~ Ready for organized action if not reversed ~
PHILIPSBURG–St. Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform and St. Maarten Consumers Coalition have chastised Social and Health Insurances SZV for its decision to not index social pensions for 2019 based on the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in 2018, calling it a “blatant injustice, neglect and abuse” of vulnerable persons in the community.
Representatives of the platform and the coalition said St. Maarten Seniors and Pensioners Association has requested an urgent meeting with SZV on the matter. The platform and coalition are willing to stage an organised action against SZV’s decision if the insurance service provider refuses to reverse its decision and index the social pensions as is required in January of each year.
Trade unionist Claire Elshot, representing the platform and coalition, alluded on Thursday to a recent SZV public notice which stated that “there will be no adjustment to the AOV/AWW amounts for 2019, due to the fact that the Department of Statistics (STAT) will not be publishing the consumer price indices (CPIs) in 2018.
“The law mandates that the CPI of August be used in calculating and indexing the AOV/AWW amounts. As this calculation is not being performed, the amounts for AOV/AWW for 2019 will be the same as the amounts in 2018.”
Elshot told reporters at a press conference that the SZV announcement means that persons who receive social pensions such as pensioners, widows, disabled persons, and orphans will all receive the same amount as in 2018, while the cost of living in the country has spiralled out of control over the past year.
“The cost of living increase was not zero, so we cannot accept a zero adjustment for the whole of 2019. Based on the publication of the STAT on the consumer price increase during the months of September to December 2017, the months after Irma, cost of living was not zero, but the consumer price index increased steadily,” Elshot said.
“As a matter of fact, from August 2017 until December 2017, the increase was 1.5 per cent based on the consumer price indexes provided in the May 1, 2018 STAT publication. Not even this percentage has been used as a minimum percentage increase.
“If we project the average monthly increase of this four-month increase to the months until August 2018, an estimated 3 x 1.5 per cent = 4.5 per cent could have been used to pay the COLA adjustment to the AOV/AWW recipients until the exact figures will be published.”
She added that the platform, on behalf of the Consumers Coalition, had asked STAT to provide them with the estimated CPI for 2018. “The Seniors and Pensioners Association has also requested an urgent meeting with the management of SZV to discuss with them alternatives to correct this social injustice,” Elshot said.
She said also that SZV had indicated in its announcement that the maximum social pension for pensioners is NAf. 1,086. However, she said that this figure is inaccurate.
“This amount is incorrect, because there were consumer price index figures already until December 2017 and the fact that STAT has published its analysis that the last three years there was a steady increase in the consumer price indexes with the conclusions that after Hurricane Irma consumer prices have increased, a projected increase could have been used to compensate pensioners, widows, disabled and orphans for the increase in the cost of living as prescribed by law.”
The Consumers Coalition said just as government could have calculated and given St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) permission via a letter to increase its tariffs by 41.8 per cent in January 2018, the same can be done for SZV to index social pensions.
“In January 2018, the consumer price indexes for the entire year of 2018 were not yet calculated and published, but for SMMC, an estimated yearly cost-of-living adjustment was provided. We therefore publicly appeal to Minister [of Health Emil – Ed.] Lee to instruct SZV to correct the announcements made in the local newspaper and correct the social injustice done to the seniors, widows, orphans and disabled, and pay them a COLA of an estimated 4.5 per cent.”