Social tensions in Suriname flare over devaluation and fuel price hike

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Social tensions in Suriname flare over devaluation and fuel price hike

Friday, September 25, 2020

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PARAMARIBO, Suriname (CMC) — There is mounting tension across Suriname following the devaluation of the Surinamese dollar by nearly 90 per cent against the US dollar.

Following the announcement on Tuesday, the price of fuel, which had been subsidised by successive governments over the years, saw a dramatic increase.

The subsidy was recently abolished by the newly appointed Government. Previously, fuel was imported on the basis of the official exchange rate with the US dollar.

In addition, the devaluation of the local currency has also had an impact on bus fares. Although a price hike was implemented before the devaluation, bus owners believe the new rates are already outdated and will have to be increased again.

Meanwhile, various sectors have announced tariff adjustments.

Immediately after the devaluation was announced, the two telecommunications companies increased their rates – something that has not happened since 2016. Both Digicel and Telesur increased rates by almost 90 per cent.

“These changes are a necessary consequence of the increased costs of doing business and will take effect within a week,” said Digicel.

“We assure you that we will continue to fulfil our role as an enabler of digital services through innovations and customer-oriented solutions. In this time of change, we will continue to work together to secure our digital future,” State telecom company Telesur said in a statement.

The Association of Surinamese Businesses (VSB), in a letter to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Entrepreneurship and Technological Innovation, asked the Government to lower the price of diesel.

The VSB warns that the effect of the increased diesel prices will lead to an enormous increase in costs for the Surinamese population, as most of the transportation sector relies on diesel fuel.

Meanwhile, the trade union movement and business organisations have called on the Government to immediately reverse the fuel price increase.

The civil servants union has threatened strikes if the fuel price increase is not reversed by next week. “Government, if you don't reverse this, you're going to get in trouble,” said Eugène Daniel, union leader at the Ministry of Defence.

His colleague Michael Miskin pointed out that the trade union movement was not consulted before fuel prices were increased.

Miskin also denounced the Government's commitment to submit a coherent package of economic measures to the trade union movement for consideration.

Miskin, who is the secretary general of the civil servants union, said the Government agreed that the package of measures would be sent to the trade unions and to the Social Economic Council (SER), following which the trade unions and the SER would consider the package of measures and give advice.

“We have not yet seen the package, which was itself offered by the Government. If you offer something you have to stick to it,” Miskin argued.

In addition, activists have called on society, via social media, to participate today in a protest demonstration against the cost-increasing measures that the Government has implemented since taking office in mid-July.

Former President Desi Bouterse's National Democratic Party (NDP), now the main Opposition party, announced that his party will not participate in the demonstrations.

According to analysts, the mismanagement of the Bouterse Government over the past 10 years, exacerbated by the price shock on the international commodities market, caused the Surinamese economy to fall severely.

As a result the national debt increased significantly, while the new Government, which has been in office for less than three months, has inherited a virtually empty treasury.

In July, the Government narrowly managed to pay civil servants' salaries. That same month, Suriname was unable to repay its foreign loans, which has resulted in several rating agencies revising the country's credit rating down to 'default'.


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