Photo Credit: ANP/Beeld

Good governance, combating corruption, and integrity are popular terms politicians, civil society groups, and academics these days—mainly due to the turbulence of recent years that led to serious violations of the principles of good governance. The federal government is plagued by weak checks and balances over state authorities, and a parliament dominated by a majority that has adopted laws designed to accommodate political allies and maintain power rather than serve the interests of the Surinamese population.

The quality of governance has long been an important focus for donors, international organizations, scientists, and other national governments. Good governance is built from values such as democracy and participation, lawfulness, integrity, efficiency, and effectiveness. It sets in place standards for the process in which social problems are addressed and resolved. Achieving good governance requires the necessary efforts which are not always easy for developing countries like Suriname and this article aims to emphasize the importance of integrity, and in particular incorruptibility, in the construction of good governance.

A study conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank in 2001, identified several obstacles toward achieving good governance in Suriname including: the existence of extensive patronage networks, a wealth of (and dependence on) natural resources, and the corrupting influence of drug trafficking. The report also indicated that there are significant shortcomings in the judicial system, and the constitution, that undermine good governance.

Even now, the Government of Suriname (GoS) is not equipped to fulfill these tasks as mentioned in the UNDP’s 2017 Corruption Risk Assessment for Suriname, but this does not necessarily mean that the country has not made any progress in fighting corruption and reaching toward a higher quality of governance.

Attempts to reach good governance

The GoS attempted to meet the requirements of good governance by involving the Surinamese population in the decision-making process through the Decentralization for Local Government Program (DLGP) that was carried from 2003-2014, with varying results. In 2014 the program was formally stopped without reaching all of the set goals. From 2006- 2010, a Public Sector Management Strengthening Program (PSMSP) was carried out aimed at improvement and strengthening of the public sector so that it could function effectively and efficiently. This included awareness building initiatives to ensure cooperation with all stakeholders; focusing on achieving transparency and responsibility within the Surinamese government apparatus; redefining legal arrangements; and the technical strengthening of institutions. However, as with similar reform programs, the implementation of the PSMSP proved insufficient due to a lack of consensus-building, the inability of the GoS to issue the necessary regulations (e.g., budget, tax, customs, decentralization, procurement) and its limited capacity to implement and coordinate the reforms.

In 2010, in his inauguration speech, former President Desi Bouterse announced that he would start a “crusade against corruption.” He also called for the implementation of good and transparent governance and the finalization of the Openness of Governance Act (Wet Openbaarheid van bestuur). This law has yet to be adopted, but the Anti-Corruption Act did come into force. After several adjustments to the draft in 2002, the law now includes income, asset, and financial disclosure requirements with strict submission timeframes for certain government officials. The law also required the Surinamese parliament to setup an Anti-Corruption Commission to prevent and combat corruption in August 2017. Although the law is adopted, it is not yet proclaimed in the State Decrees, a legal condition that has to be fulfilled before the law can be applied. Also, the Anti-Corruption Commission, which should be established to put the law in force, is not yet installed.

A major improvement of the judicial system was the establishment of the Constitutional Court in August 2019. In practice, however, the implementation of these initiatives and programs are often poor due to the lack of enforcement capacity leading to the weak performance of the public sector and continued difficulty executing good governance.

The fact that the aforementioned initiatives have not yet led to concrete results is understandable. Achieving good governance, combating corruption, and promoting integrity is a much wider issue and requires thorough preparation with the inclusion of all actors. It is not just about the adoption and application of laws and rules, but about understanding the political and administrative culture in Suriname, which is largely determined by the widespread practice of patronage networks. The social expectations for leadership are another obstacle. In Suriname, party loyalists are often rewarded after winning the elections with jobs within the government and/or other government-related organizations.

Thus, it is no surprise that, despite the legal and policy-related advances, the corruption ratings for the country have worsened. In 2019, Suriname was ranked 70 out of the 198 ranked countries in the Transparency International rating system for control of corruption with a score 0f 44 out of 100 on the corruption perception index.

Suriname Control of Corruption

Is good governance in Suriname a bridge too far?Source:

The path to better governance, promoting integrity, and controlling corruption will not be easy; several steps have to be taken. It is important to involve all the actors related to this process. This means, first, that the government has to be both aware and committed to the value of executing and enforcing good governance. Second, citizens and societal organizations, as well as political parties, will also need to build awareness and remain committed to their own stake and responsibility in this process. It is not only necessary that legislation is adopted, but that it is also implemented and that both preventative and penal anti-corruption regulations are applied.

In other words, a complete mind shift is necessary for Suriname. Everyone in the country has to realize that good governance is a collective responsibility. Ultimately, it will depend on the political will of the government to actually make and enforce the actions that will build and maintain good governance, but it is the Surinamese society who must hold the politicians accountable, demand integrity, combat complacency towards corrupt practices, and insist that unethical behavior will not be tolerated or accepted.

Ine Apapoe is a public administrator and a head of the Public Administration Department at the Anton de Kom University of Suriname teaching integrity of governance. Currently she is finishing her dissertation at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Ine’s research is about the role of good governance in dual governance structures in Suriname.


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