Interview with Yves-André Wainright

February 2010

Yves-André Wainright:

“My approach towards management of the environment is to have Haitians from different avenues who face the same environmental challenges in relation to same natural resources or manmade infrastructures come together. We might not all share the same economic interests, but, if we work together, we can reach a compromise where one’s interest won’t trump another’s.

“More than an issue of technologies or of funding, the challenge with environmental management in Haiti is a matter of State governance. It’s a multi-pronged issue. First, there is the fight against impunity. As long anyone thinks he or she can do as he pleases without any consequences, it will be difficult to manage the environment. When elections for parliamentarians or mayors are known to be tricked, these leaders lose legitimacy and the capacity of the State to regulate gets weakened. Add to this, up to the present the president still refuse to nominate someone as the head of the judicial power as contemplated by the Constitution. So judges are still nominated and revoked by the Ministry of Justice putting them in subrogated situation against the mess in the other two branches of power.

“Firstly, after 2 decades of populist regimes and the short-term projects-based policies, not even judges, public servants and policemen are aware of existing environmental norms and administrative procedures. No permit is required anymore for cutting trees and the process of obtaining any kind of permit - getting one for starting the building of a house or for driving a vehicle is reduced simply to the payment of any other tax.  Current poverty levels can’t be used as an excuse for environmental mismanagement, like deforestation of watersheds or the poor construction of rural roads.

“A second issue is that Haiti’s ministries of agriculture and environment promote development through micro-projects they manage themselves. Unfortunately, currently, the current dream of most public servants in these ministries is to be the head of the management unit of a project funded by an instance of the international community. This approach gets to the level of an obsession for some. This has at least two very detrimental consequences. Colleagues within and between government ministries- both within their institution and in other ministries - act as competitors rather than allies in governing a common state. As a result, information is not shared and these institutions are not organized to provide assistance and directives to local government or NGOs. Since management of the physical environment is a cross-cutting and medium to long-term challenge, it’s very difficult to maintain continuity from one government to the next, which hinders the implementation of required programs.

“For example, in the 1990s, I lead the preparation of an innovative program called Technical Assistance for the Management of National Parks (ATPPF according to the French acronym). The program was innovative for three reasons. First, at least one third of the budget would fund peasant-managed micro-enterprises for families who depended on cutting down trees in national parks or their buffer zones. Second, all state institutions including local governments, the judicial system, the national police, and key ministries would be able to give input and would benefit from capacity building to be able to assume better their responsibilities in this challenge, and receive training in the sustainable management of biodiversity. Third, the project facilitated coordination among the various stakeholders (public and private) through various management committees.

“The first disbursements were made 2 weeks before I left the government. I thought I had filled my duty and I should pass the torch to co-citizens, keep quiet and let them implement. When I returned in the Ministry of Environment 7 years later, the project was considered overall as having failed and I have been publicly criticized both by employees within the Ministry of Environment and technicians from the Ministry of Agriculture. The guys from the Ministry of Environment considered a treatise that I allowed funds collected by the Ministry of Environment to be disbursed on behalf of other institutions of the government who already had budgets bigger than theirs.  On the other hand, guys from the Ministry of Agriculture considered the governance structure of the project was considered too complex. Normally in the government, people from different ministers don’t talk to each other, so the project’s implementation lacked leadership. There were even 70 or so agronomists trained, and about 10 who went abroad for professional specialization, but none of them were never put to use. Their skills were never valued and the peasants never benefitted from the comprehensive technical and financial assistance I had dreamed of.

“The third issue I wish to highlight is the role of donors from the international community. I feel (i) they put too much emphasis on “transparency” toward their foreign constituency and (ii) there is a lack of sensitivity to the process of building democracy within the communities receiving aid. I admire the abundance of documentation donors have accumulated on Haiti but, feel that way not enough effort is put into making this information available to local stakeholders. This practice has facilitated the creation of an oligarchy of consultants and specialists who monopolize the field of international assistance. By listening and viewing through the eyes and ears of these “businessmen”, the donors seem not to trust the initiatives from people outside of this circle.

“For instance, during my first term as Minister of Environment, USAID and the World Bank were the main donors providing assistance to the process of clarifying the role of the newly created ministry and prioritization of actions for environmental management and rehabilitation. I started to organize multi-stakeholder platforms to do so and offer to provide them with technical assistance to prepare required documents. But the donors decided to replicate exactly the process of preparation of National Action Plans for the Environment written by specialists and validated afterwards by the civil society like it had done before in various African countries. In spite of various meetings with officers in these donor agencies, relations were difficult till I resigned from the government. After my departure, they succeeded in having beautiful documents prepared. These documents are currently embellishing shelves of libraries in foreign universities. What was needed was to help Haitians get out of their cast-bound practices and learn to develop partnerships around common environmental concerns. Unfortunately, having been an outsider to the circle of experts recognized by the international community at that time, they would not trust me. In their defense, I must admit I lacked know-how in lobbying within my own government and parliament. I was allocated a budget equivalent to about eight hundred and fifty millions dollars of USA with a lot of restrictions on the use of this money. So I felt dependent from the international community for funding any initiative.

“Here’s another example. Earlier this year, the office of the Prime Minister organized a forum on lessons learned from watershed management over the past thirty to forty years.  That forum had a large participation of funders, with data-rich presentations by the experts. These presentations confirmed that, during the period considered, more and more short-term NGO-led projects promoted market-linked incentives for environmental protection instead of substituting to the building of a decentralized State capacity, so that the government ensures respect of environmental norms and promotes effective social safety nets. To me, the participant seemed obsessed by the deliquescence of the State as if they were outsiders of the process. The motto was like "Having not succeeded in impacting a reform of the governance system, let’s replace and that the government should be replaced by the market as the driving force for livelihood improvement in the country".

“But the problem is that the market promotes individuality and a spirit of competition. It can’t instill the feeling of community and citizenship needed to stimulate Haitians to take part in the rehabilitation of the environment.

“We must have regulations that guarantee the socioeconomic and environmental rights of all citizens:
(i) right to be informed of initiatives affecting their environment,
(ii) right to have input into the mitigation measures to be implemented,
(iii) right to unbiased judicial system as regards the application of norms.

We must also have an appropriate democratic governance structure able to implement this at the regional and local level.

“Otherwise, even if the billions of dollars pledged would be effectively disbursed, we won’t resolve anything.  As a matter of fact, as far as I remember, one of the principles in the Rio Declaration on Sustainable Development states that, “Peace, economic development and protection of the environment are interdependent and indivisible”. There is no peace without social justice. That was endorsed at the highest level of more than 165 states in Earth, almost twenty years ago already – in June 1992. So, I’m not preaching anything new. Why, for God’s sake, isn’t this a common value in planning in Haiti with so much involvement of the United Nations?  

“After the sad list of constraints, we must state that, fortunately, everything is not so depressing.There is progress being made.

“In October 2005, the Government adopted an important environmental decree. It’s a kind of framework ordinance that integrates into the national regulation most of the international principles for managing the environment promoted by the Rio Declaration of June 1992. It clarifies the respective responsibilities of various public institutions as well as private entrepreneurs toward the environment and institutes administrative tools to implement them. It identifies nine priority thematic challenges and promotes incentives for the implementation of coordination committees integrating public servants with the private sector (By the private sector, I don’t just mean the bourgeoisie in town, but also including peasants and small merchants). Such committees have potent levies for lobbying and monitoring the policies implemented under the aegis of the State in relation to these challenges.  

“These nine domains are:

  • First, education related to ecology, environmental health and opportunities linked to them.
  • Second, reinforcement of the state’s capacity to understand and regulate the use of the environment, from locally elected at the “Section Communale” to the central government and the Parliament.
  • Third, integrated management of watersheds and coastal areas.
  • Fourth, promotion of alternative energy sources to charcoal and (as possible) imported fossil fuels.
  • Fifth, human settlements i.e. regulation and policies related to where and how people can or can’t build houses and looking at satellite towns to encourage people to move and decentralize activities from Port-au-Prince.
  • Sixth, sanitation i.e. management of garbage and everything related to pollution.
  • Seventh, application of the national plan for management of risks and disasters - mainly focusing floods and water-related epidemics for the short term – but to be extended later to other sources of pollution that are impacting human health and the ecosystems.
  • Eight, preservation and sustainable management of biodiversity, which is everything that relates to protection of the habitats of endemic and other endangered species.
  • Ninth, sustainable management of minerals resources, like construction materials, quarries, and mines;


“They are ways to improve governance of the environment around these nine themes provided they are integrated into a comprehensive and progressive land-use zoning process.

“For example, alleviation of pressure of agriculture production on mountainous lands should be a common strategic objective for all groups working on any of these nine issues. With more than 500,000 families depending on subsistence agriculture on eroded lands, there’s no potential for improving living conditions. Policies must be proactive in providing alternative means to make a living.

“The implementation of the advantages offered to Haiti by the US enacted HOPE II Act  [HOPE II is a U.S. trade law which removes tariffs on certain types and quantities of Haitian-assembled garments into the U.S.], should be planned with a view to stimulate people from the countryside to gather in small villages, living of services and business not dependant on access to agricultural lands. Currently, the motto is the promotion of large free trade zones in fringes of already big cities. That’s promotion of metropolis concentration, which isn’t sustainable. There is, for example, a network of tailors coordinated by the Institute of Development and Promotion of Sewing. They sometimes, get contracts to make school uniforms and split the work among themselves. Organizations of petty-traders like this one could help in organizing work in villages, and should be involved in the political decisions of the country.

“For this, we have to invest more in building governance capacity at the level of municipalities and watersheds - as promoted in the decree I talked about previously. I would recommend that, in coordination with the national network of mayors, ministries of Public Works and Environment define curricula and test procedures according to profiles of technicians living currently in remote municipalities and available to integrate their administrations. On this basis, the Ministry of Interior could manage a scholarship fund to help priority municipalities improve the capacity of their teams to overview the implementation of norms. I have seen some NGOs taking initiatives in that way but, in absence of leadership from the concerned ministries, we are weakening the State apparatus.  

“We have to start working collaboratively, moving away from the approach where each has his own territory and portfolio. We can be successful in the nine priorities listed, but only if we admit that whatever our capabilities and our excuses, we’re condemned to fail without cooperation. By WE, I mean both the government, the ministries, the parliament, the NGOs led by people agreeing with ethical values and their networks, grassroots organizations and social movements, enterprises and trade unions, donors and others.”