Legal aspects of helping Suriname achieve better anti-corruption and governance

Suriname faces challenges to improve its anti-corruption and anti-money laundering capabilities. However, a number of technical and financial sources stand ready to assist.


On July 31, 2020, Global Americans’ webinar on corruption, oil, and the role of external agencies in the Caribbean discussed the role of the rule of law in the region. In Suriname, those issues include lack of transparency in procurement concerning extractive industries, anti-corruption and anti-money laundering issues, and the proper institutional framework for natural resource extraction. From a legal perspective, there are both challenges and opportunities for Suriname to improve its anti-corruption, anti-money laundering, and terrorist financing regimes. Suriname also has potential sources of technical and financial assistance. Achieving improvements in these areas will help the country’s economic development, since investors rely on integrity in a host country’s legal system.

Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing

The Financial Action Task Force is the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog. The inter-governmental body sets international standards that prevent illegal money laundering and terrorist financing activities. FATF standards require the Surinamese government to complete and publish its national risk assessment (NRA) to strengthen its anti-money laundering and terrorist financing prevention (AML/CFT) policies. Countries should identify, assess, and understand the money laundering and terrorist financing risks they face. They should also respond accordingly, including appointing an authority or mechanism to coordinate risk assessment, apply resources, and ultimately mitigate risks. Likewise, the Surinamese government, financial institutions, and designated non-financial businesses and professions (DNFBPs) must apply a risk-based approach (RBA) to ensure that AML/CFT measures are commensurate with the risks identified. In a first step, in March 2019, then President Bouterse signed a resolution requiring government agencies to cooperate with the national risk assessment. The government and stakeholders must prepare, disseminate, and apply a comprehensive NRA in the framing and implementation of its AML/CFT policies.

Suriname’s Money Laundering Act of 2002—amended in 2016 and in accordance with international conventions and treaties—facilitates the seizure and forfeiture of assets, instruments, or products deriving from drug trafficking and other related crimes. However, Suriname lacks regulations for the accountability and transparency of the administration of seized and forfeited assets. Nor does Suriname offer or participate in specialized training programs for the administration and disposition of such assets. As a result, its executive agencies lack the capacity to effectively implement asset forfeiture laws.

One way in which Suriname can improve its AML/CFT policies is for its Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to join the Egmont Group. The Group is a body of 165 FIUs that offers a platform for the secure exchange of expertise and financial intelligence to combat money laundering and terrorist financing (ML/TF).

Any FIU which meets the Egmont Group’s criteria—namely being a national center for the receipt and analysis of Suspicious Transactions Reports and other relevant information, and for the dissemination of that analysis—is eligible to apply to become a member FIU. A qualifying FIU should be able to access additional information from reporting entities and have access, on a timely basis, to the financial, administrative, and law enforcement information that it requires to undertake its functions properly. If the FIU is not able to meet the criteria due to national laws, lack of implementation, or its own lack of capacity, it is not eligible to join the Egmont Group. FIUs are uniquely positioned to support national and international efforts to counter terrorist financing. They are a gateway for sharing financial information domestically and internationally according to global AML/CFT standards.

Suriname is taking steps to join the Egmont Group. It could benefit significantly from the work of Egmont’s Technical Assistance and Training Working Group (TATWG), specifically the technical assistance and training its members receive. Often, these courses are given in conjunction with observer organizations and international partners. The Group also supports FIUs facing significant challenges to comply with Egmont requirements and international standards.  

Some of the working group’s courses are: Tactical Analysis Course (TAC), Strategic Analysis Course (SAC), Corporate Vehicles and Financial Products Course (CorFin), Egmont AML/CTF Supervisory Course (ESC), and FIU Information System Maturity Model (FISMM).

Anti-Corruption and Governance

Suriname’s existing legal framework for anti-corruption originates in its outdated Penal Code, creating a number of problems. In 2017, the Suriname Parliament enacted anti-corruption legislation, including financial disclosure requirements for certain government officials. The law requires income, asset, and financial disclosure while having strict submission timeframes. However, the government has not yet set up the Anti-Corruption Commission, responsible for implementing the law. Within CARICOM, Guyana, Jamaica, and the Bahamas have financial disclosure laws. None of them work effectively, partly due to lack of funding for their commissions and a lack of cultural transparency. 

Notwithstanding the yet-to-be-implemented 2017 anti-corruption law, Suriname needs to modernize its criminal corruption laws. For instance, it needs a whistleblower law. In terms of international conventions, Suriname is a member of the Inter-American Anti-Corruption Convention. However, it is not a member of the United Nations Convention on Corruption (UNCAC). UNCAC is the only legally binding universal anti-corruption instrument. The Convention’s far-reaching approach and its mandatory provisions make it a unique tool for developing a comprehensive response to a global problem. As of February 6, 2020, 187 countries had signed. If Suriname joins the convention, it could cooperate with the member parties in the investigation and prosecution of corruption offenses.  

Similarly, Suriname did not update its regulatory and procedural frameworks allowing effective cooperation mechanisms with other countries and relevant international organizations on the management of seized and forfeited assets. Moreover, although Suriname ratified the Inter-American Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, it is not a party to the Inter-American Convention on Extradition.

Ultimately, more must be done on a regional basis to combat corruption. With the help of the Commonwealth Secretariat, on June 25, 2012, 12 Commonwealth Caribbean governments established the Association of Integrity Commissions and Anti-Corruption Bodies in the Commonwealth Caribbean. However, as it is not a member of the Commonwealth, Suriname did not participate. On June 20, 2015, the chief prosecutors from the Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean met to discuss best practices for recurrent issues interfering in corruption prosecution, money laundering, and proceeds recovery of these crimes. The Commonwealth Secretariat organized the meeting in collaboration with the Caribbean FATF for the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Article 18 of the revised CARICOM Treaty of Chagauramas established a Legal Affairs Committee. Under Article 19(1), the Committee is responsible for providing advice on treaties, international legal issues, harmonization of the community’s laws, and other legal matters to CARICOM organs and bodies, either on request or on its own initiative. CARICOM should task the Legal Affairs Committee with devising regional approaches and best practices on anti-corruption and related initiatives. 

Technical and Financial Assistance

Suriname may want to take advantage of technical and financial assistance from international organizations and civil society to improve its laws, treaties, and capacity to prepare new legislation, regulations, and negotiate treaties. The UNODC Regional Office for Central America and the Caribbean has a regional program consisting of five sub-programs, which include: countering transnational organized crime, illicit trafficking, and terrorism; and countering corruption and money laundering.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) provides grants to CARICOM countries to prepare NRAs, revise AML/CFT laws and regulations, and strengthen exam procedures. I served as an IDB consultant to Jamaica to help the Financial Services Commission improve its regulations and exam procedures after a FATF Mutual Evaluation Review.

One source of civil society assistance is the Basel Institute of Governance. The civil society organization actively engages in strengthening developing countries’ capacity to investigate and prosecute corruption and recover assets. It helps prosecution offices and has manuals and training courses on investigating and prosecuting cross-border corruption. Another potential source of training on anti-corruption and AML/CFT is the International Anti-Corruption Academy in Austria, where I have taught and supervised master’s theses.

While Suriname has significant room for growth in anti-corruption, transparency, and governance, the international community will welcome the opportunity to help the new government improve. In particular, the international community (e.g. the IMF 2018 Article IV report underscoring the need to strengthen governance) recognizes that many of the significant problems in Suriname, such as the more than doubling of its public sector debt since 2014 (constituting 77.2 percent of GDP in 2017), cannot be solved without a major transformation in improving its anti-corruption, transparency, and governance. The international community realizes that Suriname’s richness in natural resources, such as gold, oil, bauxite, and timber, will significantly increase development and corruption pressure, requiring careful stewardship to manage the country’s fragile environment and to protect endangered species in Suriname’s marine and Amazonian biomes.

Bruce Zagaris is a partner with the Washington, D.C. law firm of Berliner Corcoran & Rowe LLP, founder and editor of the International Enforcement Law Reporter, and former lecturer at the Law Faculty, Univ. of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados.

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