President Chan Santokhi: Invest in Suriname!

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President Chan Santokhi (left) with Dr. Dhanpaul Narine

By Dr Dhanpaul Narine

Developing countries ignore the diaspora at their peril. Many leaders meet with the diaspora and bring nationals up to date with matters of national development. There is no doubt that India, Mexico and Jamaica are countries that have robust diaspora policies in which the population abroad are seen as an extension of national policy at home.

The diaspora is not only about remittances. It sells the image of the home country. It invests, transfers technology, and brings innovation. Smart policies can remove tedious regulations and lead to growth at home. But perhaps the greatest long-term investment lay in the energy that young people can bring to development.

India has a policy in which young people are encouraged to visit the homeland, and acquaint themselves with the country. Guyana, and other countries, can implement such a policy as well. There are hundreds of young people of Guyanese background that are willing to help. The government of Guyana can formulate a ‘Young Guyana’ program that takes young people on visits to Guyana to acquaint themselves with the country of their parents. It will pay dividends in the long term.

Suriname is the latest country to appreciate the important role the diaspora can play in its development. President Chan Santokhi was in Queens, in late September 2022, to address New Yorkers on the situation in Suriname. He said that, “Suriname has one million people and six hundred thousand of them live in Suriname and four hundred thousand live abroad. It is our responsibility to bring the diaspora up to date, and involve them, on what is happening in Suriname.”

After nearly three years of governing the country, President Santokhi is aware that people want to know about the achievements of his government and the way forward. He said that a great deal of information is on social media on Suriname but it is not always accurate. He pointed out that when his administration took over, Suriname was riddled with debt. He inherited a ‘complicated and complex financial crisis.’ There were millions of dollars outstanding and creditors were knocking on the door. The administration had to make Suriname trustworthy and solvent again.

The idea was to control the debt crisis and due to prudent management Suriname has its financial crisis ‘fully under control.’ It has reached a settlement with the financial institutions about debt restructuring. The conditions were reasonable and acceptable for the people of Suriname. President Santokhi said that the Covid situation is under control and that his government is monitoring the trends.

As far as climate change is concerned, people are leaving the interior due to rising water levels. When they leave, they will find themselves in the city, villages, or other urban areas. There has been remedial action. People are planting mangroves to stem the impact of the rising seas. According to President Santokhi, ‘the Secretary-General of the United Nations visited Suriname and he was amazed at how Suriname is losing lands and the steps we are taking to fight off climate change.’ People have moved to higher lands but for the system to work, there has to be all round strategy to improve living conditions, such as health facilities, education, road, water supply, and security.

Suriname would do everything to preserve its forests in a sustainable manner. It is one of the few countries that is carbon negative, but it needs international support to keep it that way. President Santokhi explained that his visit to the IMF was to get help for a total recovery plan for Suriname, ‘not for now but also for the next generation. The debt structure plan will be good until 2035, when we will finish paying the final part of our debt.’ But he was careful to point out that the impact at the micro-level has not been sufficient to bring about the change that one would expect. There is still lot of work to do to make a real difference. That is why international cooperation is important to protect the people.
President Santokhi said that Suriname is facing a new reality and new challenges. His message to the IMF was that the country needed to redesign the debt program. “We need to have more flexibility in the time line for the targets, and the conditions for repayment.” He said that he has the support of the IMF and that his technical staff has started to work out the details to reflect the flexibility needed. This would give his government more room to breathe.

The President said he met with US Vice-President Kamala Harris and matters of food security were discussed. There was a meeting with Secretary of State, Mr. Antony Blinken, about relations between Suriname and the United States and how the cooperation could be extended. The OAS meeting touched on human rights, the rule of law, and Haiti. President Santokhi discussed the role of education, and said that in today’s world, education policy cannot be business as usual. He said that new approaches were needed. In Suriname and Guyana, with the discoveries of oil and gas, governments would do well to invest in young people and get them into technology, oil and gas, agriculture for food security, and tourism, among others. Education is instrumental for development, he said.

President Santokhi thanked the people of New York for their support. He stated that he began his campaign in New York. He formed a coalition, but it is a coalition with challenges. One must be prepared to express leadership and to make sacrifice in the interest of the nation, he said. He was pleased that in two years his government has been able to turn things around, from a minus eight percent economic growth to a positive growth of nearly two percent. The social safety net program provides relief in gas and electricity and food.
President Santokhi appealed to the international community to invest in Suriname. He affirmed that the diaspora can help to provide support to the country. He said that he would ‘compose a team comprising dedicated persons of different sectors to explore opportunities to take action to further develop Suriname. It would involve locals and the diaspora, and others.’

President Santokhi is sincere and passionate about the welfare of Suriname. He wants to see an increase in levels of living. He has a good team and he needs support to bring about constructive changes. Anand Jagessar, Suriname’s Honorary Consul to New York and his team, arranged a splendid function for the President. It was evident with the good turnout and the high level of interaction.

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The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.