PHILIPSBURG–St. Maarten Consumer Coalition received late last week some of the documentation it had requested from government during a recent meeting with Ministers Emil Lee (Public Health, Social Development and Labour VSA) and Stuart Johnson (Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT)).
However, Coalition representative Raymond Jessurun said the coalition had not received a letter explaining why it had not received other requested documentation.
In giving an account of the meeting, Jessurun said the Ministers wanted to have more information about the composition of the Consumer Coalition.
“We explained that the St. Maarten Consumer Coalition is a coalition formed by the Windward Islands Chamber of Labour Unions (WICLU), the St. Maarten Seniors and Pensioners Association (SMSPA) and the St. Maarten United NGO Federation Sunfed. All these organisations are registered entities in St. Maarten at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (just as the governing coalition consists of political parties registered at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry).
“We explained the objectives of the Consumer Coalition, which are to defend the consumer’s rights and the human rights of all people organised in the affiliated organisations, as well as the ones not organised.
“Based on the non-discrimination principle, all consumers in St. Maarten have equal rights in the Kingdom of the Netherlands and, therefore, we do not only speak out for the people that we have as members in our affiliated organisations, but for all consumers in St. Maarten.”
In a letter dated February 8, Lee and Johnson invited the Consumer Coalition for a meeting.
“It was on Tuesday, February 26, 2019, that we got an email with date and time for the meeting. As Consumer Coalition, we accepted the invitation to the meeting called by Minister Johnson and Minister Lee, with the hope to engage in a dialogue with the ministers on the topic ‘Curbing the cost of health care and realising affordable health care financing,’” Jessurun said.
He said the ministers wanted to meet with the Coalition to know what information it wanted so that they could decide what information they would provide.
The Consumer Coalition requested information from Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin, Johnson and Lee in December.
“We asked [them – Ed.] to provide us with all the information concerning policies and decisions of government to curb the health care cost, to adjust tariffs of health care providers and to realise an affordable health care system. We specified in a list which specific documents, starting with the year 2000, we wanted to have.
“After the legal term of six weeks to provide us with the requested information passed, Ministers Johnson and Lee sent us a letter where they said that they decided to grant us the information, but they wanted to meet with us first,” Jessurun said.
“We have informed the ministers that we have filed a complaint with the Ombudsman, because they did not provide us with the requested information within the legal timeframe as prescribed by the National Ordinance Public Governance.
“We attended the meeting upon invitation of the ministers and at the end of the meeting the Ministers gave us some copies of the documentation requested, but they did not provide us with an accompanying letter as to why the rest of the requested information was not provided. We will address this issue with the ministers through the ombudsman.”
Jessurun said the Coalition had requested certain documentation because the three ministers had signed a National Decree “to legalise the illegal tariffs increase of 41.8 per cent that the St. Maarten Medical Center introduced as of January 1, 2018.”
He said the Consumers Coalition has “serious concerns” with “increasing premiums for increasing health care cost, considering the fact that we are not even getting the highest attainable level of health care in the Kingdom, which is our fundamental human right as citizens of the Kingdom. We have suggested health care providers like SMMC, management of SZV [Social and Health Insurances] and government technocrats to look for alternative financing of our health care system.”
The Consumer Coalition indicated during the meeting that “government still does not take decisions or come up with policies for us to realise the same human rights as all citizens in the Kingdom in the Netherlands. We still do not have the same objectives.
“Where the Ministers want us to believe that this government has the same objectives as we have, and that this government wants to help us realise our basic human rights, we informed the Ministers that as long as the Council of Ministers does not defend and protect our human right to the highest attainable level of health care in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, we do not share the same objectives.
“The decisions of the government, for instance, regarding social rights until now has not provided our workers with equal minimum wages, with equal social pensions and with equal social allowances as on the European side of the Kingdom. We differ even on an issue such as indexation – not even that this government has provided.
“We had to speak out in January this year against the non-indexation of the social pensions, for the Minister of Public Health Social Development and Labour to decide to revisit the decision not to index the old age pensions, widow and widower pensions, orphan pensions and the pensions of the disabled, for the most vulnerable in our society.
“Not that the indexation brought them out of poverty, but it illustrates that government does not have the same objectives as the people have, and as we have, being the voice of the consumers.
“We explained to the Ministers that by not applying a human rights approach, government continues with policies and decisions that maintain the discrimination in the Kingdom between the mainland and the territories in the Caribbean, instead of providing us with equality.”
He said just as politicians in St. Maarten want salaries equal to those of their counterparts in the Netherlands, “we want the same equal social protection for the workers, the seniors, for everyone and their families as in the Netherlands. We made it very clear for the Ministers that we are not against them getting equal pay for equal job, which is a fundamental human right and labour right to be protected by everyone in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.”
Jessurun said that as Johnson is still a member of the Windward Islands Teachers Union (WITU), which is affiliated with WICLU and represented in the Consumer Coalition, “we expect from him to also defend our rights in the Council of Ministers. We appealed to Minister Lee not to see human rights as something that we want, but as something that we all, including him and his family, are entitled to in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
“And ministers in the executive branch are being paid by us, the taxpayers, to defend our rights. The minister should not only demand compliance from local employers, but also from this Council of Ministers as well as from the Kingdom Council of Ministers through the Minister Plenipotentiary in the Hague.”
Jessurun said the Consumer Coalition commended Lee and Johnson for taking the initiative to meet with them.
Representing the Coalition at the meeting were Jessurun and office manager Carl Duinkerk. The other co-coordinators, Claire Elshot-Aventurin and Alberto Bute, were both off-island and their replacements, WICLU Vice President Theophilus Thompson and Sunfed Secretary Connie Francis-Gumbs, were both at other engagements.
The ministers were accompanied by their support staff.