- - Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Social Contract to Fulfill

Suriname is a country of striking human diversity: a country where musical traditions of Java and India, age-old rhythms of Ghana, poems of indigenous folk tales and the prayers of Jews and Muslims alike blend into a surprisingly harmonious national voice. This diversity is at the heart of a vision of human dignity and equality, which in turn drives a national commitment to develop and implement socio-economic policies in which the welfare of the individual human being is paramount.

The Government of Suriname, under the leadership of President Desiré Delano Bouterse, has embarked on a strategy for national and regional development to fulfill what it sees as a social contract with each and every Surinamese citizen.

“We are guided by the belief that human-centered development advances the creation of a just society,” says President Bouterse. “Economic policies should lead to long-term social development, and for this to happen we need to invest in priority areas such as health, education, housing and the security of the environment.” In recent years legislative initiatives and programs on national health insurance, pensions, affordable housing and universal access to primary education provide tangible examples of the Government’s commitment to its social contract.

An Influential Regional Presence

While focusing on its own national development, Suriname is also actively improving its ties with regional neighbors. President Bouterse currently sits as Chairman of UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations, and has used this position to promote and contribute to regional cooperation in areas such as natural resources, the strengthening of democratic institutions and the establishment of South America as a nuclear weapons-free zone.

Succeeding in these initiatives is not without challenges, as Mr. Bouterse notes: “We do encounter challenges in getting all our partner Member States to a common view. As an organization we try to overcome differences by building a dialogue around democratic principles and a shared vision of our joint future.”

Here again Suriname is able to draw from its own national experience to serve as an example of how diversity can be a strength and differences celebrated. “Respect for each other’s differences and tolerance are the guiding forces in our development,” says President Bouterse. “I am very proud on behalf of Suriname that we are not only able to chair the organization, but also to share some of our virtues with the rest of the continent.”

Suriname’s geography places it not just in South America but also as a presence in the Caribbean, and it sees itself as playing an important role linking these two regions. In addition to UNASUR, Suriname is also a member of CARICOM, the Caribbean Community, and fully engaged in betterment initiatives with its neighbors to the north. Initiatives such as development of air and sea ports and CARICOM Enterprises – a project to collectively use natural resources – offer potential ways to achieve national development goals for Suriname and its partners.

“The Greenest Country on Earth”

Environmental sustainability is a matter of utmost importance for Suriname, where more than 90 percent of the country is covered by rainforest. From an early stage Suriname realized that it would have to be diligent in pursuing policies that balance economic development with protection of the environment. Securing land as nature reserves is one approach; currently over 11 percent of the territory belongs to nature reserves, including the Central Suriname Nature Reserve which sits in the heart of the interior country.

Currently the Government is working on a program to ‘Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation’ (REDD+) with the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility to evaluate the potential for expanding rainforest conservation areas.

At the same time, natural resources are a source of wealth and well-being for Suriname, so there must be a balance between conservation and resource development. “Our abundant natural resources, such as bauxite, gold and diamonds, contribute to economic growth and a more diverse, balanced economy,” says President Bouterse. To that end he notes the signing last year of two multi-million dollar gold contracts, with IAMGOLD Corp. and Newmont Mining Corporation, and the increased pace of development in Suriname’s oil industry. “Commerce is growing and our ports are busier than ever,” says Mr. Bouterse. “But we have to conduct this business in a way that safeguards and protects our precious natural ecosystems.”         

Opportunities for Trade and Investment

Not surprisingly, the abundance in natural resources has put Suriname on the global map for investment, trade and partnership opportunities. Other geographic features also enhance the country’s desirability as a partner in commerce. Suriname sits on a major sea and air transit route connecting South and North America. The capital city of Paramaribo is the closest South American capital to Europe and Africa. An open, transparent approach supported by business-friendly policies and regulations has resulted in a number of strategic partnerships between Suriname and international private and public sector enterprises.

For example the Newmont Mining Corp. project has a multi-year time frame and makes the United States the largest foreign direct investor in Suriname. Canada and Dubai are also major sources of FDI. A partnership with Dubai’s DP World to upgrade the quality of Paramaribo’s sea port led to that port winning the Caribbean Shipping Association (CSA) Port Award three years in a row. And one of the fastest-growing sectors – offshore oil exploration and development – is being spearheaded by Suriname’s own state-owned oil company, Staatsolie NV.

Diversification of Suriname’s economic base is something the Government sees as a high priority for the coming years. “Our focus on developing our non-renewable natural resources potential now is strategic in nature: it provides the means by which we can invest and develop the sustainable sectors of the economy like agriculture, tourism and services,” says President Bouterse. “The supply of energy for the expansion of industries and consumption of our growing population that should accompany such development, is therefore also of strategic importance for our socio-economic growth. Open sky agreements, including one recently concluded with the United States, improved port facilities and other means of upgrading connectivity with the rest of the world are all part of our long term goal of prosperity and well-being through diverse, sustainable economic channels.”

Building a National Infrastructure

Part of improving the standard of living is increased investment in public infrastructure. That challenge is compounded by a geography dominated by vast stretches of rainforest. Over 90 percent of Suriname’s economic activity is concentrated in the coastal area around the capital city. President Bouterse and his Government see this as changing; indeed, much of the continuing build-out in affordable housing is taking place further and further away from the city center, including heavily forested areas. This build-out has to be supported by modern roads, utilities pipelines and communications networks. The Government is actively promoting infrastructure development in these areas and facilitating jobs growth in previously uninhabited territory.

Another initiative currently under way is the improvements of Suriname’s road connections with its geographic neighbors: Guyana to the west, French Guyana to the east and – eventually and perhaps most auspiciously – Brazil to the south. Improved transportation links could lead to new opportunities to develop yet-untapped resources.

“Since we came into office my Government and I have promised the people of Suriname that we would live up to our social contract to improve their lives through meaningful gains in the standard of living,” says President Bouterse. “Infrastructure is a necessary means to this end, and we will continue to invest in it.”

President Bouterse hopes that more people from other nations will come to experience for themselves the uniqueness of Suriname and the benefits of its model of inclusive development. “Visitors to our country do indeed tell us that it was a unique experience for them,” Mr. Bouterse says. “They are impressed by our pristine rainforests, the hospitality of our people and, most significantly, the diversity and peaceful co-existence they encounter at so many levels – ethnic, religious, culinary and so on. These are strong assets we want to maintain, nurture and grow for the benefit of our future and the future of the generations to come. To that end, sustainable and inclusive development is not just a phrase for us. It is a deep-seated commitment at the heart of everything we – as a Government and as a people – do to improve our lives and those of our neighbors.”

This article was produced in conjunction with The Washington Times International Advocacy Department.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide