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St Maarten Anti Poverty Platform / St Maarten Consumers Coalition.

Topic 1: Payroll Compensation Proposal Is Discriminatory!

Topic 2: Charging SZV With Discriminatory Payroll Support Program Is Unlawful!

Topic 3: Compensation for income loss of sole proprietors is a discriminatory arrangement

Topic 4: Managing the Coronavirus pandemic must respect the human rights of all!

 

Topic 1: Payroll Compensation Proposal Is Discriminatory

THE SSRP = Sint Maarten Stimulus Relief Plan was officially published on Monday, April 20th and announced emergency measures to mitigate the effects of COVID 19. In the Plan handled in Parliament on Tuesday the 21st , one of the proposed measures is to pay up to 80% of the payroll of qualifying businesses, with a minimum of ANG 1,150 for a full- time employee. We find this a discriminatory proposal. Why?

  • The proposed payroll compensation is 10% less than the 90% provided in the Netherlands and in Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius. As Anti-Poverty Platform / Consumers Coalition we have demanded based on human rights the same treatment for the businesses and the employees. We have advocated to protect their economic rights in the same way as this is guaranteed in the Netherlands and in the BES-islands. We referred to the employer organizations in St Maarten who in February demanded a 90% compensation of their total payroll expenses, the same compensation as the Dutch government presented for the businesses in the Netherlands and in the BES-islands which were affected by the Corona Virus pandemic (in the so-called NOW measure)!

With this payroll compensation proposal now the government of St Maarten wants the Kingdom government to pay for the SSRP but does not want the Kingdom government to compensate our businesses and employees the same 90% compensation as the ones in the Netherlands, Bonaire, Saba, and St Eustatius. (By the way, only workers with a maximum wage till ANG 15.000 a month will be compensated and this for a maximum period of three (3) months.)

  • Not all the businesses are included, only 60% of the workforce will get support!

COVID 19 impacted all businesses, especially those on the list of non-essential businesses. But we read in the SSRP that “ In collaboration with SZV, “an analysis of the sectors was done to determine the levels of impact, which further determined which companies under which sectors will qualify for this support program.” In regards to the Government-Owned Companies: the Harbor and Winair are labeled as high impact as operations have fully ceased and are hence included. “The outcome of the stimulus package will support approximately 60% of the workforce.” In other words, approximately 40% of the workforce will not be supported and thus discriminated!

Some members of Parliament questioned the Minister of Finance especially on the discrimination introduced by the criteria in the government/SZV analysis. But none questioned the discriminatory unequal compensation treatment to be implemented by the Kingdom government!

TOPIC 2. CHARGING SZV WITH DISCRIMINATORY PAYROLL SUPPORT PROGRAM IS UNLAWFUL!

The SSRP, as well as the Minister of Finance, stated that “The Payroll Support program will be managed by SZV”. In the SSRP we read why SZV, and we quote, “which has all the relevant data to monitor compliance with the detailed procedures that are worked out in Appendix 1 which provides a summary of the most important procedures to manage this payroll support.”

Charging SZV with execution of the discriminatory payroll program is unlawful we explain this based on article 3 of the National Ordinance USZV (AB 2013 GT no 69). Let us explain:

  • Parliament of ST Maarten has stipulated that SZV can only manage social and health insurance which are regulated by national ordinances. This Payroll support program is neither a social nor health insurance!
  • Article 3 letter i states that USZV can execute other tasks on behalf of the Minister of Public Health, Social Development, and Labor. But Managing the execution of a discriminatory payroll support program is not a task stipulated in any social and health insurance national ordinance and neither in any other national ordinance! SZV can be asked to assist in a task force to analyze and advise on an emergency payroll support program, especially because that will have an effect on the social premiums to be paid to SZV. But there is no national ordinance that regulates a payroll support program to be managed by SZV. And that is a stipulation in art 3 letter j.
  • According to article 4 the SZV staff has an obligation to keep all information received for the implementation of the social and health insurance secret unless national ordinances have stipulated what they can divulge! The quote that SZV has all the relevant data to monitor compliance with the detailed procedures for the Payroll Support Program implies that SZV has to use information collected for the social and health insurance for a program that has not authorized SZV in any other ordinance!

Only if Parliament legislates by national ordinance that SZV can be charged with the execution of the Payroll Support Program for a maximum of three months, then SZV can manage this program.

Apparently none of the Members of Parliament as legislators are aware of the legal stipulations that regulate what SZV can do and what SZV cannot do. And it is only the members of parliament that can change this legislation.

As Consumers Coalition we have an additional concern. Why we are concerned to let SZV manage the Payroll Support program? We mention two reasons:

  • We are concerned that USZV will unlawfully use money from the old-age pension fund and/or the Cessantia fund and/or the AVBZ fund to pre-finance this payroll support program. The SOAB accountants have not approved the annual accounts since SZV started in 2010, with as one of the reasons that unlawful transactions were done between the funds with surpluses and the funds with deficits managed by SZV. So we have this concern even when Parliament decides to legislate that the Payroll support program also has to be executed by SZV.
  • The budget of 2020 has not yet been approved by Parliament. It is in the budget for the year 2020 that the government must budget the costs for the Payroll Support Program and all the other incentives they have in this SSRP also has to mention and approve the means to finance the program!

In an article in the Daily Herald of yesterday Wednesday we could read the legal concerns of an attorney-at-law not to charge SZV with the execution of the government's Payroll Support Program. The Minister of Finance in the press conference of Wednesday said, that he had not yet seen the advice of the lawyer, neither have they received an advice concerning these observations made by the lawyer. President of Parliament MP Rolando Brison was quoted in the same newspaper of yesterday, which we lament. Apparently the member of parliament is not aware of Art 3 under letter j. of the USZV ordinance, which stipulates clearly that a national ordinance is needed to charge USZV with other tasks that are not social or health insurances.

Topic 3: Compensation for income loss of sole proprietors is a discriminatory arrangement

The government is proposing to pay up to a maximum of ANG 1,150 a month for bus drivers, taxi drivers, independent tour operators, licensed vendors, market vendors qualifying individuals. Why these self-employed workers are not being treated the same way as other businesses and based on their income tax declarations provided with the same compensation for loss of personal income as the businesses are getting to pay wages of workers?

  • A sole proprietorship is a business. And why not provide these businesses with the same treatment as other businesses? We have not seen the procedures to determine who qualifies, but is not the treatment proposed also a discriminatory treatment of these businesses?
  • Sole proprietors in the Netherlands and in Bonaire, Saba, and St Eustatius can get Income support, depending on the income and their household situation to a maximum of €1,500 (net) which is a net maximum of 2,900 ANG which is 2.5 times more than what the St Maarten government want the Kingdom government to compensate local sole proprietors.
  • These sole proprietors in the Netherlands and in the BES islands also can apply for a loan for business capital to a maximum amount of €10,157 or a maximum of 19,600 ANG, which they have to repay, but it is possible to request a delay of their payment obligation. And the interest rate will be lower than under the regular Bbz Why our sole proprietors are being discriminated against and why cannot they get the same arrangement as other citizens in the Kingdom of the Netherlands?

We understand that they want the SMTF (St. Maarten Training Foundation) to handle all requests and payments. The Sint Maarten Training Foundation is a private foundation set up for training program purposes which they provide with money from the government and later from the Dutch Trust fund. The objective of the SMTF is to make workers more employable through training courses. Persons could qualify for these training courses if they have a job of less than 20 hours a week or if they are unemployed and registered at the Labor and Social affairs department. Now the ST Maarten Training Foundation is being requested to administer bus drivers, taxi drivers, independent tour operators, licensed vendors, market vendors qualifying individuals. These self-employed workers will receive a maximum personal income loss compensation of 1150 ANG a month. And they do not have to attend classes. These sole proprietors do not attend classes and get up to a maximum of 1150 ANG a month.

Providing this third party with the execution of a governmental task or policy raises the question, how come government could not assign this task to a task force consisting of staff of the Ministry of TEATT, from the Ministry of Finance, of the Tax office as well as of the Receivers Office?

 

Topic 4: Managing the Coronavirus pandemic must respect the human rights of all!

The COVID-19 pandemic is revealing how the human rights of citizens in this part of the Kingdom are not fully realized. When the EOC realized that there are citizens of large minorities in Sint Maarten who do not understand English well, messaging in Spanish and Creole was spread. The CPS-team which is going in the neighborhoods to inform the households about the possibility to get tested and to get help if they have flu-like symptoms, they reported that many of the persons do not want to register or to get tested. The probable reason is that these citizens do not have up to date documents or resident permits and also that they do not have health insurance. So afraid to be deported when they give their personal information they prefer not to cooperate with the CPS team. That this is a serious health risk for these citizens, but also for the entire population is also our concern. For years we know of the risks undocumented citizens are faced with. But until now no effective program or policy has been implemented to minimize these risks for these human beings and for our society! Let us be clear: Everyone has the same human rights and therefore being undocumented cannot be a ground to deny human beings on the island their human rights!

The situation in St Maarten is even more serious. Before hurricane Irma St Maarten was already the country with the highest population density: 1,204 persons per square kilometer or 3,118 persons per square mile. After Irma because 70% of the homes structurally damaged the density has only become worse because people had to flock together now in homes still manageable. How can people observe social distancing in crowded homes? That is one of the reasons the government had to arrange isolation shelter for persons affected by the Coronavirus. Now more than two years after Irma the 13.000 adequate social housing needed has not been realized yet! With an NRPB having only 240 homes in the pipeline. Lord have mercy!

The High Commissioner of Human Rights Michel Bachelet in a press statement last week on April 15th touched the issue of the pandemic, which is manifesting its impact now all over the world. She said: “millions of the people at greatest risk of contagion are those whose needs are often overlooked. To uphold their fundamental rights to life and health—and prevent the pandemic from spreading rapidly across the whole of society—we need to take urgent measures to resolve the specific risks and impacts of COVID-19 on a number of groups. A few groups she referred to which are older people, especially those who live in institutions or on their own; members of neglected and marginalized minorities; and the poor, who have little access to health care, no safety net and who, by necessity, live in cramped and unsanitary conditions. Many of these are also migrants, who are often unable to access medical treatment or social protections and are already targeted by stigma and hatred. Millions of migrants around the world either have no access to health care or are afraid to seek it, for fear of being detained. There is an urgent need to upgrade vital services for all people, she said, including migrants, who live in under-serviced, overcrowded informal settlements.” She also said: “It is now evident how much any one person’s health depends on everyone’s health. Only measures that protect the rights of all people will effectively control this pandemic.

“My message to the public is to stand up for the rights of everyone around you, as best as you can.” How can we stand up for everyone around us if we have been forced to stay home? How can we help one another if those who were earning a living in the households were all sent home and could not make a dollar, because the business were they were working was considered a non-essential business?

We can understand that the EOC is too busy addressing the day to day management of this pandemic. We have to commend the chairlady of the EOC and her EOC team for their efforts to protect the privacy of the persons affected and to prevent stigmatization of persons tested positive. But we recommend the Prime Minister and the EOC to take note of the message of the High Commissioner on Human Rights to leaders and we quote: “the only effective way to fight an epidemic is with the trust and participation of everyone. Earn that trust by serving the people’s interests; ensuring decent livelihoods and lives; listening to their concerns; and advancing their freedoms and rights.”

With the Netherlands as one of the human rights champions in the world, the Kingdom government should provide the means for the ST Maarten government to ensure decent livelihoods and lives and to advance the freedoms and rights of all citizens in this part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

So the stimulus package to be financed by the Kingdom government should not only be equal to the one in the Netherlands and in the BES-islands, it should be even more to wipe out the backlog in the development needs of the citizens in this part of the Kingdom.

We expect from our representatives in Parliament to stand up for our rights and to instruct the government of ST Maarten via our Minister Plenipotentiary in the Hague to table and put on the agenda an equal treatment and the realization of the right to development of the people of Sint Maarten!

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