~ SZV says it plays no role in indexation process ~
PHILIPSBURG–The Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Affairs VSA Emil Lee will be assembling a taskforce to “investigate the possibilities” of adapting the 2019 AOV/AWW pension amounts in a way that is socially acceptable and fits within the confines of the law.
News of the taskforce comes on the heels of criticisms from the St. Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform and St. Maarten Consumers Coalition levelled against Social and Health Insurances SZV for its decision to not index social pensions for 2019 based on the Cost of Living Adjustment in 2018. SZV said in a press release on Sunday that it plays no role in the indexation process.
In a separate press release issued Sunday by the Cabinet of VSA, it was stated that the ministry will invite Platform and Coalition representatives to discuss the concerns. SZV, as the designated executing agency of the AOV/AWW will be involved in the taskforce to ensure the solutions found are practical and feasible in execution.
The release said the lack of the indexation of the 2019 AOV/AWW amounts has the direct attention of the minister. “We cannot ignore the post-Irma conditions of many of our residents, especially our pensioners. Without looking at too much data, one knows that many of our vulnerable groups are experiencing the economic and social effects that are still lingering. The matter will be approached from social, legal and execution angles to ensure a workable solution that does justice to the pensioners involved and complies with the intention of the AOV/AWW laws.”
The indexation is calculated annually by government based on the consumer price index (CPI) increase in the previous year. For 2019, this would be over the period between August 2017 to August 2018. Government’s statistics department STAT was not able to provide an official CPI for that exact period, as the department was in the process of changing its measurement methodology during 2018, the minister’s release said.
In the absence of the CPI number the law requires that a decision be made on the new AOV/AWW amount. For 2019, the decision was made not to apply indexation. This decision will be re-visited by the Ministry with the assembling of the task force, stated the release.
In its press release, SZV said there is no situation of decision making by SZV to not index the amounts, as this is not the role of the organisation. SZV said it had been contacted on January 8, by the St. Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform and St. Maarten Consumers Coalition regarding the indexation of the 2019 amounts, to which a response and clarification was provided on January 10.
SZV said statements made by the Platform and Coalition at a press conference on Thursday, January 10 and published on January 11, “regarding the role of SZV are incorrect.”
“SZV would like to reiterate that there is an open-door policy where inquiries and concerns are welcomed to be discussed. It is unfortunate that there was a misunderstanding of the role of SZV in this matter. In this case, the role of the SZV is to execute the AOV/AWW law, to inform the public of the annual amounts and to implement these in the payment procedures to the recipients.”
SZV said the law mandates that the CPI of August be used in calculating and indexing the AOV/AWW amounts. “According to the notification SZV received from the Ministry of VSA in November 2018, no adjustments would be made to the 2019 amounts due to the fact that the Department of Statistics (STAT) will not be publishing the consumer indexes (CPI) in 2018. This clarification is included in the publication of the 2019 amounts.”
SZV said the St. Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform and St. Maarten Consumers Coalition were referred to the Ministry of VSA for additional support. “The Minister of VSA, Emil Lee indicated to SZV that the concern of the platform has the attention of the Ministry and will be directly addressed. In consultation with the platform representative on January 11, SZV was informed that unfortunately, SZV’s response did not make it on time for consideration in the platforms’ press (conference) to the media,” SZV said in its release.
In the meantime, the Platform and Coalition told reporters that they 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. Platform representative Claire Elshot had said that the non-indexation 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.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/84476-taskforce-soon-to-address-aov-aww-indexation