In recent years, Haiti has suffered setback after setback on its road to bringing its energy network up to modern standards. But Saeed Khan writes that Haiti could soon be on its way to an energy network its people desperately need.

At just 45.3%, Haiti has the lowest electrification rate in the Western Hemisphere. According to 2018 figures, the 'Peal of the Antilles,' as the country is known, ranks just above Lesotho and North Korea on global development tables. Haiti is a test case about what happens when public interest is captured not by market forces, but by dubious corporate practices and exploitation seemingly empowered by the government. Given the sordid nature of these alleged policies and the perpetuation of energy deficits in the country, off-grid market solutions may, in the long-term, offer a better alternative to remedy Haiti's energy woes.

Haiti possesses the 12th highest population in Latin America and the Caribbean, but the region's smallest public sector. This factor has not served the country well; it has made Haiti prey to crony capitalism that prevents her in the long run from making a successful transition to renewable energy. President Moise has campaigned on efforts to battle corruption and finally bring mass electrification to his country. While he has made some notable progress to achieve the latter, its close linkage with the former has posed a serious challenge.

Geopolitics have been unkind to Haiti, almost since the nation's founding in 1804 when it was forced to pay for the freedom from slavery of its people to the government of France – payments which were not completed until 1947. More recently, it is encouraging that the Moise administration signed a multi-million-dollar deal with General Electric to build facilities to generate 55.5 megawatts of gas electricity, a project that is currently proceeding. Moise's government has also strived to pursue innovative approaches to electrification, including the negotiation of a $150 million deal with the government of Taiwan to further develop Haiti's national power grid. Perhaps even more ambitious is the 130 megawatt solar power project being developed and backed by Turkish investors.

Corruption is the overarching issue that plagues the current Haitian government, as it would beleaguer any administration seeking to improve its situation. Prior to the Moise administration, Haiti's legacy with independent power projects had been unfortunate. In 2007, former President Rene Preval handed out a contract to Sogener to bring 57 megawatts of electricity to the island. While Preval died peacefully in 2017, his widow was and has remained a large shareholder of the company. The contract to produce the 57 MW was never fulfilled for Haiti's people and the crowded streets of Port-au-Prince remained as dimly lit as those of its rural communities.

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The catastrophic 2010 earthquake was a trauma from which Haiti is still reeling and recovering. Among its many consequences have been the inability of the country to give due attention to its energy needs. The long-term effects of this opportunity cost are only now gaining public attention, particularly energy grid deficiencies rooted in questionable business deals. Haitian investigators have alleged that much of the funds from the 2007 Sogener deal passed into the hands of the Preval family and Sogener's vice president, Dimitri Vorbe, the company owner and five others closely associated with the deal, according to the Miami Herald's reporting on a 2019 arrest attempt. Predictably, Haiti's opposition parties claimed the subsequent seizure of Sogener was a political maneuver, but it is undeniable that the government would have much preferred had Sogener performed fully on its contract. The Moise administration has pointed out that Haiti paid $1.5 billion to Sogener; in return, the company provided on average only four hours a day of reliable energy over the past decade.

The Haitian government has said that Sogener misspent some $123 million on ineffective services, which the administration claims is the biggest scandal in the country's history. No wonder a recent World Economic Forum report put Haiti at nearly last on a global table of countries implementing an effective energy transition – only Zimbabwe ranked worse. This adds further misery to the fact that Haiti is the poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean, based on overall GDP.

All is not lost for Haiti, however. Given this situation, in the short-term the Moise government needs the support of the international community to unravel the mess of the Sogener scandal (this is something Moise lacks currently due to allegations around his own time in power). Prosecutions from the Sogener scandal and other corruption cases seem highly likely. International aid and development assistance must recognize the critical need for Haiti to possess a stable, reliable and economical energy grid, to allow commerce, access to the Internet and other related benefits to be available to an impoverished population.

After the destruction wreaked by natural disasters and the depravity of corporate malfeasance that has led to a devastated energy grid, Haiti has stumbled across the opportunity to build a fresh energy plan, one that focuses on the country's future rather than dwelling on its past. The Port-au-Prince government can rely on off-the-grid solutions that are less likely to be subject to industry capture by the clutching hands of a few powerful, connected, and corrupt families.

Haiti is blessed with over 3000 hours of sunlight annually. Solar power is a highly efficient and cost-effective energy source. With appropriate subsidies, Haitians can gain energy autonomy and stability through the widespread use of solar power for both residential and business purposes. In fact, many already are voting with their wallets and purchasing solar panels at their own cost. This solution has a positive externality as well ? helping to shift Haiti from an over-reliance on thermal-based energy to clean solar power.

The future for Haiti always faces some of its systemic challenges, including poverty, natural disasters, corruption, and foreign exploitation. However, new approaches to its energy needs and a clean break from past malpractices have the potential to lift the country from its current situation onto a brighter road ahead.

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