By Alexandra Dolce, Esquire
This is a follow up to an article that was published in July of 2015. In that article, yours truly, expressed a five point plan that would help Haiti emerge out of third world status.
Currently Haiti is on fire. Tourism is flourishing, there is a lot of cultural exchange between Haitians and citizens from all over the world, people are seeking business ventures within Haiti and there is a very prominent rumor circulating about Chinese investment. All of these events, in one manner or another, are enticing many Haitians and others to invest in Haiti.
My advice… please use the rule of law as a foundation for all transactions. Navigating the rule of law in a foreign country, or in a country in which you are not familiar with the legal system may be daunting at first, but worth it, if you want to protect your financial, artistic and sweat equity investments.
I recently had a conversation with someone who was starting a significant business venture in Haiti. I being the inquisitive lawyer asked her about any existing contracts that expressed her obligations and the obligations of the various vendors that she was transacting with. Her reply “Haitians do not use contracts”. For anyone with the same mindset, PLEASE BE AWARE, that written agreements are used in all countries. A handshake and a kiss are not enough when thousands of dollars, copyrights, trademarks and sweat equity are at stake.
When conducting business, in Haiti, or elsewhere, please make sure that there is an expressed (written) agreement in place that is in accordance with both the laws of the place where business is being transacted and the country that you are living in. If you are not proficient in the local language, find an attorney that literally speaks the language that you are most comfortable with. Also, make sure that the attorney is reputable and is more pro- client as opposed to pro-profit. The local(s) that you are teaming up with should also be checked. If a collaborator’s reputation is questionable, and you still want to chance it, make sure that you agree to payment and performance milestones. In other words, make sure that the contract specifically spells out that the person will only get paid when work is completed to your satisfaction.
If you are entering in to a joint venture or another investment endeavor, make sure that the agreement specifies a payment milestones, payment structure, payment schedule and banking information. There should also be mention of your right to have an audit conducted, by a neutral third party, if there is evidence of misappropriation of funds, and mention of the rights and obligations of both parties in the case of an unforeseeable event. In ALL agreements the rights and expectations of both parties should be clearly delineated.
If a dispute arises, make sure that both parties agree on a venue (place) where the dispute can be resolved in a legal, fair and expedited manner. For instance, if you are contracting in Haiti, it may be mutually agreed upon, that a tribunal in Florida, is the quickest and fairest method of getting the issue resolved. You may opt for mediation or arbitration as opposed to litigation (going to trial) in order to expedite the process.
Having a paper trail is also very important. Cash maybe more convenient and less transparent when conducting a foreign transaction, but it is almost useless when trying to prove payment or lack thereof in a legal dispute. Therefore, please make sure you have and maintain verifiable receipts, copies of all bank checks, transfers and wires.
I’m excited! Haiti is finally showing visible signs of progress. As such, it’s only natural to want to become a significant part of that progress, but don’t get so caught up with euphoria that you forget ; family is family, friendship is friendship and business MEANS business. No matter how the opportunity presents itself, always remember to protect yourself, your property, your money and your time.
Alexandra Dolce believes that the rule of law is the foundation of permanent legal reform and sustainability in developing countries. As such, she uses her legal, adjudicative, business and conflict mitigation skills to help NGOs, government entities and various stakeholders implement and establish strong legal reform through project management, education and consultation.
She is a graduate of Howard University, Temple University School of Law, and Norwich University School of Graduate Studies. She is licensed to practice law in three jurisdictions.