Our Story, By Us
< Current local time in Suriname – Paramaribo
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands–There was a time in Suriname’s not so distant political past that Jules Wijdenbosch severed himself from Desi Bouterse’s National Democratic Party and formed the Democratic National Platform 2000, which won him the country’s Presidency from 1996 till 2000. Now the hatchet between the former President and the current one is buried. Wijdenbosch, chairman of an economic advisory council, last Saturday turned out a fierce supporter of President Bouterse’s. “When this Government was sworn in, Holland ceased its development aid and that was something Suriname was always fearful of. We were told that without development aid we would become totally dependent, but we have achieved the opposite. Suriname always struggled with a deficit of 3 percent, even when we had the advantage of receiving development aid. Today Suriname has a finance surplus of 1 percent, which means we could be able to pay off all current debts. We did this on our own, without help from Holland … we have accepted the job and we’re carrying it out with the highest form of inspiration,” the former President revealed to resounding cheers, as he spoke eloquently about Government’s policies that are being hailed by local critics and international observers alike.
If it weren’t for the deafening music at the embattled Kwakoe Festival in Amsterdam, one would have heard a pin drop in the packed canopy Suriname’s Government rented in the center of Bijlmerpark Saturday afternoon. Overzealous security officers buzzed around, while supporters of Bouterse handed out a propagandist newsletter that heralded Government’s achievements. A few hundred people had come to Kwakoe, the cultural event that till a few days before had been on the brink of cancellation, just for the former President who was billed to bring the diaspora a message of advancements in Suriname’s economy. “I’m here to rectify all the incorrect doom and gloom reports about Suriname’s economy that appear in Dutch media and in some media in Suriname. The opposite of those stories is true,” Wijdenbosch said. At times his speech was parliamentary monotonous, which makes it difficult to say if the bursts of applause were for him or for the message he brought.
He said that while it had to make tough choices, Government made a conscious decision to focus on sustainable production. “History gave us a thriving bauxite industry, which earns 35 percent of our gross national product (GNP), but truthfully only provides 17 percent of the jobs in the country,” he said. He indicated that Government’s focus was on improving matters like employment, social provisions -like pensions, healthcare expenses and child support- and education.
“While big countries are facing economic difficulties and are forced to cut their subsidies of social provisions, we have been able to increase pensions from 200 SRD to 500 SRD. Child support has also been increased and subsidy of medical expenses is in the process of being safeguarded by the end of this year,” the ex-President said.
His rhetoric included several comparisons with “big countries”. “While big countries have been forced to bail out their financial institutes, we have been able to achieve savings in Suriname,” he said. He forecast that the Gross National Product will stand at US$ 4 to US$ 4.5 billion by the end of the year, which equates US$ 7,000 to US$ 8,000 per capita.
His further predictions regarded Suriname’s trade balance, which he said will for the first time ever show a surplus of US$ 200 million. “That means that we have exported US$ 200 million more than we imported. This is while big countries are facing crisis. It’s a totally different picture than ever before,” the ex-President said. He hinted at the unemployment rates, which went from 30 percent to 12 percent. And at the national debt, which went from 18.5 percent to 17.5 percent of the Gross National Product, while Suriname’s economy is expected to experience a constant growth of 4.5 percent annually.
He said that Government encourages investments and attracts foreign participation, while spurring small and mid-size industries. “The situation of the small and midsized local businesses has dwindled to the point where they’re almost non-existent. We’re creating opportunities for these businesses. We believe in sustainability, less flight of capital and improving national efficiency. We have done a lot, but a lot more still has to be done,” he said, echoing previous calls President Bouterse made to the diaspora to get involved in their country’s growth. “There are many opportunities,” Wijdenbosch said.
He boasted: “Most importantly to underscore is that this is not just a Surinamese story. This is what international rating bureaus Fitch, Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s are also acknowledging,” he said, alluding to recent upgrades awarded to Suriname’s foreign currency rating. “We had expected these upgrades only in 2013 and were surprised that they materialized now already. But we’re happy with them because they’re a testament of government’s prudence. And because they have direct advantages in attracting foreign investments, which lead to growth, employment opportunities and diversification,” Wijdenbosch said.