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Worth its weight in gold

Article - January 26, 2012
The mining industry dominates Suriname's economy, with alumina, gold and oil production accounting for about 95% of exports and 25% of government revenues
After gaining independence in 1975, Suriname continued to receive foreign investments and financial aid from the European Development Fund to continue exploiting its natural resources.

However, despite past economic slowdown – due to waning investments and fluctuating global prices of commodity exports – since 2010, Suriname has experienced continuous economic growth and the government instilled prudent monetary policies to begin mobilizing its own resources. “We are working towards accelerating the development of the gold sector,” explains the Minister of Natural Resources, Jim Hok.

The objective is to diversify the export market. “The mining sector is indeed very important to us right now. Of course we know that mining results in depletion of the resource. But it is our aim to develop the more sustainable sectors, like agriculture, tourism, forestry, etc. with the earnings of this mining sector,” adds Mr. Hok.

Luna N.V. (Luna) is Suriname’s leading contractor for the hauling of bauxite from remnant mines to stockpiles, with its primary activities focused on transportation and earthmoving.

Set up in 1996, Luna has grown steadily from a workforce of 15 people in 2003 to its current 80 employees. “We have a lot of university-trained personnel and we have employed two industrial engineers,” says H. Thakoerdien, General Manager of Luna.

“If you wanted to set up a company in the past, the President had to sign and it took about two years. Now this period is going to be just two months or so.”

Tesora Kartodikromo (left), with Solaiman Kartodikromo,
General Manager of WTEC Sole

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“I now have a strategy that means working with a company with deep pockets to fully explore the potential of a property and to generate a huge database.”

 Henk Naarendorp, CEO of Nana

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“We feel that quality is very important nowadays, because if you don’t consider quality, you will lose business, and then your neighbor will get the business!”

H. Thakoerdien, General Manager of Luna

Quality is key to the company’s operations,  and Mr .Thakoerdien is proud of its ISO 9001 certification: “We feel that quality is very important nowadays, because if you don’t consider quality, you will lose business, and then your neighbor will get the business! We feel that you have to be busy with quality, and we are happy that we got the certificate. To maintain the standard is not so easy because you work with people. When you conduct internal audits you discover a lot of shortcomings. We believe in the idea of continuous improvement, because if you don’t improve continuously, you won’t stay in business.”

Though focus remains on future developments, he pinpoints one obstacle choking the nation’s progress: “One of the problems that we envisioned is the workforce,” he says. “The problem that we as a company experience here is simple: finding a mechanic. I think one of the reasons is that our training institution from the government is not focused on business; they are far behind, maybe 20 years.”

Despite these complications, Mr. Thakoerdien predicts “enormous growth for the coming 20 or 50 years” in Suriname, and Luna is more than ready to contribute to this success. With years of experience in the sector with giants the size of BHP Billiton and Alcoa, Luna was one of five recently selected parties to tender.

So, with a solid operational performance and a strong Health, Safety, Environment and Community (HSEC) achievement, both up to international standards, the company is well on its way to fulfilling its vision of becoming the leading earthmoving and transportation company in the country.

And in doing so, it is looking to further develop its already established American ties. “We like working with Americans,” says Mr. Thakoerdien.

Meanwhile, WTEC Sole (WTEC) – one of the main contractors working the east side of the country – is also optimistic on progress taking place in Suriname. “If you wanted to set up a company in the past, the President had to sign and it took about two years. Now this period is going to be just two months or so,” explains Solaiman Kartodikromo, General Manager of WTEC.

The increasing presence of foreign investments has also permitted the development of Surinamese enterprises. “We expanded from an earthmoving contractor to a company that is involved in wood, civil projects, and transportation,” explains Mr. Kartodikromo.

WTEC is fully committed to the community and equally intent on rebuilding the Moengo area. “We have a good vision to build the city again because now it’s like the wild, wild West; nobody sleeps there,” adds Mr. Kartodikromo. “The east of the country has many opportunities.”

Expected to cease in 2014, the footprint of mining activities in Moengo will be replaced by agriculture and farming, now a foremost priority in the development plans for the area which include the assessment of environmental impacts. WTEC was recently awarded with the ISO 9001 quality certification.

WTEC has recognized the economic potential of this sector and is hungry for action. “We can’t wait anymore. We have to start now because every country in the world needs food. That’s a basic thing,” says Mr. Kartodikromo.

Nana Resources NV (Nana), a mid-scale Surinamese gold mining company, is yet another player striving to situate itself at the forefront of environmentally responsible and human resource-friendly mining operations.

With almost two decades of experience, the company works closely with the government-owned entity SMMC, especially in regulating small-scale mining activity.

“I now have a strategy that has a long-term goal, that means working with a company with deep pockets to fully explore the potential of a property and to generate a huge database. In the short-term, I get my income by controlling the small-scale miners;  I give them guidance, safety, and security. The medium-term goal is working on my own mine,” explains Henk Naarendorp, founder and CEO of Nana.  

Entrepreneurship and expansion are clearly driving forces behind Nana’s achievements to date. However, as Mr. Naarendorp explains: “The resources are not mine, they belong to the country.”

With this in mind, Suriname’s leading companies involved in the mining sector have joined forces to further develop the industry, bearing in mind that it is the gateway to diversifying the economy and opening up other sectors for future generations.

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