I have followed the debate on the social minimum for the Caribbean Netherlands between the members of the Kingdom Relations committee of the Second Chamber and state-secretaries Knops (Kingdom Relations) and Van Ark (Social Affairs). I am rather disappointed with the point of view of both state-secretaries and their unwillingness to establish this social minimum. They believe that the report compiled by Regioplan on their request does not give them enough information to establish this social minimum. They do not want to go further than carrying out a number of ad hoc measures to improve the financial position a little bit of some weaker groups in our society. They do this without an integral approach and without knowing or wanting to know what the end result should be.
They want to evaluate the impact of their measures in 2020. How they will evaluate them, when they do not agree on the need for a measuring stick, being the social minimum, is unclear to me.
For many years a social minimum exists in the European part of The Netherlands, which is periodically adjusted based on the changing circumstances. However, in our part of the Netherlands, with a population the size of a small Dutch village, this appears to be very complicated. And it is not that the discussion just has started. It dates back from even before 10-10-10. While other matters such as the taxes, the healthcare and education were addressed without delay, for successive governments dealing with the social wellbeing and the guarantee of an acceptable standard of living for our people appears to be an unsurmountable problem. Knowingly and willingly they accept that in this part of the Netherlands a vast amount of people are living in poverty.
A number of times I heard mention being made of the fact that poverty policy is the responsibility of the local governments. This while it is common knowledge that local governments lack the capacity and the financial resources. Just recently state-secretary Knops made known that he will not raise the free allowance, which we all know is at least 20 percent too low. Where does the state-secretary suggest that the local governments get the funds from? On the other hand, a large part of the cause of our poverty are the low wages and social benefits or the lack thereof. Income policies, however, are the responsibility of the national government. Increasing minimum wage and old age pension, as happens now only based on inflation, does not have any impact on poverty reduction, but merely guarantees the status quo.
I heard one state-secretary say that our people are very happy with the ad hoc measures they will be introducing if it is possible. I am living among these people and I clearly did not notice the happiness around me. The other state-secretary said that one of the bottlenecks is the limited absorbing capacity of our islands. I have no idea what this actually means and how can it stop him from establishing the social minimum.
Many on our islands were afraid that the inclusion of art. 132.a in our constitution would allow for our people to be treated as second class citizens. I did not believe that. I still believe that the intention of this article is to protect our people from Dutch European laws and regulation that are not suitable for us. I was and am strongly of the opinion that art. 1 of our constitution is valid for all citizens of the Netherlands, including those who are living in the Caribbean Netherlands. We are all to be treated equal in equal circumstances.
I guess we all understand that once a social minimum has been established for the islands we will not get to that level the next day. We all understand that it takes time. It is not just a matter of raising the minimum wage and the social benefits. It requires strengthening our economies, stimulating of investment, improving our infrastructure and the creation of better paying jobs. This means that it needs an integral approach and a multi-annual plan. We cannot do this without the help of our national government. A few ad hoc measures, no matter how well intended, and a promised evaluation in 2020 will not be sufficient.
Both First and Second Chamber have demanded the cabinet to establish our social minimum. The state-secretaries in the debate last Thursday have indicated that they intent not to honor this demand. Our parliament will have the last word.