Place social inequalities on agenda – NGOs make appeal to parliamentarians-POSTED: 02/26/13 3:32 PM
GREAT BAY- The St. Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform and organizations falling under the St. Maarten United Non-governmental Federation (SUNFED) umbrella, yesterday demanded that the island’s elected representatives use the opportunity presented at the Inter Parliamentary Kingdom Consultation (IPKO), which starts on March 4 in the Netherlands, to voice their concerns on “social inequality” within the Kingdom. For the second time around, the organizations are pleading with parliamentarians to have a meaningful discussion on equal pensions, social allowance and healthcare to that of the Netherlands.
First vice-president of the St. Maarten Senior Citizens and Pensioners Association (SMSPA) drs. Raymond Jessurun said that the social organizations were eager to see whether the postponement of the third IPKO from January to March would have resulted in local parliamentarians placing the disparity in social security on the presidium’s agenda to be tabled at the meeting. They were sorely disappointed.
“Up to this date, our agenda point has not been addressed. We are not aware of what happens behind the scenes. But when we met with the President of Parliament (drs Rodolphe Samuel) on September 28 he promised to address this with his colleagues in the Dutch Caribbean. In the press we have not heard yet that our agenda point, for the people of St. Maarten had been adopted. What will happen with equal pensions, what will happen with equal social allowance, what will happen with our social protection floor? What about our healthcare, the medical facility and the treatment that we get?” Jessurun asked during a press conference called by the social organizations to express their dissatisfaction with how the issue of equality has been handled up to now.
Jessurun said that he approached Samuel during the Seniors City Stroll last Friday, to find out whether the petition of the NGOs would be on the IPKO agenda. Jessurun said that he was given formal arguments on procedures to the contrary.
The social activist claims that he was told that the matter of equal pensions was not in the decision list of the last IPKO so it could not have been followed up on to become a part of next month’s agenda. However he still sees a window of opportunity for St.Maarten.
“Just as they brought up that they are going to discuss the deficit and the debt situation of St. Maarten in support of the minister of finance, so they can also, in support of the minister of Social Development, address the needs for St. Maarten that the pension increase can be up to the level of the Netherlands, that the social protection floor can be the same as it is in the Netherlands and on the French side, that healthcare can be equal and that the national health insurance can be implemented.”
Today reported extensively on the struggle for equality with healthcare and social security that was initiated by the seniors. It was eventually amplified when all of the social organizations came together in January 2012 to protest and petition the IPKO that was being held here. Even after numerous letters to the Dutch parliamentarians, the Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labour and the former Dutch Minister of Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relations, Liesbeth Spies, the organizations are no closer to attaining the type of equality that they seek.
“Minister Spies told us that social security and healthcare are not matters for the Kingdom government… Kingdom Affairs is only Defense, Foreign Relations and Nationality and so social issues are excluded. We showed them in the charter of the Kingdom of Article 43, that the guarantee is there for us,” Jessurun added.
Going Beyond the Superficial Discussion
Last night, all social organizations met at the SUNFED building to determine what action will be taken to bring more attention to their struggle. Ahead of that meeting, SUNFED chairman Alberto Bute said that he is not at amused that “no one is talking about assisting St. Maarten to meet the demands of the Kingdom government.”
He said that for real change to take place, parliamentarians must engage in innovative and meaningful discussions that are not “cookie cutter nor cosmetic.”
The latter, Bute aligned with last Monday’s signing of a memorandum of understanding between Amfo and the St. Maarten Development Fund.
“The social problems of St. Maarten are huge and need to be discussed at a more Kingdom level,” he reiterated.
Bute called on local politicians to move away from the proverbial “ostrich” position and demand that the rights of all Dutch citizens are respected.
“We cannot sit back and allow parliamentarians and politicians in the Netherlands to question or dictate to the other parliaments in the Kingdom and not step up to the plate by demanding that proper procedures be put in place. This will allow us to achieve the highest level required to become a successful entity. We want whatever infrastructure needs to be put in place, if our laws need to be updated to protect the rights of our citizens; then these things need to be discussed in the IPKO meeting.”
Financial Supervision-A Hindrance
The Kingdom law on financial supervision and the Cft, he stated, also hinders St. Maarten from putting money on the budget to realize a 1000 Euros (2500 guilders) social protection floor in this part of the Kingdom.
“What is it that the Netherlands is really putting into these islands, because the mere 6 million guilders that they were putting here, the Dutch government cut that and they want us to solve all of these problems by dictating. But really what are you investing in these islands?” Bute asked.
“Cft is hindering the development of people in St. Maarten and hindering the realization of equal rights,” Jessurun added.
Today’s Workers, Tomorrow’s Pensioners
Representing worker’s organizations, president of the Windward Islands Teachers Union, Claire Elshot said that she will continue to be a part of the platform until the goal of equal pensions is realized.
She stated that pensioners built the community of St. Maarten prior to 10.10.10 and after and she would therefore like to see parliamentarians who were elected to represent the interests of the people, do so.
“The parliamentarians need to address the social, economic and cultural rights of people.”
Elshot urged active workers to pay keen attention to the struggle of the pensioners since they will one day fall into this category.
“The struggle for equal social security and equal healthcare benefits are very pertinent to the workers organizations. The active workers will become pensioners within short. Take note of what is happening so that you are not surprised with what is offered to you as pensioners.”
With the new pension stipulation that a person would have had to be living or working in the Netherlands Antilles for 45 years to receive the full benefit from the general pension fund, Elshot noted that many workers will not receive this. Instead they will get 70 percent of their salary over the last 3 years. With a meager pension, many people will want to continue working, she believes.
“There is a difference between pension age and the right to work, even when you have a worker’s pension, it can be difficult and you can be plunged into the social deficit,” Elshot said as she described a society where many pensioners lack sufficient income, or a job to be able to take care of several bills including mortgage payments.
“A large percentage of pensioners are still living in poverty,” Elshot said.
The social organizations outlined the situation of pensioners.
“Some seniors got a pension increase to 1000 guilders. Only those who lived for 45 years in the former Netherlands Antilles or Aruba qualified for it though. The majority of seniors have only gotten an increase of 2.50 guilders a day. Sickness Insurance Coverage of health care packages is still not equal. There is discrimination in hospital care SZV 100 percent to SZV 90 percent. Sickness insurance premiums for retired seniors are 5 times higher (10 percent FZOG, 10.4 percent SZV 60 plus) than the premium of active workers, which is 2 to 2.5 percent. The Netherlands still has the number one health care system in the world; health care quality in St. Maarten is still below the standard in the Netherlands.”
On the issue of higher premiums for seniors, Jessurun said this is not fair because our income is less.” The organizations are also waiting to see what the National Health Insurance scheme would look like. Jessurun said that several attempts were made to see the new tariff structure but the SMSPA was told that the NHI would be “indefinitely postponed” because the basic healthcare package was being cut, owing to its high costs, in favour of a tariff structure with lower premiums.
Apart from Article 43 of the Kingdom Charter, the social organizations are also premising their position on the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on Minimum Standards of Social Security, ILO Resolution on the Social Protection Floor, Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
While the organizations say they still have not received answers from local or Kingdom representatives on their plight, they are trying to amplify the solidarity base for their struggle in areas such as Latin American, the Caribbean and Europe.
“If prisoners can get equal rights, then the pensioners and the people of St Maarten can get equal rights. We are fed up of waiting, hearing and promises, because seniors cannot wait,” Jessurun concluded.