(de Ware Tijd) PARAMARIBO – Minister of Finance, Adeline Wijnerman, has suspended five top Customs officials, effective immediately in an effort to push through radical reforms aimed at improving the service’s image. ‘More officials might follow,’ customs union chair Romeo Chin A Loi is quoted in a response to de Ware Tijd. Wijnerman and Eugene van de San, director of the President’s Office, confirm the suspensions.
The second in command at Customs, Ruben Mendonça, is the most striking name on the list. Reymond Wongsomoi, in charge of the Asycuda system, and Rico Faria, head of the Greater Paramaribo department have also been suspended. The two other officials were responsible for other districts and the international airport Johan Adolf Pengel. For now, an interim team will take over from the five officials. The Minister has not decided on permanent replacement of the five. In a letter from the Minister, the five officials have been notified that they are at the Minister’s disposal as of 1 February. ‘We have invested much in these men, in terms of knowledge, so we can’t just send them away. It’s possible that they might return to their post some time later,’ Chin A Loi argues.
At least two of the officials have been suspended before in separate fraud cases. Five other officials had been suspended for a year under former Minister Humphrey Hildenberg in the controversial Asycuda scandal after rumours surfaced that they were aiding and abetting dishonest entrepreneurs. The state was robbed of millions of SRDs in taxes due to the fraud. The suspects have never been indicted. In his end-of-the-year speech, director of the Inland Revenue Service, Tony van Dijk, had announced rapid reforms aimed at increasing the government’s revenues. He confirmed earlier statements by Wijnerman that imposing drastic measures was obstructed because of conflicting interests at the Nieuwe Haven (Paramaribo Port), the country’s most important economic gateway. ‘If something goes wrong there, the entire country suffers,’ van Dijk was quoted saying. He said, however, that the government will not hesitate to take unpopular and painful measures.