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Ready to rise to the challenge

Interview - January 26, 2012
United World talks to Falisie Pinas, Minister of Transport, Communication and Tourism, about the opportunities - and difficulties - facing the government, and the country as a whole
What is your opinion on the competitiveness of the water, air, and road transport facilities?

Suriname is strategically located, and therefore, brings a lot of opportunities. Suriname is the maritime hub to both the Caribbean and the Latin American market, which means export to both markets is a lucrative possibility, and export through French Guyana is also a possibility.

Suriname is part of the regional integration process in the Caribbean. It is a member of Caricom, Cariforum and the Association of Caribbean States, and maintains close relations with South America.

The government states that the relations with its neighbors, Brazil, Venezuela, and France, will be developed further, and the EU-LAC cooperation will be strengthened. Suriname is active in the Latin American Economic System (SELA), the Regional South American Infrastructure Initiative (IIRSA) and the Organization of American States (OAS).

Suriname progressed well in lifting legal barriers for the Caricom Single Market & Economy (CSME). The Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas has been incorporated in national legislation, and the law to implement the CCJ (Caribbean Court of Justice) has been promulgated. As for cooperation with France (Guyane), Suriname and France have worked on a cooperation treaty. This treaty, with the intended rehabilitation of the road from Paramaribo to the French border, could have important economic impacts on the border areas. In 2005 the Surinamese and French Customs (Guyane) signed a protocol of collaboration regarding ‘mutual administrative help’. The two parties have also discussed how to deal with cross border smuggling, and a bilateral dialogue has taken place on re-admission. In addition, a bilateral agreement is under ratification.

Which projects would you highlight from those currently in process, or from the ones that will be undertaken in the near future?

Recently there was a commission installed to give advice on the policy regarding road (bus and goods) and boat transport. That work is done, so we have to start implementing the advice for security and efficiency on the road and the water ways.  We’ve several projects, such as the Institutional Strengthening of the Transport Sector Project (ISTS), the rehabilitation of the Port of Paramaribo has been completed – the Port of Paramaribo has been recently awarded as the Best Port of the Caribbean. We have other processes planned or already in progress, such as dredging the Suriname River; the Maritime Authority Suriname (MAS) is busy with that and it will lower the costs for the companies.

“The main challenge is to create an environment where the whole community of Suriname can have equal access to information, communication and technology.”

Falisie Pinas, Minister of Transport, Communication & Tourism

The rehabilitation of several roads is in progress, like the rehabilitation of the road to Albina (border with French Guyana), which will facilitate the goods transport to French Guyana. We also have the rehabilitation of the port and the airport of New Nickerie, and the rehabilitation and security upgrade of the JAP Airport in progress. The Zorg en Hoop Airport is being upgraded for domestic air transport as well, and the Civil Aviation Department will be converted into an authority, so you can see that the initiatives are already being taken.

In these developments, it is very important to focus on quality, international standards and certifications. What is the status and what are the goals regarding the international standards accomplishments?

Most of our companies and authorities are certified, such as Suriname Airways, the Port of Paramaribo, or the MAS. We’ve others that are not certified yet, such as the CASAS (Civil Aviation Safety Authority Suriname), which will be certified in the future, and the Public Transportation Company, but we’re working towards international standards.

Telecommunications are a key factor for the connectivity among the Surinamese people, but also for the attraction of foreign direct investors. What is your evaluation on the competitiveness of the telecom sector?

The current situation of Suriname’s Telecommunications is that we have three Telecom providers (Telesur, Digicel and Uniqa) operating under the Telecommunication act that came into force in April 2007. Telesur has both fixed and wireless telecommunication infrastructure. Digicel and Uniqa have wireless telecommunication infrastructure. All three telecom providers have certain areas in the hinterland where they need to help bring development with ICT, but my evaluation of the liberalization of the telecom sector, is that more people have access to ICT now.

My view is that the regulation in Suriname supports competition in a limited way. It is one of my priorities to create a sound legal framework to stimulate competition in Suriname. As Minister responsible for the telecommunications, I am aware of the fact that this is vital. Recently a commission has been installed to do research and advise me in revising the Telecommunication Act.

This is one of my priorities, to create a sound legal technology-neutral framework in order to stimulate competition in Suriname.

What other challenges and goals for the future would you highlight?

The main challenge is to create an environment where the whole community of Suriname can have equal access to information, communication and technology.

The priorities for Suriname in terms of policies and regulation of mobile internet are the availability of broadband for both wireless networks and broadcasting. Cyber security is also an issue and challenge.

The policy of the Ministry of TCT is to make ICT accessible and affordable to the whole Surinamese community. This is also a challenge, because the availability of broadband is an issue. The prices for Internet for example, are not available and affordable for every household in the country. We need to plan better. Not everyone in our country has access to ICT, especially the communities in the rural areas.

We don’t have community-based radio stations and television stations in some parts of the hinterland, and information through radio and television stations for the local people is important.

Suriname is now in a phase to conduct some studies to switch from analogue television to a digital television transmission. The regulator (TAS) will undertake steps to test the different standards in order to make the right decision for Suriname.

This Ministry has a big social responsibility aspect as well, such as increase the access to ICT in the rural areas, but also train the people on how to use them. What is your vision regarding the social responsibility?

My Ministry is aware of the situation in the rural areas of Suriname, and of the fact that the people in the hinterland do not have access to ICT. The Ministry of TCT is therefore working together with the UNDP on a project based on reducing disparities in the access to information and services among hinterland communities in Suriname, through the use of ICT. One of the achievements is that ICT is being incorporated in the curriculum of the Poly Technic College and at the tertiary level of our education system, and there are also specific practical training programs in ICT.

What final message would you send to the international community about Suriname?

Any tourist will be in awe when exploring the culinary and cultural diversity that Suriname has to offer. The diaspora tourism market is one that also can be developed, cultured and explored. Suriname delivers every sampler of its cuisine a unique explosion of culinary treats unrivaled by any other. Suriname is the port to both Caribbean and Latin American markets; its strategic bunkering location for the cruise industry is also interesting. Suriname has a lot of potential for every investor in all the production sectors; labor in Suriname is relatively cheap and Suriname is in its preliminary stages of development, getting a piece of the pie while there is still pie to go around is advisable!