National Ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen, together with the Children’s Ombudsman, will publish his vision this year on the poverty issue in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.
The National Ombudsman announced this in the 2022 annual report which he presented to Chairperson of the Dutch Second Chamber of Parliament Vera Bergkamp on Wednesday. The report contained a chapter about the Caribbean Netherlands since this part of the Netherlands is also the work territory of the National Ombudsman and the Children’s Ombudsman.
The poverty vision will be based on three earlier reports that focused on poverty issues and related challenges of senior citizens (2019), adolescents (2020) and single parents with children (2022).
In the 2022 annual report, the Ombudsman, supported by Children’s Ombudsman Margrite Kalverboer, again emphasised the need to establish a social minimum for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba to alleviate the increasing poverty on the islands — “an income that is based on the real costs of living and an income with which people can make ends meet. Even though this matter is higher on the political agenda of Dutch government, the residents of the islands have experienced little to no concrete improvement of their situation,” the Ombudsman stated.
While Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba were part of the Netherlands, there were large differences in the area of facilities and rights when compared to the Netherlands, the Ombudsman observed. Apart from the lack of a social minimum, there is also no unemployment allowance like in the Netherlands, and the child allowance was only introduced on the islands in 2016.
“Many people feel like second-class citizens and there is distrust of the government. In the Netherlands there sometimes seems to be too little awareness that the three public entities are part of the Netherlands.”
Steps are being taken to improve the situation on the islands. “The minimum wage and child allowance were increased and measures were implemented to reduce the cost of living. But at the same time, the Ombudsman concluded that the steps are going too slowly and aren’t having enough effect as yet.”
The poverty theme had a prominent place during a conference that the National Ombudsman took part in late November last year, together with the Ombudsman of Curacao and the Ombudsman of St. Maarten. Aruba does not have an Ombudsman as yet.
The main goal of this conference held in Curacao was to discuss how poverty affects the people in the Kingdom and how their life can be improved. After the conference, the three Ombudsmen sent a letter to Dutch State Secretary for Kingdom Relations and Digitisation Alexandra van Huffelen to express their concerns about poverty and presented a series of recommendations.
In 2023, the National Ombudsman will carry out an investigation into the way the public entities St. Eustatius and Saba handle complaints filed by the public. The Ombudsman already carried out a similar investigation in Bonaire in 2022.
The National Ombudsman paid four visits to the Caribbean Netherlands in 2022. Citizens are increasingly turning to the Ombudsman with questions and complaints. In 2022, 198 complaints were filed in total in the Caribbean Netherlands, 64 of which in Bonaire, eight in St. Eustatius and eight in Saba. 118 concerned the operations of the RCN
The 2022 annual report gave an example of mediation by the National Ombudsman. It concerns the so-called Versteeg Collection of Leiden University, which constitutes of the remains of nine persons who were unearthed in the ’80s and stored at the university.
With an imminent lack of space for the collection, Leiden University approached the public entity St. Eustatius to return the collection. The process came to a standstill because there was no agreement on the conditions for the return of the collection. The Ombudsman was able to get the process moving again and the collection was returned to St. Eustatius.
The Daily Herald.