PHILIPSBURG–Government should either take serious measures to lower the cost of living or increase the salaries of workers to a “living wage.”
This was the challenge issued to government by the St. Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform and St. Maarten Consumers Coalition representative Raymond Jessurun at a press conference on Thursday.
Jessurun outlined how the prices of consumer and other goods in St. Maarten have increased over time and said this has made the cost of living in the country spiral out of control.
He said Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications (TEATT) Stuart Johnson has not presented any policies on how he will lower the cost of living in the country.
On the issue of food items, he said it is not good enough for government to control the prices of a certain number of goods only, he said the way of doing business in the country needs to be looked at.
He compared prices in St. Maarten to other islands such as Curaçao and St. Maarten as said in many cases the prices of the same item are much lower on those islands.
Another issue raised at the press conference was the comment made by Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin during the Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday that she had not received a letter from the St. Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform for dialogue with the Council of Ministers on poverty eradication.
Jessurun provided a copy of the letter that was sent seeking dialogue. He alluded to other cases where the platform sent letters to other ministers and none were responded to. He said there seems to be an issue with the manner in which correspondence is reaching ministers, which he said needs to be addressed. “What is happening in the government administration building? Why is it that ministers do not receive or do not answer letters?” he asked.
He listed several letters that had been sent to various ministers which were not responded to. In one case a letter sent to Health Minister Emil Lee was not responded to in more than nine months. “The delivery of a baby usually takes nine months, but the delivery of a letter or an answer should not take that long.”
“Why do we have to send letters to dialogue? Do we have to organise a manifestation to deliver letters for Council of Ministers and Parliament to dialogue with us?” he asked.
Jessurun also commented on the ongoing discussion of salary cuts for ministers and Members of Parliament (MPs) given the country’s precarious financial situation. He said it is a human rights violation for the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT to speak about St. Maarten Ministers and MPs cutting their salaries by 15 per cent. “It is a violation of workers’ rights for equal work for equal pay because none of the Dutch politicians have given up any of their salaries,” Jessurun contended. “CFT has to say that it is ok if you want to do something voluntarily, but this has nothing to do with the budget. This is not a cost-cutting measure.”
He also touched on the issue of Francesco Corallo who recently won a case at the European Court of Human Rights in France, which awarded Corallo 5,000 euros in immaterial damages and 5,500 euros in cost expenses incurred before the court for his detention in St. Maarten. The court had condemned the inhumane detention of Corallo who was held at the police station in Philipsburg for several months.
Jessurun said there should be equal treatment for all detainees and prisoners at the police cells in Philipsburg and Pointe Blanche prison and indicated that they too should be entitled to compensation. He questioned what will happen if all the detained take the case of their inhumane detention to court. “There should be immaterial damages for all,” Jessurun contended.