THE HAGUE–Several Members of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament made an urgent call to eradicate increasing poverty in the Dutch Caribbean during the handling of the draft 2002 Kingdom Relations budget on Wednesday.
Member of Parliament (MP) Jorien Wuite of the Democratic Party D66, who held her maiden speech on Wednesday (see related story), said that poverty became very visible during the visit of the Dutch Parliament to Bonaire in August this year, as part of the Inter-Parliamentary Consultation of the Kingdom IPKO.
“We saw a large divide in society and we were touched by the deep concerns and the poverty of many people we spoke with,” said Wuite, who just like several other MPs, noted that the efforts of the Dutch government to eradicate poverty on the islands were taking too long and could not wait for the formation of a new Dutch government.
In particular for the Caribbean Netherlands, the part of the kingdom for which the Netherlands is directly responsible, Wuite announced that she would be submitting a motion during the continuation of the handling of the Kingdom Relations budget on Thursday. In that motion, she will call on the Dutch government to immediately increase the minimum wage and the social allowances in Bonaire and Saba by 10 per cent.
MP Aukje de Vries of the liberal democratic VVD party said that Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten should focus more on the wellbeing of their people instead of complaining about the conditions and the reforms that the Dutch government attached to the liquidity support during the pandemic. “The politicians of the autonomous countries should be working for their people who become unemployed, who are hungry. That should be the focus because you cannot live on autonomy. I hope that the politicians will grab the opportunity to do good things for their people and the private sector,” said De Vries. She said it was “frustrating” to see that the countries continuously applied tactics of renegotiating and delay.
As for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, De Vries mentioned earlier research which stated that 40 per cent of the people in the Caribbean Netherlands live under the subsistence level. She said that while some steps were already taken to improve the social minimum, 2021 seemed to be a “lost year” with decision-taking on this matter having been forwarded to a new Dutch government. “Why did government not opt to take this step for Bonaire and Saba in 2020, now that the government formation is taking so long?”
The reduction of the high cost of living in the Caribbean Netherlands remains necessary, said De Vries, but also other MPs. The Netherlands must help with investments in infrastructure, and while these investments generally will not generate income, it is an important component to structurally lower the cost of living, for example, by constructing solar parks, which will result in lower electricity prices.
De Vries and MP Joba van den Berg of the Christian Democratic Party CDA shared the concerns of the Caribbean Netherlands governments that there was no attention from The Hague for the structural costs incurred after incidental investments were made. “That needs to improve,” said De Vries.
MP Don Ceder of the ChristianUnion (CU) said that he and other colleague MPs were shocked by the large differences in wellbeing within the kingdom. He referred to a recent visit that he and other Dutch MPs made to the home of a man in Bonaire, whose leg was amputated and who had great difficulty meeting basic needs.
Ceder agreed with other MPs that the minimum wage and income in the Caribbean Netherlands needed to be increased. “I will support the proposal to take a real step that will prevent people from ending up in poverty. But I am also worried about the high cost of living, the high energy prices.”
MP Attje Kuiken of the Labour Party PvdA too referred to the visit to people’s homes in Bonaire in August. Again, we saw that people simply cannot make ends meet. Friend and foe agree on this, but one last step needs to he taken,” she said, referring to the establishing of a social minimum. Kuiken sought clarity on the execution of an earlier adopted motion of the Second Chamber to structurally lower the water and electricity tariffs in the Caribbean Netherlands, which has not been executed by the Dutch government.
MP Laura Bromet of the Green Left party GroenLinks said the house visits in Bonaire made a great impression on her. “We should be deeply ashamed of the level of poverty that people live in. People pay a lot for food, rent and energy. The social welfare allowance is 30 to 40 per cent of the legal minimum wage. That is why I submitted an amendment to increase the social welfare allowance to 70 per cent of the minimum wage,” she said.
Sylvana Simons of the BIJ1 party pointed out that Curacao and St. Maarten had only been countries for 11 years. The countries, former colonies, were formed by the shared history of the kingdom and merely have this as a basis to develop themselves. “If you leave a country in shambles, it will remain in shambles for a while.”
Simons said the slavery past and colonialism were still a reality, still coloured the relations in the kingdom and still determined the points of departure whereby The Hague set the agenda, leaving the islands little say.
According to Simons, the Dutch assistance resulted from a history of several centuries of colonialism, slavery and pressure. “It is a responsibility of the Netherlands to, as long as it is needed, care for a healthy growing up of what the Netherlands planted in the past.” She noted that through the Dutch public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, the Netherlands still had colonies on the other side of the ocean.
Ceder of the CU stated that mutual trust in the kingdom was not a given and that partners had to work on this on a daily basis. He said that the establishing of the Caribbean Body for Reform and Development COHO, demanded by The Hague as part of providing liquidity support, caused unrest in the Dutch Caribbean countries — “unrest about autonomy, but also about the disrupting effects of reforms that are implemented too fast,” he said, asking Dutch caretaker State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops if he would consider a proposal of the countries to implement the reforms in phases.
MP Machiel de Graaf of the Party for Freedom PVV said the current crisis was a good moment to ask the islands to “show their adulthood” and to become independent. “It should serve as a nice incentive to stand on their own feet.”
Van den Berg did not agree. She said that for the CDA party, the islands were like a family. She said the islands deserved to be assisted in times of need. She noted that Hurricane Irma and the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic had a great impact on especially St. Maarten, and that in all three countries people had ended up in deep poverty.
MP Tunahan Kuzu of the DENK party said that after 11 years of new constitutional relations very little had been done to alleviate poverty. He said it was a “shame” that up to 50 per cent of people in the Dutch Caribbean lived in poverty. He said that this would never be allowed in the Netherlands. He criticised The Hague for treating people in the Caribbean Netherlands as “second-class citizens” and urged the Dutch government to finally establish the social minimum.
MP Derk Jan Eppink of the JA21 party said the “ping pong game” between the partners in the kingdom to establish a Dispute Regulation had to stop. He said the islands should be assisted in order for them to become truly economically viable. This, he noted, would also contribute to keeping the ties within the kingdom.
The Daily Herald.