PORT-AU-PRINCE – The lower house of the Haitian parliament voted overwhelmingly on Monday in favor of a censure motion against Prime Minister Jean-Henry Ceant after he ignored lawmakers’ summons to appear and answer questions.
The motion against Ceant, who took office six months ago, passed by a vote of 93-6 with three abstentions.
The members of the lower house summoned Ceant to demand explanations for the government’s lack of response to the economic and political crisis engulfing Haiti.
But the prime minister declined to face the lower house, arguing that he was already facing questioning by the Senate about last month’s arrest and subsequent hasty expulsion of foreign nationals found in possession of guns.
The Senate, however, has yet to achieve a quorum to hold a session with Ceant, who was apparently counting on a vote of confidence from senators that would have prevented the lower house from summoning him for six months.
Feb. 7, the second anniversary of President Jovenel Moise’s 2017 inauguration, marked the start of weeks of protests called by the Democratic and Popular Sector, an alliance of opposition groups that blame the head of state for Haiti’s worsening economic crisis and demand his resignation.
Disturbances growing out of the protests left 26 people dead, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, while police have not confirmed the casualty figures.
The struggles of the poorest nation in the Americas have been exacerbated this year by a sharp depreciation of the gourde and constant power outages stemming from fuel shortages.
Inflation hit 15.1 percent in December and the unemployment rate is more than 50 percent.
More than half of Haiti’s roughly 10 million inhabitants survive on less than $2 a day.
The country’s economy expanded by just 1.4 percent in 2018, a growth rate that was one of the lowest in the region and far below the 2.2 percent forecast at the beginning of last year.
During the protests, demonstrators also have demanded prosecution of officials for embezzlement of funds accumulated through Haiti’s participation in Venezuela’s PetroCaribe program.
The South American country has long supplied oil to Caribbean countries on favorable financing terms, with much of the bill payable over 25 years at an interest rate of just 1 percent.
The idea of the program was to enable the Haitian government to take advantage of the long repayment schedule and use proceeds from domestic oil sales to finance public-works projects.
But an audit unveiled in February by Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes revealed irregularities in that program between 2008 and 2016 and implicated 15 current and former officials – as well as a company Moise headed before becoming president – in the scandal.