Public entities tell State Secretary more is needed to combat poverty | THE DAILY HERALD

Representatives of the public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba met with the delegation of State Secretaries Tamara van Ark (second right) and Raymond Knops (right) in St. Eustatius on June 27.

SABA/ST. EUSTATIUS–The public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba in a joint letter sent to State Secretary of Social Affairs and Employment Tamara van Ark on September 17, expressed support for the steps she is taking to eradicate poverty on the islands. However, more is needed, the public entities said.

The three Caribbean Netherlands islands are asking the ministries in The Hague to implement further extending structural improvement measures that will reduce the high cost of living and bring a better balance between people’s income and the cost of living.

  The high costs of connectivity between the islands, water, electricity and telecommunications need to go down. The islands encourage Van Ark to continue with the measures in her own domain and to inspire the other ministries to do the same.

  “Poverty is now clearly on the agenda. Now is the time to take further meaningful measures. Poverty alleviation is only possible with an integral approach of all ministries,” it is stated in the letter.

Close the gap

  The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment SZW has already introduced structural measures to raise the income of certain groups in society: a higher legal minimum wage, higher social allowances and an increase in childcare benefits (“kinderbijslag”).

  The Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK is making investments in social housing and the reduction of rental cost through a rental subsidy which, once implemented, will help to reduce the cost of living.

  “These are steps in the right direction to close the poverty gap. We have understood that more will follow in order for the amounts to be closer to the actual cost of living,” the public entities stated in the letter, which is a response to the recent progress report on establishing a benchmark for a social minimum in the Caribbean Netherlands.

  The benchmarks in the progress report of the SZW Ministry deviate from the amounts mentioned in the earlier Regioplan report because several costs, like the cost of housing and childcare, are calculated lower than the actual cost as mentioned in the Regioplan report.


  The public entities called the decision to raise the minimum wage per January 1, 2020, a “positive step,” but at this moment this increase isn’t enough to cover the actual cost of living for this group of workers.

  The Regioplan report reflects the reality of the high cost of living very well, and everyone can agree that this cost should go down, stated the public entities.

  “The ambition of the Ministry of SZW to focus on a lower benchmark is positive, but there are too many uncertainties [about – Ed.] whether this will in fact be achieved if there is insufficient support from the other ministries.

  For now, the public entities will take the figures of the Regioplan as a guideline. “A lot has to happen to get there. There are too many insecurities: will it really happen, when, [and] how big and visible are the actual effects? It is quite a job to close the poverty gap by increasing the income and reducing the costs,” the islands said. They want the amounts adjusted to the cost of living on a regular basis, at least once per year.


  The public entities find the monthly increase of the childcare allowance and the allowance for elderly people living on their own without additional income such as a pension, positive. However, it is a given that elderly people are having great difficulty making ends meet.

  “We fear that many elderly persons will be excluded because of the limiting conditions such as a very low savings threshold. The allowance for single [pension] AOV recipients should match the actual expenditures of elderly persons.”

  According to the public entities, better use should be made of existing instruments to assist persons living in poverty. There are different instruments at the Ministry of SZW and at the public entities that can provide assistance to persons living in poverty. “We think that more effective use can be made of these instruments,” they said.

  The monthly increase by about US $20 of the childcare benefit is a positive step, but the islands hope that the ultimate prospect is that this amount will more reflect the actual cost of raising children. The islands hope that the pending increase in the allowance for persons who are unable to work will truly assist this group in covering their daily expenses.

High cost of living

  The letter mentioned the meeting the public entities had with State Secretaries Van Ark and Raymond Knops of BZK in Statia on June 27. During that meeting, the islands sought attention for three main issues: the need to eradicate poverty in a sustainable, structural manner; the needs of specific target groups such as the elderly and the working poor; and the high costs of connectivity, water and electricity, and telecommunication bills.

  “Cost-covering and affordability are at odds in our small communities. These are topics that resort under other ministries. We ask that the ministries take concrete measures that will lead to a lower cost of living. The people on our islands frequently ask us about the high cost of living and we don’t have the tools to influence these high prices in the right direction,” it was stated.

Concrete measures

  The public entities suggested coming with concrete measures to stimulate the economy and to reduce the cost of doing business, in cooperation with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate.

  Some of the suggestions include facilitating (new) entrepreneurs, reduction/elimination of the general import tax ABB on certain goods and services, creating a Customs union between the islands and solving the connectivity issue.

  Regarding connectivity between the islands, the letter stated: “The reliability and quality of the connections, the frequency and price of transport via air and water are important for our population, our economies and for the transport of entrepreneurs and other professionals. We propose to, aside from a bigger discussion about the public service obligation in aviation, start clear pilots [programmes] in which the ministries and public entities work together.”

  The islands believe things are moving in the right direction, but at the same time, the public entities pointed out that there is “much work” to be done for the various ministries to solve the poverty issue in a sustainable manner.

  “We, the islands, will continue with what we can and have to do by, among other things, investing in good governance, further developing agriculture, price comparisons and work in the social domain. Things are happening. Now it comes down to all ministries implementing measures that result in closing the poverty gap. Eradication of poverty is only possible with broad input and an integral approach of the ministries, the public entities and others. You have our support in that process.”

  Van Ark arrives in Bonaire today, Tuesday, October 1, for a four-day working visit. She visited Statia and Saba late June 2019.

Source: The Daily Herald