AMONG the most important occurrences following President Mohamed Irfaan Ali’s inauguration were the unplanned business meetings with President Chandrikapersad Santokhi of Suriname. The meetings between the Presidents were constructive, comprehensive, far-reaching and of the utmost importance to both countries. Their discussions covered economic, social and even political developments of both countries. These meetings were historic both from the extensiveness of their coverage and from the serious and quick effectuation to which the presidents pledged themselves. President Santokhi took centre stage and for the first time, Suriname became a watchword throughout CARICOM.
In 24 hours, a large number of important and far-reaching agreements were arrived at and these would be put into writing in the next few days and both presidents were anxious to have the ball rolling. In this regard, President Ali remarked : “We need to set out an agenda with deadlines, an agenda with greater involvement of stakeholders in the societies of both countries, especially the private sector.” President Santokhi was equally emphatic: “Yes, there is a historical cooperation between Suriname and Guyana, but from this moment, with these two leaders, there will be value added to the cooperation… We’re here not only to discuss, we’re to act…A working committee would be set up at the policy and technical levels to advance discussions and to determine a time table of action…We’re not talking of months , we’re talking of weeks.”
At random, we will mention some of the programmes and projects identified:
Maritime security: both countries have suffered from piracy in the Corentyne River basin, where fishermen were attacked and brutally killed and where the fishing industries of both countries were negatively affected.
Border security: controlling “back-tracking” and the movement of goods. Most important at this time is addressing the many facets of the COVID-19 pandemic. These would include control of movement between the two countries and also medical and other health cooperation.
Oil and Gas: both countries have equally rich oil resources which are now being seriously developed by foreign multi-nationals and are faced with the same problems of how to get fair returns from the oil companies; how to avoid wastage and corruption and ensure that the oil revenues are enjoyed by the populations; and how to be seized of technical aspects of the industry. Suriname has had a longer experience of the oil-and-gas industry than Guyana and could offer much guidance and help, including of how best to achieve local content.
Infrastructure and travel: the ferry across the Corentyne River would be improved and modernized and the building of the bridge across the river would be a priority project. Aviation and road-linkage cooperation would be developed.
Agriculture: the cooperation in agriculture is vast and includes its various facets — technical and non-technical.
Environment and Biodiversity: Suriname and Guyana have the same environment and biodiversity and could profitably address their problems together. In addition to the issues mentioned, there are others such as Tourism.
Both Presidents had their foreign ministers in attendance, since it is they who will have the overall responsibility of ensuring that the projects are effectuated. Minister Todd of Guyana commented, “We’ve recognised that if we work closer together, we’ll be able to improve the lives and standard of living of both of our peoples.” Suriname’s Albert Ramdin, whose brilliance was long recognised and respected by the Organization of American States, reminded that Guyana and Suriname together form almost 75 per cent of the geographic area of CARICOM and have the potential of serving the Region.
In mid-September, the foreign ministers would re-evaluate the existing programmes and thereafter there would be regular meetings at the technical level. At the policy level, there would be at least two meetings annually.