PHILIPSBURG–Representatives of government, civil society and members of the community gathered at University of St. Martin (USM) on October 17, to discuss the first sustainable development goal (SDG): the eradication of poverty.
The event marked the kick-off for the second USM Seminar Series co-sponsored by the Department of Interior and Kingdom Relations BAK and UNESCO St. Maarten. Present at USM were caretaker Prime Minister Wycliffe Smith, Member of Parliament Luc Mercelina and members of other political parties and social movements.
The evening began with a welcome and introduction to the topic of poverty offered by USM President Dr. Antonio Carmona Báez, who pointed out the need for country St. Maarten to develop a poverty line. “USM would like to help combat poverty through research, but we cannot do anything about poverty in St. Maarten if we do not define what it is and how many people it affects. For this, the government should support our initiative to carry out scientific research and set a poverty line like most countries have,” he stated.
In her introduction, Loekie Morales, responsible for promoting the SDGs in St. Maarten through BAK, explained the significance of the United Nations 2030 Agenda, and emphasised the need for cooperation among government, civil society and the private sector.
Representing government was Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour VSA policy advisor on social development Rose Pooran-Fleming, who outlined official definitions and varying causes of poverty, as well as government strategies to combat the same.
Highlights of her presentation covered the concepts of unemployment and underemployment; ideological differences regarding the causes of poverty, including socialism and neoliberalism; and other factors that should be taken into consideration when thinking about poverty, like migration, the ageing population, diseases, teen pregnancy and climate change.
Raymond Jessurun of United Consumers Association and St. Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform gave a presentation on the problem of structural poverty. He stated that poverty in St. Maarten is also related to inequalities within the Dutch Kingdom. “St. Maarten is the most expensive country within the Kingdom as far as consumer prices are concerned. However, our minimum wages do not match up to the prices,” he said.
Jessurun argued that poverty must be eradicated from a human rights perspective, looking at access to minimum household income and adequate housing. Human rights must be guaranteed by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a member state of international bodies and conventions. “We need a poverty line that is in line with European Union standards, because we are European citizens. What we see here today is apartheid,” he said.
Jessurun also spoke about strategies used by United Consumers Association, like bringing in containers of fresh but durable produce from the Dominican Republic. Throughout the last two months more than 2,000 people have purchased food at the market set up by the association. “We sent out a message to the supermarkets and importers that we can bring down the prices in St. Maarten.”
Denicio Wyatte of Eco-St. Maarten Agricultural and Research Foundation challenged the positions being taken in the discourse on poverty alleviation, stating that we need to look into long-term solutions to really eradicate poverty. “Facilitating handouts and cheaper imports of food only perpetuates a vicious cycle of dependency. We can pull people out of poverty by investing in agriculture,” said Wyatte, who was echoed by others in the audience.
The last presentation was given by Mercelina, who pulled out facts and figures on issues related to poverty and a critique of the plans for recovery and reconstruction. “Why do we need a brand-new hospital when we need roofs over people’s heads?” he asked.
In his closing remarks, Carmona made clear his intentions of getting the Netherlands-based National Institute for Family Finance Information NIBUD to St. Maarten to help design the research. NIBUD was essential in defining poverty in Bonaire through a combination of data collection on the cost of living, prices, wages and family consumption patterns.
“However, in St. Maarten/St. Martin, the study must be done on both sides of the border, as many people live on the French side, but work or go to school on the Dutch side,” Carmona added.
USM plans to present a proposal to the incoming interim government for this research.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/91855-need-for-poverty-line-in-st-maarten