Minister Furniss to the Secretary of State.

No. 90.]

Sir: I inclose herewith copy and translation, in duplicate, of the tariff law which was promulgated on yesterday, and relative to which on that date I cabled the department.

This law passed the chamber of deputies on the 17th, and the opposition of the public, as well as that of some of the cabinet, was so [Page 879] great that it was thought that it would be withdrawn, at least I was so informed by the secretary of foreign relations. It seems, however, that the influence of the secretary of finance prevailed, and the law was hurriedly and unexpectedly passed by the Senate upon the close of business on the 21st and was signed by the President on the same day, though the following day confirmation of this fact could not be obtained at the palace.

It was published in the official paper on the 23d, and in accord with the civil code all laws become effective twenty-four hours after publication.

At the request of several of our merchants who had cargo on the boats arriving yesterday and to-day, as well as other boats at sea bound here, I yesterday called upon the secretary of foreign relations to ascertain the Government’s intention as to the date when the law would become effective and to suggest that goods on ships bound here on the date of the law’s promulgation should be allowed to enter at the old rates. I stated that this seemed no more than fair in view of the fact that many of our merchants had ordered goods which at the time of the promulgation of the law were afloat and had been ordered without any idea that there was to be an increase in duty. If they had known it in time, they would have countermanded their orders, as they feel that they will not be able for some time to sell goods imported under the new tariff, nor will they be able to arrange the cash to pay the extra duties which will now be collected. I have since learned that the British and German representatives made like statements.

The secretary stated that the Government would allow goods on the boats to arrive yesterday and to-day—the latter because the boat had already touched a Haitian port—to be entered on the old tariff, but all subsequent goods on boats, whenever and wherever loaded, would have to enter under the new tariff.

He stated that while he was not in sympathy with the law, yet he thought it well to try it, as the condition of the country is such that there is need for more revenue, that the Haitian minister at Washington had used every endeavor to float in the United States a loan for the Government and without success, so recourse had to be had to the law enacted. He further stated that the Government desired to get on a gold basis, if possible. With the new law it is thought that four or five million gourdes in paper would be retired in a year, and two years would wipe out the paper.

No thought seems to have been taken of the drop in value in imports which will follow increased duty, to say nothing of the still greater drop which will be entailed as the paper currency increases in value, while the farmers will be getting less and less in paper for their products and have correspondingly less money to spend.

There is one article in the law, article 5, which seems to give too great discretion to the executive power. In its present form it is possible for the Government at any time to change back and forth the laws under which the duties are to be collected. This, if done, could not help but demoralize business.

My attention has been called by an American merchant to the fact that, as he claims, in reality the law is unconstitutional, and he has [Page 880] lodged complaint with the legation. I inclose herewith copy of his letter, together with my reply to same, for the department’s information and such instruction as may be deemed necessary.

I have, etc.,

H. W. Furniss.
[Inclosure 1.—Translation.]

Project of law.

Nord Alexis, President of the Republic, in view of article 69 of the constitution;

Considering that a criminal speculation exploits to the detriment of the people and the amount of paper money at present in circulation;

Considering that to foil that combination the law on the withdrawal of the paper money has up to this day been powerless;

Considering that the State has for its duty to combat and conquer all the elements of social disorganization;

That it is therefore necessary, in order to protect the well-being of the families, to change as soon as possible the economic situation of the country;

On the proposal of the secretary of state for finances, and the advice of the council of the secretaries of state, has proposed and the legislative corps has voted the following law:

Art. I. Dating from the promulgation of the present law, all import duties whatsoever shall be payable in American gold, or in paper money at the rate of 300 per cent.

Art. II. One-half of the whole amount of a bill for importation duties, to wit: Fifty per cent paid in paper money at 300 per cent shall be paid over directly to the withdrawal funds, and in the other cities to the public treasury service for the account of the withdrawal.

This half of all bills for import duties shall be burned within eight days at the furthest.

The greatest publicity shall be given to the operations of the withdrawal.

Art. III. All taxes whatsoever appropriated at present to (withdrawal of) paper money shall be paid henceforth into the public funds and consecrated to the current expenses.

However, when exchange shall fall below 300 per cent the said taxes shall return to the withdrawal service.

Art. IV. The surtax of 25 per cent gold in import duties is and remains suppressed.

Art. V. If the Government shall feel the necessity thereof it is authorized by a simple decree to reestablish on the foodstuffs the old duties as they were prior to the present law.

In that case the 4/8 of import duties appropriated to (withdrawal of) paper money, paid in gold, shall be paid over to the withdrawal fund and in other cities to the treasury service for the account of the withdrawal.

These amounts shall be sold for paper and the proceeds burned, in conformity with the provisions of the law of August 11, 1903, on paper money.

Art. VI. The present law repeals all laws or provisions of laws that are contrary thereto. It shall be executed under the supervision of the secretary of state for finance.

Given at the house of representatives of Port au Prince, August 17, 1906, year 103 of the independence.

S. Archer,
President of the House.

G. Desrosiers,

Louis Brutus,

Given at the national house at Port au Prince, August 21, 1906, year 103 of the independence.

T. A. Dupiton,
President of the Senate.

R. David,

Diogene Lerebours,

[Page 881]

In the name of the Republic.

The President of Haiti orders that the above law of the legislative corps be vested with the seal of the Republic, printed, published, and executed.

Nord Alexis.

By the President:

F. Marcelin,
The Secretary of State for Finance and Commerce.
[Inclosure 2.]

Messrs. E. & F. Mevs to Minister Furniss.

Mr. Minister: According to the Haitian tariff which is constitutionally in force up to the 30th of September next, we in good faith ordered from abroad quite an important lot of goods since several months and expect same to arrive shortly.

Now the Haitian Government has made a new law, which contrary to the constitution is immediately put in vigor instead of waiting the expiration of the fiscal year ending September 30th next.

This is an arbitrary way of applying the law and will cause us severe losses.

The following extracts will enlighten you on the subject in question:

Article 159 of the constitution says: “The imposts for the profit of the State are voted annually, and the laws that establish them have force but for one year.”

The last paragraph of article 164 adds: “The fiscal year commences October 1 and ends September 30 of the next year.”

It results from these texts that the new impost should be collected during the fiscal year, whose duration can neither be shortened or lengthened without violating the constitution.

It is in vain that a law would try to say the contrary, for article 32 of the constitution says: “The law can neither add to or detract from the constitution. The letter of the constitution must always prevail.”

Independently from the constitutional rules, there is another principle that governs the question. The laws become obligatory only after the promulgation made in the forms and conditions stipulated by law.

“The law,” says article 82 of the constitution, “takes its date from the day it has been definitely adopted by both chambers; but becomes obligatory only after the promulgation is made in conformity with the law.”

Now article, 1, third paragraph, of the civil code, regulating the matter, disposes that the promulgation, necessary to render the law obligatory, is supposed to be known in all the Republic one month after the promulgation made by the President of Haiti.

The constitution forbidding all privileges and all exceptions in matter of imposts (article 160) it is evident that the law in question can not be at once applied at Port au Prince, whilst in the other Communes of the Republic it would be but one month later.

Besides these considerations of a purely legal order, it would not be amiss to take in account universally recognized considerations of equity and of justice.

The merchants who, under good faith of the budget law in course, have ordered foreign goods, can not be imposed for the said orders by a law voted while these are in execution or actually at sea.

Justice and usages demand that an effective delay should be accorded to these merchants before application of the new law, which application, as we have just seen, can not commence before the 1st of October next.

In consequence, we beg of you, Mr. Minister, to kindly advise us what to do in the matter, and would thank you to kindly use your good offices in protecting our interest.

We beg, etc.,

E. & F. Mevs.
[Page 882]
[Inclosure 3.]

Minister Furniss to Messrs. E. & F. Mevs.

Sir: I am in receipt of your letter of this date, and in reply thereto have to state that it is beyond the province of this legation to take up the constitutionality of the tariff law just enacted. I would suggest that, if you are convinced of the facts as detailed, a test case should be made relative to the payment of duties on such merchandise as you may have arrive before September 30 next.

Meantime, I have forwarded a copy of your letter to the Department of State at Washington for its information and such instructions as may be required.

Very respectfully, yours,

H. W. Furniss.