The Functions of the State

Haiti Table of Contents

Most Haitians viewed government functionaries as beneficiaries of patronage and the spoils system rather than as public servants. The state traditionally supported and maintained the established political order and extracted wealth from the population. Citizens therefore expected little or nothing from government. Rather, they saw the state as an entity that confiscated, taxed, prohibited, or imprisoned.

The Haitian government also traditionally served as a source of jobs. Political favoritism and bribery characterized the system. One common Creole expression holds that "Jijman se kob" (court rulings are money). Political scientists have used terms such as kleptocracy, predatory state, government-by- franchise, and autocolonization in their descriptions of the Haitian system of taxation, patronage, corruption, public monopolies, and private monopolies protected by the state.

The state had developed a relatively elaborate apparatus for taxation, but it provided only limited public services. Most Haitians relied on foreign-assistance agencies and on nongovernmental institutions for services provided by most other governments. For example, education was the most elaborate public-service sector, but the majority of children still attended nongovernmental schools. The state's abdication of its role as service provider created a situation in which foreign-assistance agencies served as a kind of shadow government.

Government institutions in Port-au-Prince provided at least the facade of public services through the Ministry of Public Health and Population; the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural "Resources, and Rural Development; the Ministry of National Education, Youth, and Sports; and other ministries. These ministries had no representatives in most rural areas, however, and they provided relatively few services even in Port-au-Prince. Government budgets for public services generally accounted for salaries, but they provided little or no budget support for program implementation.

Aside from the army, Haiti's key state institution had traditionally been the customs house, the primary source of tax revenues. The state also extracted wealth through its control over certain essential services and through public and private monopoly ownership of key commodity-based enterprises. This system contributed to the country's political instability because it politicized important sectors of the country's economy.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress