republic of Haiti, Charles Castel, and the Minister of the Economy and Finance, Andre Lemercier Georges, on Tuesday December 14, 2011 and asked about the education fund.

At this hearing, the monetary authorities told the senate commission that after seven (7) months since the launch of the National Fund for Education, the bank had only $4.8 million [US] in its account and these monies only accounted for the fees relieved through money transfers.

The Senate of the Republic of Haiti and its monetary authorities did not have any information on how much had been collected through phone calls or where that money was being kept. The estimated value of this excise is $55 million [US].

The Minister of National Education and Professional Development, Reginald Paul, has continued to say that the nation's schools have not used any money collected through the National Fund for Education. Instead, the ministry established a system to extend loans from the National Bank of Credit to schools that have increased enrollment.

Although taxes continue to be collected, the Chairman of the Senate Finance Commission declared the National Fund for Education "nonexistent" in his eyes, saying:

"...unfortunately, there is a total opacity surrounding the creation, the collecting, and the use of resources of the National Fund for Education and I will continue to say that this fund doesn’t exist." - Jocelerme Privert, Senator Nippes/Inite

It is the students and the teachers that have suffered the most. There is an increased enrollment and unexplained lack of resources. Haiti's national schools have been unable to pay teachers, purchase education materials or provide regular lunches to their students. Haiti's educators have called for corrections to be made to the president's free education plan.

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