Clinton praises O'Brien's work in Haiti in 'Time' magazine


FORMER US president Bill Clinton has praised the work of businessman Denis O’Brien in Haiti through the telecoms company Digicel.

Mr Clinton said phones had revolutionised the average person’s access to financial opportunity in Haiti, where only 10 per cent of people had bank accounts but about 80 per cent of households have access to a mobile phone.

“So the chairman of Digicel, Irish businessman Denis O’Brien, worked with a Canadian bank, Scotiabank, to provide a service that lets Haitians withdraw cash and make deposits and person-toperson transfers using their mobile phones without a bank account,” Mr Clinton wrote in Time magazine.

He described Haiti, which suffered greatly following the earthquake in January 2010, as the “one of the poorest places on the planet”. He said few Haitians had bank accounts because until recently banks in Haiti did not make loans.

Since about 20 per cent of the country’s income comes from remittances from Haitians working abroad, the banks concentrated on converting foreign currency to Haitian money.

“While that kept the banks in business, it didn’t help the ordinary Haitian or change the fact that roughly 70 per cent of the country’s people were living on less than $2 a day before the 2010 earthquake.”

Mr Clinton said the service initiated by Mr O’Brien had processed more than six million transactions by the end of last year. Mr Clinton came to the Global Irish Economic Forum in Dublin last October on Mr O’Brien’s private jet.

Controversy erupted last March when Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Mr O’Brien appeared in a group photograph at the New York Stock Exchange showing Mr Kenny ringing the bell of the Wall Street institution.

Mr O’Brien wrote to Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton last April accusing her of “vindictiveness” after she referred to the “considerable public and political unease” about his presence at public events following the Moriarty tribunal’s adverse finding against him over the issuing of the State’s first mobile phone licence.