Frederic Dupoux/Getty Images
Wyclef Jean and his wife, Marie Claudinette Jean, walk through a crowd of supporters before he submitted paperwork to run for president of Haiti.
Wyclef Jean and his wife, Marie Claudinette Jean, walk through a crowd of supporters before he submitted paperwork to run for president of Haiti. Frederic Dupoux/Getty Images
Wyclef Jean, the U.S.-based musician turned Haitian presidential candidate, vowed Monday to clean up corruption in his homeland and vigorously defended himself against claims he siphoned off money destined for earthquake victims.
In interviews with NPR, he also responded to critics of his bid for office — including actor and activist Sean Penn — who say Jean is out of touch with the Caribbean island nation.
Speaking to NPR's All Things Considered, the three-time Grammy-winning hip-hop artist said the problem in Haiti is one of "bad management."
"The idea in moving Haiti forward would require putting everyone in a post where you feel there's absolutely no corruption," he said, acknowledging that while he isn't a political expert, he would surround himself "with the right people to make sure the ideas I have are implemented."
He said his candidacy particularly appeals to Haiti's youth.
Younger Haitians "have no faith in any form of old-structure politics," he said. "The tone on the ground is that if Wyclef Jean is not running, we're not voting."
Speaking earlier to NPR's Tell Me More, Jean, who is an ambassador at large for Haiti, fired back at Penn, who was quoted recently as saying that he was "suspicious" of the musician's motives. Penn acknowledged that "I don't know the man" but said about Jean that "I haven't seen or heard anything of him in these last six months that I've been in Haiti."
Jean told NPR that he had been in Haiti for 31 days since the quake. "My idea is ... to go to the areas that are rough, because if these areas get hot, then it's going to have a domino effect on the areas that Sean Penn is in. I fully want him to understand that," he said.
The Haitian-born artist moved to the U.S. when he was 9 and currently lives in New Jersey, but he has maintained his Haitian citizenship and travels there regularly. Jean filed last week for the Nov. 28 Haitian election.
Jean, a candidate for the Viv Ansanm party, is considered a front-runner in a crowded field of competitors vying to replace current President Rene Preval. "I never felt like the government of Haiti necessarily stood for the benefit of the mass population," he said.
Jean said in such an impoverished country, it was important to provide free schooling and that good government "understands that quality of education requires building real schools and it requires caring for people."
A childhood friend and a fellow member of Jean's band The Fugees, Pras, also threw his support behind a rival candidate, saying that while he loves his former band mate "dearly," he doesn't support his policies.
Jean told NPR that Pras' remark was understandable. "If I look back at 10 years or maybe 12, I haven't had a conversation with Pras for more than 30 seconds," Jean said.
In recent days, criticism has focused on whether Jean meets the country's five-year residency requirement to run for president.
"I have more than five years' residency in Haiti," Jean offered. "I don't know anyone in the Haiti Parliament that basically stays in Haiti for five years. As a roving ambassador, you cannot sit in one place; you've got to be constantly moving around the world," he said.
Jean has come under scrutiny recently for $2.1 million in back taxes owed to the United States and for his aid foundation, Yele Haiti, which allegedly misused post-quake charity funds.
"The tax situation was taken care of by me," he told Tell Me More host Michel Martin.
He emphatically denied the charges related to his charity.
"The idea of Wyclef taking money to put in his pocket, that is a no. The idea of taking personal money to give to my family, that is a no. The idea of Wyclef being corrupted is a no," he told All Things Considered.
Jean also promised to go after the billions of dollars in unpaid pledges that were made in the wake of the disastrous quake, but never collected. "If you have $5.2 billion that is sitting, which has been promised by donors, someone has to go get that money," he said.
Implying that his travel around the world makes him uniquely qualified to retrieve the funds, Jean said Haiti doesn't need a "local president."
"You need a global president, someone who is going to be moving through the globe," he said.
Jean said as president, he hoped to concentrate on education, job creation, agriculture, security and health care, but he offered little in the way of specifics. Instead, he emphasized his "No. 1" qualification as not being a Haitian politician.
"Take Wyclef Jean out of the equation [and] show me someone who is prepared to move Haiti forward in the next five years that's going to take it from where it's at right now, from education to agriculture to policy to implement and law. I don't see that," he said.