Suriname is located in the northern part of South America and is part of Caribbean South America. Historically, Suriname has had a very centralized government structure. Pre-independence, a government regulation of 1955 provided for the establishment of elected local bodies and the government established a Ministry of District Administration and Decentralization in 1969. In practice, however, elected local government structures did not exist prior to the country’s independence from the Netherlands in 1975. In fact, little tangible progress was made towards the establishment of elected local government until the 1980s, when political representative bodies at the district level and the ‘resort’ level (sub-district) were established. These efforts were formalized and given greater standing with the passage of the 1987 Constitution and the Law on Regional Organs, 1989. While greater decentralization has the potential to increase public participation and responsive governance, a number of factors, such as the weak capacity of district administration and limited fiscal space, argue in favor of a cautious and gradual approach to decentralization, particularly with respect to the transfer of responsibilities and resources.
Subnational governance structure
The Constitution (1987) sets out three levels of government: the central government level, the district level, and the resort (sub-district) level. At the subnational level, Suriname is broken into ten districts as the first level of regional or subnational governance. Each district has an elected district council as well as a district administration. By law, both the representative body as well as the district administration are led by a central government-appointed District Commissioner, although in practice, some districts have more than one District Commissioner. In turn, Suriname’s ten districts are divided into 62 resorts; each resort has an elected resort council.
Nature of subnational governance institutions
Districts and resorts (sub-districts) in Suriname are non-devolved local governance institutions. They are neither de jure nor de facto corporate bodies. District Commissionerates are administratively part of the Ministry of Regional Development and Sports, while District Administrations are formed by representatives from all central ministries present in each district. District budgets are part of the budget of the Ministry of Regional Development and Sports. Although district councils and resort councils de jure have some measure of decision-making power, in practice, these councils lack the autonomy and authority to implement their own decisions. As a result, district and resort councils de facto function as subnational mechanisms for public participation, identification of local priorities, and oversight.
District councils and resort councils are responsible for preparing their district plans and resort plans, respectively. The district plan is supposed to cover the totality of policy options for the benefit of the socio-economic development of a district, including provisions related to natural environment and living environment; infrastructure; agricultural and industrial development; utilities; education, culture and sport; as well as medical and social care. Similarly, the resort plan is supported to address all policy options for the benefit of the socio-economic development of a resort, within the framework of the district plan. While these plans are intended to serve as the basis for the district budget, in practice, these plans serve to identify project priorities for central government ministries, as local councils lack the financial resources and administrative control to fund and implement these plans.
Inter-American Development Bank. 2001. Governance in Suriname.
Ministry of Regional Development. 2011. Bestuurlijke indeling van Suriname. (in Dutch)
Local government country profile: Suriname (UN Women)
Last updated: November 13, 2023