Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Corruption claims halt Haiti election for senators

By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE,�Haiti (Reuters): An investigation into allegations that members of Haiti’s electoral council have misappropriated public funds forced authorities to abandon plans to hold elections next month for a third of the country’s Senate seats, an electoral official said on Tuesday.The president of the electoral council, Max Mathurin, said the first round of the ballot, due to take place on Nov. 25, and the second round on Dec. 2 would be postponed because the council had stopped working while the members accused of corruption by their colleagues wait to know their fate.

Max Mathurin: AFP Photo
Max Mathurin. AFP PHOTO

“The decision to set a new date for the election is no longer in our hands … President (Rene) Preval has to make a decision as to what will become of this electoral council,” Mathurin told Reuters.

Haiti, long racked by political instability and bloodshed, was plunged into chaos after former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in an armed revolt in 2004.

A UN peacekeeping force struggled at first to rein in rampant kidnappings and violence. But the Caribbean country of 8.5 million has begun to edge slowly toward stability and social peace since Preval was elected last year.

Progress, however, is precarious and grinding poverty means many Haitians are growing impatient for more concrete results.

Jostling for political power is getting fiercer as political parties vie for control of the 30-member Senate, which has the constitutional power to fire the prime minister and government ministers.

Next month’s election was to replace a third of the Senate and also find a replacement for an additional senator killed in an accident this year. The delay means it will not be possible for new senators to take office by the Jan. 14, 2008, deadline set in the constitution.

The corruption allegations against three electoral council members were filed by two other members of the nine-seat panel — Patrick Fequiere and Louis Jerson Richeme.

Mathurin, Rosemond Pradel, the council’s secretary-general, and Francois Benoit, its treasurer, who have been banned from leaving the country, are accused of misappropriating public funds. The amount allegedly embezzled was not disclosed.

Fequiere told Reuters he and Richeme had filed documents proving the allegations but declined further comment because the accusations were being investigated by a prosecutor.

Mathurin denied the allegations and said Fequiere and Richeme were trying to destroy the electoral council’s reputation because of personal conflicts with other members.

“All they want is to destroy this council and to get rid of the other members, hoping they’ll keep a seat on the next panel,” Mathurin said.

Benoit is also the subject of a separate criminal investigation over allegations he tried to kill Richeme.

In a complaint filed with prosecutors, Richeme said Benoit pulled a gun on him during a recent discussion at the council’s headquarters.

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