Wyclef Jean Makes Case For His Candidacy In Haiti

Michele Norris talks to hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean, who just last week announced he is running for the presidency of Haiti. Norris presses Jean on the accusations of financial misdeeds surrounding his charitable foundation. Jean has been criticized by some in Haiti as a carpetbagger candidate.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

More than 30 individuals have declared themselves candidates for the president of Haiti. Chances are, though, you've only heard of one of them, and that would be Wyclef Jean, the Haitian-born hip-hop musician and record producer. And he joins us now from New York City. Welcome to the program.

WYCLEF JEAN: Thank you for having me.

NORRIS: Tell me a little bit about how you would plan to structure the government. Who would you like to appoint, for instance, as finance minister?

JEAN: Well, the first thing we have to talk about before talking about that is to talk about the system of not only that this is a run for the president, but it's going to be a run for the Senate and the deputy, too, for the House. The idea of the minister of finance right now I can't disclose because of the opposition who's listening. But there's three or four people that we're considering.

It's very important that the prime minister, the future prime minister of Haiti is someone that is very transparent, that can handle big money and is not associated with corruption.

NORRIS: Well, when you talk about the president's ability to handle big money and not be associated with corruption, that of course, raises questions about your own finances. You've been battling corruption claims yourself regarding the charity you founded, Yele Haiti. There are charges of mismanagement, claims that you used donations to pay yourself for concert appearances and rent and high salaries for family members and close associates. How do you allay those concerns? And how do you encourage voters to support you if you can't manage your own finances?

JEAN: The first thing is beyond managing finance, right, it's governance. 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. There have been investigation on Yele Haiti. The question was, was the taxes filed on time? They wasn't filed on time. That issues was dealt with. Meeting any questions, I am willing to answer them, but the idea of Wyclef being corrupted is a no.

NORRIS: I want to ask you also about your taxes. It's been reported now that you owe the federal government more than $2 million in back taxes. This is based on tax liens that were filed against you. It's not the first time that you've owed back taxes. What is your explanation for that, again, since you're calling for good stewardship of the country and calling for someone who can handle good finances and will battle corruption in Haiti?

JEAN: Well, the first thing is that I am not running from the IRS. That's the number one thing. The number two thing is I make a lot of money a year. And the number three thing is my accountants and my business people are handling the IRS. But going into this, it's an open book, meaning I didn't go into this knowing that everything is public information.

So the day that I decide that I'm going to run for president and someone says, well, he owes the IRS this amount of money - I would never go into placing a candidacy if all of the business of everything that we have to be taken care of is not taken care of.

NORRIS: Are the back taxes taken care of or do you still owe the government money?

JEAN: Yes. It's with our accountant and our managers and everyone's working on everything with the IRS.

NORRIS: Given that there's so much that needs to be rebuilt, how much are you engaged in the actual governance in Haiti? Are there too many ministries in the Haitian government or not enough? How familiar are you with the Haitian Senate or the chamber of deputies?

JEAN: I've been talking to these senators. I've been talking to these deputies, ministers. The problem is this: Haiti has bad management. The idea in moving Haiti forward, it would require putting everybody in a post where you feel absolutely there's no corruption.

For example, a minister or a deputy, a deputy would get a certain amount of money for their zone. And you would say, okay, this is the amount of money that you get for your zone, what are you doing for your zone? Six months later, one year later, the deputy does nothing for the zone, is not held accountable by law. You know, the law he's supposed to be held accountable to show transparency of what they do in the town, nothing has happened. This is basically what has gone in Haiti for the past 50 years.

I am running for the president of Haiti because 50 - over 50 percent of the population is a youth population. And I said that I'm being drafted. So I do not claim to be a Haitian political expert. I'm happy of that.

But what I am doing myself is I'm surrounding myself with the right people to make sure that the ideas I have is implemented. And in working and moving forward, the new government, that we do have the right alliances with the right ministers and deputies and senators in place.

NORRIS: When someone asked you how much time you've spent in Haiti, let's say since the earthquake, if not even the, you know, for the past five years, let's just say since the earthquake happened, you know, you will be hit with that direct question - what's the answer? How many days have you spent in Haiti?

JEAN: The answer to that is I have spent a good month in Haiti. We could say a good 31 days in Haiti. And in my second part of the answer is, it's not about how many days I spent on the ground in Haiti, it's about, is the projects that I put in place being implemented on the ground? Is people being fed? Is water being given on time? What are we doing to take these tents out of the place? Are these temporary homes that are we doing being negotiated inside of the land?

Understand, right, with me, when it comes to Haiti, I am from Haiti. So I'm at the point where if I am Haitian, I can't move right now on emotion. I have to make sure that policies and everything that is supposed to be implemented is implemented. So within the next five years of service, you can look and say, wow, Haiti was here and it went from here to moving it forward.

NORRIS: Yeah. So the earthquake happened in January and we're not in August and say you've been there about a month, about 31 days. Is that enough?

JEAN: I said, yes, 31 days on the ground.

NORRIS: Is that enough to qualify for running for the highest office in the country?

JEAN: Well, I would say that if you want to judge me on that, right, the first thing you have to do is you have to look at the series of events of Haiti before the quake and see every time I've been on the ground, is this what qualifies me for office? And I would say yes to that.

NORRIS: Wyclef Jean, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you so much for making time for us.

JEAN: It's been a pleasure to talk to you. Anytime. And I would tell you to vote for me, but I think you have an American passport.

NORRIS: I do. I do.

JEAN: Okay. All right.

NORRIS: We're going to hold you to that. Come back and talk to us again.

JEAN: All right.

NORRIS: That was Wyclef Jean, musician and candidate for president in Haiti.

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