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"I see a brilliant future"

Article - January 26, 2012
In terms of natural resources, the World Bank has ranked Suriname among the ten richest countries in the world, and the government is opening its doors to the international community to develop this untapped source of wealth
JIM HOK, MINISTER OF NATURAL RESOURCES
Already one of the world’s top suppliers of bauxite, the raw material for the production of aluminum, Suriname also possesses many other natural resources with economic potential, such as oil, timber, kaolin, gold, diamonds, platinum, uranium, manganese, copper, nickel and iron ore, some of which are yet to be explored.

Around 95% of the country is still covered by rainforest and the government’s overarching aim is to tap into the country’s inherent natural advantages to leverage national development in partnership with the private sector with a definite focus on sustainability – not only in financial terms, but also environmental.

The economy is dominated by exports of oil, gold, and alumina. However the plan is to use these revenues to develop more sustainable sectors of the economy. “At the moment, gold and alumina are very important to our economy,” says Minister of Natural Resources Jim Hok. “Although the production of aluminum itself was stopped in 2000, and the production volume of alumina has dropped 40% since 2009, the sector is still very important for our economy as it provides employment for a lot of people and we value its contribution to the government budgets.”

Rita Vaseur-Madhoeban, Director of the Bauxite Institute, adds: “There is still enough potential in Suriname to establish a second refinery, and an integrated industry in the Bakhuys area.”

The Surinamese government is actively looking to create joint ventures with the international community to develop the country’s natural potential through investment as well as much needed technology and knowledge transfer.

“Suralco/Alcoa of the U.S. is in the bauxite/aluminum industry and is the most famous foreign investor,” says Mr. Hok, “but we also have companies in somewhat smaller operations, like Esso and Texaco.”

Ferdinand Welzijn, Legal Representative of Suralco, adds: “In four to six years’ time, Alcoa will start to look at other natural resources opportunities in the western part of Suriname.”

In 2012 the Ministry plans to update the geophysical map of Suriname, which is currently based on a map from around 1958. “We have instruments available to us that we have not been using up to now,” says Mr. Hok. “Now that we have discovered that there is so much gold in the ground, people start thinking about manganese, people start thinking about iron, and I see for Suriname a very brilliant future.”

IAMGOLD now has 60% of its gold coming from Suriname and is in negotiations with the government to increase production. The Minister stresses the government’s desire that partnerships be beneficial for all parties: “When we reach an agreement with IAMGOLD or Newmont, we believe that both parties should profit.”

Suriname’s gold mining sector has a particular emphasis on environmental consideration. By the end of this year, the use of mercury in the industry will be totally banned and the government has devised a program to teach small-scale gold producers how to extract more gold from the ore and avoid using mercury.

Annette Tjon Sie Fat, Executive Director at Conservation International, comments, “Our interest is in trying to help the government if necessary and WWF as well, in order to meet the point. We’re not against gold mining, because the price is so high that you can’t do anything against it, but we try to get operations as low impact as possible.”

In 1980, Staatsolie, the state oil company, was founded and started exploration and production of oil. Today it employs more than 700 people and is the number one contributor to the nation’s coffers. “The development of the oil sector is relatively young and is based on the onshore findings of Staatsolie, which is working together with others in the offshore area but so far without the great breakthrough,” says Mr. Hok. “However, expectations are still very high. This is especially the case with the recent extension of our economic sea zone of more than 80,000km2, because this part of the sea compares to the same area in Africa, where recently huge oil deposits have been found.”
The Minister adds: “Up until now, Staatsolie is the only oil producing company in Suriname. It works with production-sharing agreements, which seems to be quite normal in the oil sector. The guest company will be free to invest, eventually take out the investments, and come to production sharing with Staatsolie.”

The exploitation of Suriname’s natural resources to achieve a wider diversification of the economy opens up extremely attractive investments in tourism, forestry and agriculture, as examples. Food is always going to be a growing need, and Suriname – with historical experience, fertile lands, small population, good climate, lack of natural disasters, and abundant water – has all the ingredients to become a global food supplier.

Mr. Hok says: “Let’s look at our country from the viewpoint of investors: Suriname has a relatively highly educated population. With a bauxite industry here for almost 100 years, we have developed skills that I believe would be beneficial to not only the mining sector.

“With this new attitude of a future for ourselves in our own hands, I believe we also offer a responsible people, a responsible government, and we look at things not only from our side, but also from the side of people from abroad, because we want to live together with them, we want to be involved with the rest of the world. 

“We have not developed everything to the full. For instance, tourism is still up and coming. We should be careful not to spoil everything; we should use the experience of other countries. I believe that the development of tourism is just starting, but it has a very, very big future.

“And then, of course, agriculture. The dream of the President is to be the main food supplier of the Caribbean. So you can imagine that we have plans, we have dreams, and all of this is just there, we have to go and get it.

“What I can say is that we would like to invite our friends from abroad to come and see what we can do together.”

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