BANK CHIEF AXED

President of Suriname, Desi Bouterse at a press conference in Suriname.
President of Suriname, Desi Bouterse at a press conference in Suriname.

President Desi Bouterse has fired the head of Suriname’s central bank in a move that appears to be quickly backfiring on a head of state who is seeking a third consecutive five-year term in general elections that are due in just about 14 months.

Glenn Gersie was sent packing last week after being summoned to Bouterse’s office for a meeting with the head of state and Minister of Finance Gillmore Hoedraad. His dismissal and departure have come in the wake of persistent rumors in financial and political circles about Bouterse and some cabinet members being upset with Gersie for refusing government overtures to allow for populist spending on projects in the run up to next May’s elections.

Anger has risen to such an extent in various sectors in the Caribbean Community nation of about 500,000 people neighboring Guyana that parliament has orderedan emergency session to discuss the firing of Gersie amid fears that his replacement would be a puppet who authorities could manipulate as Bouterse’s National Democratic Party (NDP) tries out for a third term in office. Authorities are yet to respond to the request by various parliamentary parties for a special session in parliament, perhaps because they anticipate that such would be an uncomfortable and tense assembly. Most of rival parties in the 51-member assembly have called for the meeting, saying they were uncomfortable with what they believe was an attempt by government to undermine an independent institution in the country. In this, the parties have the support and backing of business groups like the Chamber of Commerce. They all said they fear state reserves will be abused to fund projects that could favor the NDP’s reelection bid.

“We expect unquestionably calming signals to society and the business community in particular that no large monetary financing will take place in any form whatsoever. As a business, we take our responsibility in the expectation that the executive will take proper responsibility,” said the chamber in a statement.”

The move has already resulted in a decline of the Surinamese dollar by 30 cents to US$8-1 in the past week. The association of foreign exchange cambios and related groups asked Surinamese not to panic in any way so as to avoid the dollar weakening even further, making it more expensive to import necessities.

The governor’s sacking has also come in the wake of a cranking up of the national elections campaign by the dozens of parties planning to contest for the presidency and parliament in 2020. One of them, DA 91 said the move has shaken the financial sector to its foundation and staff are stressed out.

“The government is not accountable. The mechanism of checks and balances that should be normal in every democracy is ignored here. The government announced on Feb.12 that Gersie is being replaced. There is no reason for the dismissal. The government has indicated that it will not go into details,” said Leader and lawmaker Carl Breeveld. “DA’91 states that unrest has increased among the staff of the mother bank. This will have very negative consequences, part of the framework is leaving and is seeking to find favor with the commercial banks, which is a very serious situation with serious consequences for the entire society.”

The nation’s economy has been in the doldrums for much of the past decade, shaken to the core by the period of low prices for gold, bauxite and oil, its three major export apart from agricultural products like rice and bananas.

US owned Alcoa has pulled out of the country after decades mining its bauxite reserves leaving a gaping hole in foreign exchange earnings.

Central bank reserves which had reached more than $1 billion dollars in recent years have declined by half, forcing authorities to turn to the IMF and the Islamic Development Bank for assistance in shoring up the situation.

Gersie had been at the butt of criticism from the government about his refusal to ‘cooperate’ and give government some political and monetary space to operate. Finance Minister Hoefdraad has swatted away dismissal rumors as “vote making, lies, gossip and fake news.’

Winston Ramataursing, the head of the local body of economists fears that the independence of the bank will now be compromised, while the Hindustani VHP party agrees.

“With the elections of May 2020 in sight, it is clear that the government wants to put someone in the post of governor who is obviously willing, as in the previous elections, to give the government more money and possibly fund monetary. The people will then pay a high price again. The scenario is clear, because otherwise you will not get away from a well-performing governor. People of Suriname, watch your case,” the VHP said. Labor leaders also threw in their bit of criticism.

“The dismissal of the governor is like a bomb. On Monday night Mr. Gersie denounced the rumors of his possible departure to the staff and reassured his employees, 24 hours later he appears to have to leave,” said Robby Berenstein.

Commercial banker Jim Bousaid said that the undermining of the bank has consequences for the immediate future. “Not because we talk, the exchange rate rises, but it has to do with maladministration. We do not want a Venezuela in Suriname.”

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