A further reduction of the elderly pension of former civil servants and retired teachers in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba planned for 2018 might be off, due to the improved coverage degree of the Caribbean Netherlands Pension Fund PCN.
Dutch caretaker Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk stated this in a general debate with members of the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Wednesday.
The Minister not only had good news for the pensioners who will likely see the planned 12 per cent reduction next year taken off the books, but also for the (retired) teachers of the Gwendoline van Putten School in St. Eustatius for a solution is being worked on to close their pension gap. Recently an important step was taken that benefits the teachers of Statia’s sole secondary school when the Island Government approved a large number of dossiers.
Authorities are now putting all the information together after which the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science OCW will supplement the difference so the teachers of Gwendoline van Putten no longer have to suffer from the mistakes that were made during the time of the Netherlands Antilles Pension Fund APNA.
Plasterk confirmed that the majority of the 1,876 dossiers of (retired) civil servants and teachers in the Caribbean Netherlands affected by APNAs administrative omissions had been completed. About six per cent, or 113 files, remained open. In these last cases, information was still missing and mostly had to be supplied by the public entities. Member of Parliament (MP) Henk Krol of the 50 Plus party specifically asked about the “disappeared pension money” for which the people had paid premiums for years.
The Minister said he was hopeful that the announced 12 per cent cut back in pensions of PCN members would not go ahead in 2018. “I am saying this with a certain reservation, but the coverage grade of the pension fund is at 95 per cent, so it could very well be possible that the further reduction of 12 per cent in 2018 might not be needed anymore,” he said.
The 3.5 per cent pension reduction in April this year contributed to an improvement of the coverage degree, from 78.5 per cent late 2016 to 95 per cent in July this year. The 3.5 per cent reduction was the only way to improve PCN’s financial situation on short term. At that time, employers and employees didn’t manage to come to an agreement on higher pension premiums, said the Minister in response to questions of MPs Joba van den Berg of the Christian Democratic Party CDA and Antje Diertens of the Democratic Party 1)66.
An additional obstacle to make the PCN more financially stable is the pension fund’s claim that the financial contribution of the Dutch Government at the time of the dismantling of the former country Netherlands Antilles was too low.
PCN has taken the Dutch Government to court over this matter. However, the ruling of the court in this case is not expected until the second quarter of 2018. “We have to wait on that verdict before taking a next step,” said Plasterk.
Caretaker State Secretary Jetta Klijnsma announced during the debate, which also touched on the establishing of a social minimum, that the Social Affairs and Labour SZW unit in the Caribbean Netherlands has been instructed to be royal in awarding the special “understand” (social welfare) now that St. Eustatius and Saba have suffered from two consecutive hurricanes.
Klijnsma agreed with the MPs that the cost of living was high on the islands which contributed to poverty. “I have seen with my own eyes during my two visits that it is no small feat for many to survive.” She said that a number of measures had already been taken, including higher social security allowances, the children’s allowance for families and the use of funds from the division of the estate of the former country Netherlands Antilles to combat poverty.
The State Secretary said that the research to determine and establish a social minimum had to be done in a careful manner and that it was a complex affair. She assured MP Diertens that the differences between the three islands would be taken into consideration.
The fact that the social minimum research won’t be ready until March next year was criticised by MP Krol. “Why is this taking so long?” he said, asking “where the social heart” was of this State Secretary. He said that poverty was a serious problem, also among the elderly, and that a structural solution was direly needed.
MP Andre Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party said “more money from The Hague” was not the solution. Instead, he said, the islands should become more self-sustainable. He suggested stimulating agriculture, cultivating fruits and vegetables, which would reduce the need for import and in turn improve the standard of living and reduce poverty. Plasterk assured that agriculture remained on the agenda and that initiatives were supported.
Even though the pension fund and the social minimum were the main agenda topics of Wednesday’s meeting, St. Maarten was mentioned several times in relation to its proximity and close economic relations with St. Eustatius and Saba.
MP Min den Berg said it was “all nice and well” that the people of St. Eustatius and Saba could make increased use of the special “onderstand” arrangement, but fact remained that these islands were heavily dependent on St. Maarten where it came to tourists and the import of goods. Plasterk responded that St. Eustatius and Saba were not forgotten, and that the import of goods now took place via other routes, including St. Kitts.
MP Diertens brought up an article that appeared in the Dutch NRC newspaper on Wednesday with the headline “Statia feels forgotten.” In the article, a situation of isolation is described whereby the number of flights to the island has drastically decreased and a Fokker 50 aircraft chartered by the health insurance bureau ZVK last Saturday did not take any of the waiting people eager to leave the island. “Is it correct to say that Statia feels abandoned and isolated?” Diertens asked.
Plasterk said that he didn’t recognise this assumption. “We are not abandoning the islands. Work is being done in different forms,” he said, emphasising that the Dutch Government was responsible for St. Eustatius and Saba, and that St. Maarten was being assisted, currently with emergency aid and later on with the reconstruction.
The Daily Herald.