Paramaribo, Suriname – President Chandrikapersad Santokhi began hearings with various civil society organisations and groups in an attempt to de-escalate the high political tensions in the country, but two key groups have refused to be part of the consultations.
The head of state said that he wanted to obtain input from society to adjust his policy, after a peaceful demonstration on February 17 turned into large-scale riots in the capital Paramaribo in which numerous businesses were looted and destroyed and the Parliament building was also attacked by demonstrators.
While President Santokhi indicated that he wants to have dialogue with all groups Trade Union C-47 and the Association of Economists in Suriname (VES), say they will not participate in the discussions with the head of government.
C-47 chairman Robby Berenstein is not satisfied with the implementation of previous proposals made to the government by the trade union and therefore sees no point in talking to Santokhi again without concrete actions being taken by the government.
The President will hear from the trade unions, individual citizens, social groups, political parties and the business community. The president said in the National Assembly last Friday that he will allocate two weeks for these talks. If necessary, the period will be extended.
“We first want to know the status of the things we have requested. Before you come and talk about national dialogue, start giving us an answer to that. We don’t even know where the dialogue should lead,” Berenstein said.
VES cited similar reasons for not participating in the consultations, though it said it is available to provide concrete support to make the country’s economy healthy.
A letter from the organisation to the president indicated that the advice given from June 2020 and in other consultations had not been implemented.
VES claims to have advised the president at an early stage to hold a national dialogue. However, this was not heeded and it said the government had shown itself to be insensitive to the cries from society.
“We already advised you on June 16, 2020 to immediately implement the necessary ‘unpopular’ economic measures. As a result, the derailed economy would return to equilibrium within one year. However, you have continued to consistently ignore the dozens of opinions issued by the VES since then, and your government has remained insensitive to the consequences we have tried to shield you from,” the VES said.
The Surinamese Association of Journalists (SVJ) was one of the organisations received by President Santokhi on Sunday. During the dialogue, the SVJ pointed out the importance of freedom of the press and the right of free expression.
With regard to the freedom of expression of citizens, the media organisation explained that in addition to the citizen’s duty to comply with laws and regulations, the government has an important constitutional task to ensure that this right of citizens is not hindered or limited and at the same time safety is guaranteed to society.
The SVJ has stressed that it is unacceptable that under the pretext of guaranteeing security, the fundamental right of citizens to express their opinion freely and to hold protest demonstrations will be restricted by the government. (CMC)