Michele Pierre-Louis, seen at right, is no longer the Prime Minister of Haiti. A crowd of journalists, including myself, amassed in the Senate chamber yesterday awaiting her arrival for questioning by lawmakers, but she decided not to appear and distributed a letter in her stead. The Senators argued late into the night, eventually holding a vote. Here’s my short headline story for today’s FSRN newscast.
MP3. I’ll also post below an exchange I had with the Prime Minister on September 30, at a press conference during an gathering of investors at Hotel Karibe, about her government’s handling of a effort by Haitian lawmakers to increase the minimum wage.
Mediahacker: What do you say to critics who charge that the only reason there’s so much interest in Haiti is that the workers are paid such a low wage? Your administration opposed efforts to raise the minimum wage to 200 gourdes. Some say that the investors are here to take advantage of workers who can be paid such low wages compared to workers in their own countries.
And why did your administration oppose an increase in the minimum wage?
Haitian Prime Minister Michele Pierre Louis: I would never say that that’s the interest. That the interest of investors in Haiti are just to make profits off low wages. However, it’s very important to understand that every country in the region and every developing country has gone through that process, of trying to see how to make the best use of the manpower that is there, that is not qualified, but that needs to get engaged in the process of earning revenues so that the level of the economy can grow. And that’s the phase we are in.
You know, in our neighbors, the Dominican Republic started like that. And at one point there was a decision by the government to say, “All right, we’ve reached a point where we can now go into different other sectors of our economy and boost our industry and boost other sectors so that the country doesn’t stay at the low level that it started.”
So, it so happened that because of political instability, and that goes back to the question that was asked before, if we want to things to move forward, we Haitians have to make sure that we are engaging in the process of stability that can take advantage of the momentum that’s created now. Create jobs – this is the only area where we can create 100,000 jobs immediately. And whenever who create a cluster of jobs, you create around that cluster, an economy in every other sector. You are in the export industry, you’re going to have to feed the workers. So there are lots of restaurants around. To have these restaurants work, you need produce from the peasants. So you’re going to buy the local production. It’s a process that we are getting engaged in, and it would be unfair to say that’s just to profit from lower wages that we are organizing these conferences and that that’s the only interest.
President of Inter-American Development Bank Luis Moreno: Let me just say something on this here. Haiti has the best trade agreement possible with the United States. No other country has anything close to it. When you look at the sectors we’ve concentrated at this conference… are agro-industry, for a simple reason. This country is 60% rural. This is where the highest concentrate of poverty takes place in Haiti.
Second, apparel production. When you bring international firms like the ones we’re bringing. When we have the ILO [International Labor Organization] working here, hand-in-hand with us, what they are doing is establishing a barrier for labor standards that does not exist today for producers in Haiti. What is that going to do? That’s going to raise the standards of labor that you have. So it is very easy to say, “You’re going to invest in a country just for cheap labor.” That can be true for a short period of time. All the economic literature that you look at will demonstrate that countries, if they don’t move up quickly, they will be run out of competition for other reasons. So this is why you have bring a combination of efforts together to get there.
Mediahacker: Just as a follow-up, you said that starting with the wages this low is crucial to maintaining stability so that Haiti can move up, but wasn’t it – The Parliament passed the raise in the minimum wage. Wasn’t it your administration’s move to keep the wage lower, to not accept the raise in the wage, that heightened political instability in the country and sparked protest?
Michele Pierre Louis: No. The 200 gourdes passed. The only sector where it’s been negotiated is the workers starting in the export industry. But those already working in the export industry will get the new wage. And any other area will get the new wage. So it’s only the beginners, because it takes time for the entrepreneur to train that person and the wage at that level are subsidized. So the minimum wage that was proposed is the one that was voted.
And I think the President made a point which is very important. Even in that industry, the commission for the HOPE legislation has three important partners: the unions, the private sector, and the public sector. [unintelligible] And this is a big big progress – to have the three sectors sit together and see what are the common interests rather than the personal interest of each sector.