Haiti's struggles to draw investors
Loans are difficult to obtain, red tape delays projects, lawmakers are slow to act, and corruption is a hurdle.
New businesses have opened throughout Haiti since a January 2010 earthquake devastated much of the country, and the government promises that more development is coming. The administration of Haitian President Michel Martelly has made attracting foreign investment a top priority, using the motto "Haiti is open for business."
But people like Nickson Touissant, 28, who returned to Haiti from Washington, D.C., with dreams of opening a small hotel, have not received the loans they need to build. "It's been just a gigantic headache," Toussaint said.
His problems demonstrate the struggles would-be business owners face even as Haiti's government courts businesses.
Corruption has been another hurdle. A U.S. State Department human-rights report said Haitian law "provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, in practice, corruption was widespread and endemic."
The same study noted that in 2012, Martelly issued a decree allowing officials to "procure goods and services below a specified value through sole-source and closed bidding processes, as well as no-bid contracts." The World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank said the new law would discourage government accountability and transparency. But administration officials defended the new measures as necessary for speeding up reconstruction projects and basic government operations.
Entrepreneur Steven Giese said he was ensnared in Haiti's red tape when he and his 27-year-old son tried to set up an import-export seafood company two summers ago. They left Haiti three months later, $49,000 lighter and without a business.
"They had exhausted our financial resources," said Giese, 54, of Mount Pleasant, S.C. "At almost every juncture, you're dealing with corruption, serious corruption."
Haiti has made some strides to improve life for businesses.
It's launched a Presidential Advisory Board with the support of former U.S. President Bill Clinton and a $250,000 grant from his foundation. A public-private outfit called the Center for the Facilitation of Investments also reports that 33 businesses have either invested or committed to investing $693 million in Haiti, creating almost 23,000 jobs, since Martelly took office in May 2011. An anti-money-laundering bill the center backs has passed one chamber of Haiti's parliament.
Despite those efforts, the World Bank still ranked Haiti among the last 10 countries in its annual list of best places to do business.
"There's definitely a recognition that we need to do better," said Gregory Mevs, a prominent businessman who co-chairs the panel with Clinton. But, he said, "we shouldn't be trapped by a World Bank ranking."