Although the costs for maintaining the ferry service linking Guyana and Suriname is supposed to be divided equally between both Governments, Guyana has been bearing most of the expenses.
This is according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry in a statement issued to the media on Wednesday.
The services of MV Canawaima, the vessel that plied the Suriname-Guyana route, has been suspended to facilitate emergency repairs to be undertaken by a joint company – Canawaima Management Company – which is responsible for the service.
That company was set up in accordance with a joint venture agreement between the two countries.
“According to the abovementioned agreement, the maintenance of the ferry is to be shared equally. This has not occurred. In a bid to reduce the hardships to passengers and businesses using the service and in order to give the neighbouring State time to meet its obligations, the Government of Guyana has been funding most, if not all, of the maintenance works on the ferry over the years,” Guyana’s Foreign Affairs Ministry noted.
The MV Canawaima first experienced major damage in September 2017 when there was engine trouble. The company was unable to secure funds intended to meet the routine repair costs and as such, the vessel had to be pulled by a tugboat to facilitate passengers travelling between the Moleson Creek Terminal in Guyana to the South Drain Terminal in Suriname.
However, recently, the vessel developed more problems, forcing the authorities to suspend the service. The MB Sandaka was rerouted to service the Guyana-Suriname route temporarily.
At a press conference recently, the Director General of the Ministry of the Presidency, Joseph Harmon indicated that the Guyana Government might consider purchasing its own ferry to service the route. He said: “I believe our Minister of Public Infrastructure [David Patterson] has already started to contemplate whether, in fact, we may have to put a vessel there ourselves.”
But the Foreign Affairs Ministry said Guyana did not have that responsibility to fund a replacement.
“Speculation about the Government of Guyana taking on the obligation of entirely funding a joint enterprise of this type is erroneous. It is not in keeping with the bilateral agreement signed between the two countries that governs the obligations of both States regarding the operations of the ferry service. That agreement is still functional. There is no onus on Guyana to fund the replacement of the service, either temporarily or permanently,” the Ministry said.
It added that the joint company has to ensure that the monies collected by or on behalf of the business are properly directed to defraying the expenses incurred.
The Guyana-Suriname Cooperation Council at its meeting in 2018 underscored the importance of the Canawaima Ferry Service to bilateral trade and cross-border tourism between Guyana and Suriname, and agreed that the efficient and optimal operation of the service was to the benefit of both countries. The matter was raised by President Granger over a year ago during his last meeting with his Surinamese counterpart. At that time, President Desi Bouterse undertook to look into the matter.
In light of this, the Foreign Ministry said Guyana would request an early meeting of the relevant mechanism so that the issues affecting the operation of the ferry vessel could be fully ventilated and resolved to the full satisfaction of the parties.
“It is hoped that the fact that the service has been of mutual benefit to both countries will inform the treatment of the matter,” the Ministry noted.
The ferry service between Guyana and Suriname was officially launched on November 6, 1998. It is a joint venture and the financial and other arrangements for defraying operational expenses are outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana and the Government of the Republic of Suriname on the Formation and Operation of the joint ferry service (1998).