Wednesday, May 1, 2013

ONA: Senate Uncovers Stupefying Corruption

by Yves Pierre-Louis (Haiti Liberte)

Since President Michel Martelly’s accession to power two years ago, corruption has become the hallmark of his regime. The State’s entire administration is in decline, marred by bribery, waste, mismanagement, illegal and arbitrary dismissals, and incompetence.
            The latest corruption scandal to erupt is in the National Insurance Office for the Elderly (ONA), Haiti’s social security institution which is supposed to manage the contributions of Haitian workers in the private sector to ensure their welfare as regulated by the Labor Code.
            This institution has been headed by Director General Bernard Degraff for over a year. Persistent accusations of corruption, mismanagement, illegal firings, and inappropriate employee transfers forced Senator Maxime Roumer, the President of the Senate’s Social Affairs Committee, to summon for a questioning Charles Jean-Jacques, the Minister of Social Affairs and Labor, as well as Degraff. After several postponements, finally the hearing took place in the Senate on Apr. 29.
            The hearing became very difficult for Bernard Degraff and his Special Advisor, Jean Robert Simonise.
            Sen. John Joel Joseph outlined the wholesale corruption, mismanagement, and wrongful dismissals his investigations have uncovered. He charged that Degraff has unilaterally increased his own monthly salary from 152,000 gourdes ($3,576) to 472,000 gourdes ($11,104) and that of Simonise from 190,000 gourdes ($4,470) to 351,270 gourdes ($8,264). These salaries far exceed that of the President of the Republic.
            Degraff also bought three Toyota Prado SUVs at $76,000 each, one for him, one for his assistant, and one for an advisor, which are registered and plated as private cars, not state vehicles. Degraff also paid $32,000 to make the vehicles bullet-proof.
            He bought another 40 vehicles with ONA money for employees who are close to him and those vehicles also do not bear State plates, but are private registered.
            Furthermore, Degraff bought an old house for ONA in Pétion-ville, without any bidding, for a whopping $ 2.5 million and then paid another $1 million to repair it.
            The worst is Minister Charles Jean-Jacques claimed that he was unaware of these fraudulent transactions, and in reports he submitted to the Parliament , there was no mention of these purchases.
            Meanwhile, former ONA employees who had been wrongly fired managed to get into the Parliament, and, with placards in hand, they called for the dismissal and arrest of Degraff . Some of the demonstrators even managed to slap Degraff as he left the Legislative Palace.
            Sen. Pierre Francky Exius proposed firing Degraff for corruption and embezzlement of state funds. This proposal was supported by several of his colleagues, including the Commission’s president, Sen. Roumer.
            Meanwhile, public school teachers continue to demonstrate for payment of several months of back wages, farmers are demanding water and fertilizer to increase their agricultural production, and people around the nation are demanding the construction of roads and public markets. Such corruption only adds fuel to the fires of demonstrations burning everywhere.
            Already, Martelly’s close advisor and cousin, hotelier and musician Richard Morse and Minister of Economy and Finance, Marie Carmelle Jean-Marie have resigned because of blatant corruption. Now, a group of citizens has started a petition entitled "Stop the abuses," which seeks to challenge parliamentarians to start impeachment proceedings against President Martelly.

ONA’s Director General Bernard Degraff stands accused illegally hiking his salary, buying private vehicles, and firing employees.

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