Sep 27, 2022 News
By Zena Henry
Kaieteur News – Guyana is banking on the inter-country agreements within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to pressure Suriname into honouring its promise to deliver 150 SK fishing licences to local fishers to operate in the neighbouring Dutch state.
Because Caribbean nations, through their acceptance of the CARICOM Single Market & Economy (CSME) has agreed to the free movement of regional nationals for work and travel, Agriculture Minister Mustapha Zulfikar says that Guyana has a legitimate expectation that Suriname follow through on its word. Suriname and Guyana are currently in a diplomatic row as the latter has accused its eastern neighbour of harassing Guyanese fishermen while dragging out the release of the licences that were promised since the first of January this year.
The Agriculture Minister told the Kaieteur News yesterday that the agreement between the two nations for the licences did not entail Guyana providing anything in return. He said that Guyanese fishing in Suriname is an “age-old” matter; so given the CSME agreement, and the unnecessary pressure Guyanese fishers’ face working in the Dutch territory, it was the attempt of the government to use the diplomatic route to work with its neighbour for a favourable result. “We had an agreement that they would issue the licence,” Minister Zulfikar said. “It was a normal CARICOM agreement because these people are fishing in Surinamese waters.” He explained that Guyanese previously had an arrangement with Suriname where fisher folk used to receive licences directly from the Dutch authorities. “They stopped it,” Zulfikar charged, “and now the Surinamese are giving their citizens the licences, and they rent it at an exorbitant fee to our fisher folk.”
The minister explained that when Guyana and Suriname engaged in discussions, “it was centred on how our fisherfolk can get the license directly to avoid the high cost of renting people’s licences.” The 150 SK licences would have come directly from the Surinamese authorities; cutting out the Dutch middlemen. This has caused some amount of push back however from industry stakeholders in Suriname, thus contributing to the delay Guyana is experiencing. Zulfikar acknowledged too that Guyanese fishers over the years have played an instrumental role in the development of the Surinamese industry due to their continued participation. He said that it is part of the reason that the government intervened to ease the pressure on Guyanese. “So, this was just an agreement between both sides,” Zulfikar stated. He said under the Treaty of Chaguaramas, the government believes it is in its right to demand that Suriname honour its promise. “…if you go through the treaty with members states, we are talking about the CSME where CARICOM nations have the right to work in other countries.” Adding that regional nationals can also get certificates to work in other countries through CSME, the minister believes that “the licences should have been issued.”
Guyana has not taken kindly to Suriname reneging on its commitment. Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo over a week ago alleged corruption in the issuance of fishing licences. He even claimed that delay of the licences was linked to a Surinamese minister who was benefitting personally from the situation. Those statements promoted the Interim Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Business, and International Cooperation (BIBIS), Krishna Mathoera to summon Guyana’s Ambassador to Suriname, Keith George, to register the country’s dissatisfaction with the Vice President’s statement, and the harm it could cause the nations cooperative relationship. Attorney General Anil Nandlall earlier this month had also threatened legal recourse to resolve the issue.
The government nonetheless outlined all ‘political and diplomatic efforts’ made to facilitate discussions about the issuance of the licence and ultimately, the handing over of documents. The government said that the licence issue escalated this year when Suriname confiscated three Guyanese fishing vessels along with their nets and engines and sold the catch. It was noted that Guyana reached out to Suriname to release the vessels on humanitarian grounds, but there was no accommodation to this effect. It became evident therefore, that the diplomatic route was not reaping any success, a statement from the Foreign Affairs ministry said Sunday.
Apart from the increased cost of fishing licences through Surinamese fishermen, Guyanese workers are now required to sell all their catch in that country where they say they are losing money, as the Surinamese are offering less for their catch, and what remains have to be discarded as it cannot be brought to Guyana anymore. The fishermen were ordered by Dutch authorities to reduce the size of their boats, which they say is unsafe on the open water, as well as adding “expensive” tracking device so that the vessel could be monitored by the Dutch authorities. Additionally, Guyanese fishers must leave the vessel unmanned in Suriname and find a different mode of transport to and from work.
It is said that for decades, Guyanese have been fishing in Surinamese waters given the proximity of the border nations. Guyanese have played a key role in the development of the industry through that time and it is on those grounds and through the CARICOM CSME agreement that Guyana sought the licensing arrangement with its neighbour.
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