Ripping off the Surinamese

7 August 2008

Ripping off the Surinamese

This summer thousands of Surinamese Dutch citizens will fly to the land of their birth, or in some cases of their parents' birth. For a limited number this is an annual event. For many more it is far more than a year between trips, and often they have to leave their children behind in the Netherlands while they go. Some of these children do not have the chance to see the country from which their own families come until they are in their teens, some not until they are adults The biggest reason for the limited passenger traffic between the Netherlands, where almost half of ethnic Surinamese people live, and the land of their origin is the price of the airfare. This is absurdly high. Flying to Surinam's capital city, Paramaribo, costs in some cases three to four times as much as flying a comparable distance elsewhere.

By Harry van Bommel

Harry van Bommel For some years now I have been hammering away at this, arguing alongside the Union of Passengers (VVR) that the Netherlands has a responsibility when it comes to the price of tickets on the Amsterdam-Paramaribo route. Air traffic between these cities is, after all, regulated by an Air Transport Agreement signed by both countries. Formally this accord is signed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, but it is the Minister of Transport who is responsible for its content and it is the Minister of Transport who must approve the level of fares.

Fares for a flight to Paramaribo vary enormously. An enquiry which I began this week with the VVR has already revealed that while one passenger paid €600, another passenger on the same flight and in the same class, with precisely the same destination had to shell out €1600. This is unacceptable. Different rates for high- and low season, for economy and business class, these are logical. Yet differences such as those we found are exorbitant and inexplicable. Only KLM (and its daughter company Martinair) and SLM (the Surinamese national carrier) fly on this route, as agreed between the two countries. More real competition is needed in order to force fares down. Yes, I'm arguing here for a freer market. Is that strange, coming from the SP? Not at all. Surinamese people are being ripped off by national air carriers with the full backing of their governments.

The Dutch government should be paying more heed to the interests of passengers. Lower fares would lead to more travel between the Netherlands and Suriname. This would have positive social effects because Surinamese Dutch citizens would be better able to maintain a bond with their families and their past. It would also have positive effects on the Surinamese economy and on its tourism. Finally, other Dutch people would more easily be able to get to know a country with which we will always have a connection. The bond is there through the colonial past and through the presence here of such a large section of the Surinamese people. I can only say to the Transport Minister - come on Mr Eurlings, what are you waiting for?

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