Javanese women of Suriname at Eid prayer, Independence Square, Paramaribo
By Ray Chickrie
Caribbean News Now contributor
PARAMARIBO, Suriname -- Dr Jim Rasam, CEO of Intermed Group, during his visit to Indonesia to participate in the 41st Islamic Bank Governors meeting in Jakarta, used the opportunity to make contacts with potential investors from the Bahasa-speaking nations of Indonesia and Malaysia. Java is the homeland of Suriname’s ethnic Indonesian population who are predominately Muslim, and who want to expand commerce between Suriname and Indonesia.
From 1890 to 1839, almost 33,000 Javanese migrated to Suriname from Central Java and the regions near Batavia, Semarang and Surabaya. Only 20 to 25 percent returned to Indonesia.
In an interview with Star News of Suriname, Rasam identified various investors from Indonesia who want to do business with Suriname. According to Rasam, one potential investor has specifically expressed interest in setting up a power plant and medical centre for stem cell research in Suriname.
Last month six Javanese entrepreneurs from Suriname made a working visit to Indonesia.
Rasam is also the project director of the Amanah Bank of Suriname, the first Islamic Bank of its kind in the region.
Islamic Bank- Catalyst to spur SME
At the government to government level, ties are strong but there hasn’t been a visit between the leaders of Indonesia or Suriname to each other’s country in the past decade. And trade between the two countries still hasn’t soared to the expectations of many, especially among Indonesian-Surinamese.
But with a growing Suriname private sector, and especially now that the Islamic Bank is now acting as a catalyst to fund small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) on both sides of the world – Suriname in the West and Indonesia in the Far East – the outlook is promising. With more contacts between the two countries and institutions being established, and with capital being offered now by the Islamic Bank, commerce between the Bahasa-speaking countries will expand.
Dr Jim Rasam, CEO of Intermed Group of Companies. Photo: Ranu Abhelakh
To expand trade, Rasam said that the strategy is two pronged: through diplomatic and bilateral channels and via the multi-lateral track, the OIC and Islamic Bank membership.
"Now projects can be financed by the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private sector (ICD). Suriname can also expect investors from the OIC countries. This will lead to more foreign direct investment (FDI). We will start with Indonesia, and increase to other countries,” Rasam said.
Rasam has now included Malaysia in his plans and, during his visit to attend the 41st Islamic Bank meeting in Jakarta, he also visited Malaysia to explore investment opportunities.
The Central Bank of Java is now inviting businessmen from Suriname to examine the products of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Central Java. The Central Bank of Java wants to encourage and train SMEs to tap the Suriname market.
Ethnic Linkage and Indonesia Embassy as facilitator
In May, during his visit to Indonesia, Rasam was accompanied by Indonesian ambassador to Suriname, Dominicus Supratikto, who has been facilitating synergy between entrepreneurs from the local Javanese community in Suriname, Indonesia, the OIC, the Islamic Bank, and the larger population of Suriname.
Supratikto pointed out that Suriname can also act an export agent for a number of countries in Latin America where Indonesia seeks to expand its market. Moreover, Javanese of Suriname are very familiar with the products, language and culture of Indonesia and they can become agents of this expansion.
"The Central Bank of Java will serve as a stimulus for SMEs of Java. The bank has also been in communication with one bank in Suriname to open an account in the interests of business across the country," Supratikto said.
According to Supratikto, there are some commodities that are exported to Suriname from Indonesia, including crackers, batik, herbs, furniture and nurses. This is an opportunity for SMEs to penetrate the market of Central Java for Suriname and Latin America, he remarked. According Supratikto, actual export opportunities to Suriname is not just for SMEs of Java, but from across Indonesia. The Central Java provincial government also has a cooperation agreement with Suriname to expand trade.
"To realize these objectives, the Central Bank of Java will also be involved in financing, mentoring and opening of the market by bringing together buyers from Suriname, and SMEs in Central Java," Supratikto said.
"Suriname would likely attract more FDI by offering investors incentives," he noted.
The ambassador forecast that Suriname can emerge as a hub in the region for the distribution of many Indonesian products. The Indonesian market, the world largest Muslim country of over 200 million people, will expand its reach to Latin America and the Caribbean, the diplomat pointed out.
Rasam said that it’s important that countries establish manufacturing centres in Suriname, instead of, for example, the timber of Suriname being exported to China and knowledge and technology isn’t transferred nor are Surinamese seeing the full benefit of their natural resources. Basically, the Chinese aren’t creating jobs and transferring technology to Suriname, but merely exploiting the natural resources of the country critics argue.
Constraints: Islamophobia and poor knowledge of the Islamic Bank
By facilitating Islamic banking and investment, Suriname is making itself more attractive to Islamic investors and corporations. By offering hallal (Sharia compliant) business opportunities, Suriname becomes lucrative to the Islamic market and investors. Suriname does not have to become an Islamic republic.
As in Guyana, there exists growing Islamophobia in Suriname that could impede economic ties with the Islamic Bank and Islamic countries. There is hysteria over terms such as “Sharia compliant business, halall, Sukuk (Islamic Bonds)”. These fears stem from ignorance of Islamic banking and finance, the OIC and the Islamic Bank, said one Surinamese parliamentarian.