1. What is the governing program of this NA-UP government?
2. Will the Kingdom Council of Ministers amend the St Maarten Support and Relief Plan ?
3. What are the measures the Council of Ministers will present to Parliament next week?
4. Preliminary thoughts as union leader on the measures proposed by the Minister of Finance
5. How many homes have been build back better and stronger?
Topic 1. What is the governing program of this NA-UP government?
For us as Anti-Poverty Platform we are of the opinion that one of the objectives of a governing program and of the annual budgets should be that the more than 13,000 households have to be taken out of poverty. They need at least a combined income of 4000 ANG a month! This we based on the conclusion of the Transparency International report that 75% of the households in St Maarten at the time of the census were in poverty, because they had a combined household income of less than 4000 ANG a month. The STAT Household Budget Survey concluded that in 2014 not 75% but 94% of the households in St Maarten had less than 4000 ANG a month!
Making sure that every poor or needy household can get a supplement to have at least 4000 ANG a month should be budgeted! This to reflect a commitment to eradicate the poverty and to stop the violation of several human rights declarations and human rights treaties! This also to comply with art 100 of the St Maarten constitution, the annual budget should reflect this objective. This then complies with article 81 of the same ST Maarten constitution and is in compliance with art 43 of the Charter of the Kingdom. Art 43 of the Charter of the Kingdom stipulates that the realization of human rights is a country affair and the guarantee is a Kingdom Affair. Complying with our legislation is also complying with the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights ratified by the Kingdom and applicable for St Maarten.
This objective to make the social protection floor in Sint Maarten equal to the one in the European part of the Kingdom should also be mentioned in the governing program. Eradicating poverty is one of the objectives of the realization of the Right to Development of the people of Sint Maarten. Other objectives in the realization of the right to development aim at the full realization of all human rights on an equal footing in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Target indicators to be realized are therefore the human development indices that have positioned the Netherlands among the first 10 countries in the world!
Were these objectives targeted by the 2018-2022 Governing Program of the UD-SMCP government “Building a Sustainable Sint Maarten”? The analysis of our Anti-Poverty Platform concluded that the governing program was not targeting the full realization of the Right to Development of the People of Sint Maarten. The goal to eradicate the poverty and reduce the inequality mentioned in the governing program mentioned a poverty line study to be realized in the four-year term. It did not mention the realization of an equal social protection floor in the Kingdom!
A new Parliamentary majority of 9 parliamentarians (5 NA-2 USP-2 former UD parliamentarians Brownbill-Mercelina) sent the UD-SMCP coalition into the opposition benches. Did this new majority in parliament give the new interim government an instruction to change the governing program to realize the right to development of the people of Sint Maarten? Did they come with amendments to the 2019 budget to reflect what was needed for the people of St Maarten? After all their criticism during the 2019 budget debate, did they instruct the new interim government and the new Minister of Finance to change the UD-SMCP development objectives in the 2019 and 2020 budget to reflect what the people really needed for their development? Nada de eso! Minister of Finance Ardwell Irion said in January this year that changes had to be made to the 2020 budget based on remarks of the CFT and of the Council of Advice, in other words not because of an instruction from the new parliamentary majority!
Elections took place and a new governing coalition between NA-UP was formed. With the UP being part of the UD in the former governing coalition, it seems that the NA-UP has agreed to continue the realization of the UD-SMCP Governing Program 2018-2022 “Building a Sustainable St Maarten.” Why we come to this conclusion? Because since the NA - UP majority in parliament signed a governing accord more than three months have passed, and until now no new Governing Program was presented!
Following the presentations of the NA-UP ministers during the 2020 budget in Parliament, at no time they referred to a new governing program, not even to a draft governing program! In other words all the finances in the 2020 skeleton budget reflect a continuation of the UD-SMCP governing program? We stand to be corrected!
But the fact is that we did not hear explicit statements, that this new governing coalition is going to realize the right to development of the people of St Maarten! We did not hear statements that this new government is going to eradicate the poverty as one of its immediate objectives! So what is the difference between this new governing coalition and the former coalition? Has the UP silenced the criticism of the NA on the former UD party of which UP was an integral part? Is the UP still in favor to implement the UD-SMCP governing program? Does the NA after all their criticism they had in parliament on the former UD-SMCP coalitions governing program and budget, have they decided to implement the former UD-SMCP governing program? Will the NA-UP governing program be a cosmetic version of the UD-SMCP governing program? The number one candidate on the UP-list for the elections has shown us personally, that they put in their manifesto to sign the Declaration to eradicate Poverty and to establish a poverty line. Is this also in the NA-UP governing program? Is this NA-UP program targeting the eradication of poverty and the realization of the right to development? Where in their governing program the poor and needy households are being guaranteed the full realization of all their human rights? Three months have passed since they NA-UP signed a governing accord. What is there in it for the poor and the needy: remain in poverty or to come out of poverty?
Topic 2. Will the Kingdom Council of Ministers amend the St Maarten Support and Relief Plan ?
We illustrated in former press conferences that the St Maarten Support and relief Plan is a bad photocopy of the Dutch stimulus package. Something went wrong in the photocopy machine of this government! Maybe there was not enough ink in the cartridge so that parts of the Dutch Plan did not copy well, so it was left out of the St Maarten Support and relief Plan.
Now that last week Tuesday April 28 Parliament of St Maarten decided to approve the Support and Relief Plan our 15 parliamentarians and the council of ministers our own politicians have decided to discriminate our own businesses, our own workers and our own unemployed persons compared to the ones in the European part of the Kingdom. The Kingdom government will be asked to finance the SSRP. In other words, the Kingdom government is being asked by our own politicians to treat our businesses, our workers, our citizens of ST Maarten discriminatory in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Since the Kingdom government in all decisions which they take have to consider the equal realization of human rights, they will have now the opportunity to make it right, and to guarantee equal treatment of all who have been affected by the Coronavirus in this part of the Kingdom!
The governor of St Maarten has a double role. On the one hand, he has to co-sign all decrees and ordinances decided upon by parliament or government. On the other hand as a representative of the Kingdom government he has to check that ordinances or decrees do not violate the interest of the Kingdom. One of those interests is compliance with International Treaties. So if an ordinance or decree is violating an international treaty, he has to present the ordinance or decree to the Kingdom government for annulment. As far as we are informed, but we stand to be corrected, this did not happen with the approved 2020 budget which includes the budgeting of the discriminatory SSRP, neither the national decrees, nor ministerial decrees to execute the SSRP, were not presented to the Hague for annulment.
We are looking forward now to the decision of the Kingdom Council of Ministers meeting on this budget deficit of the 2020 budget, the 2020 liquidity support request for this budget and the decision on the St Maarten Support and Relief Plan. Will the Kingdom government amend the SSRP to make it equal to what they have for the citizens on the other side of the ocean?
Topic 3. Measures to be imposed on civil servants of Caribbean countries in the Kingdom
A month ago on April 9nd the Kingdom Council of Ministers took some decisions regarding financial support for Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten. State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Mr. Raymond Knops informed the Second Chamber in a letter that
• the Kingdom government will set extensive conditions for additional financial assistance.
• the Kingdom Council of Ministers has decided to make the additional loans dependent on a package of measures that are focused on structural reform.
Mentioned in the letter were conditions in the area of economy, the labour market, the capital market, the pension system, the social insurance system, the health care system AND THE GOVERNMENT ORGANISATION.
Ten days ago on April 28 all members of parliament approved a motion presented by MP Solange Duncan from the NA which requested the Minister of Finance to present a comprehensive approach to cost-cutting measures within 15 days and a general reduction in material costs of both the Parliament and the Council of Ministers by 20%!
Yesterday Thursday, May 7th, 2020 all unions representing civil servants and the members of the CCSU (Committee Civil Servants Union or former GOA) were invited to an urgent virtual meeting with the COM for 4:00 p.m. Honorable Minister of General Affairs and responsible for Personal Affairs of the civil service the Honorable Ms. Silveria Jacobs outlined her Government approach to the Netherlands for Financial Aid, which is not a grant but a Zero percent loan (0%) in light of COVID-19. The lack of economic activity and the decline in income and revenues for the government makes it necessary for the Government to take steps to look for financial support. Looking for funding from other sources or agencies the government needs the approval of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and these loans will have to be repaid WITH INTEREST. Government was able to receive the liquidity support of 2018 and 2019 post-hurricane Irma/Maria, with measures taken of a 10% cut in Salary Cut of MP's and Ministers salaries. Pension reform was off the table at that moment and the CFT advice played an important role in obtaining liquidity support. The PM also stated that they are willing to take an extra 5% cut on their salaries in addition to what Parliament already agreed upon. COVID-19 "IT IS WHAT IT IS" Prime Minister claimed in her final introductory remarks.
Then the Honorable Minister of Finance Mr. Ardwell Irion presented the following cost-cutting measures for the civil servants. He said before the Kingdom Government imposes "unachievable conditions" to be able to get the financial support or aid in the form of a 0% interest loan, they were presenting the following measures:
• Cut of Vacation Allowance: A temporary loss of vacation allowance for all civil servants with a salary above Nafls 4,000 a month.
• A 10% salary cut for all civil servants with a salary above Nafls 8,000 a month
• A freeze on all bonuses
• A freeze on the periodic increase
To try to sell these measures to the unions he referred to the cost-cutting measures taken by Aruba, such as 50% cut of Vacation Allowance and 12.5% Salary cut for all civil servants across the board. Furthermore he came with arguments such as:
• “We didn't plan COVID-19”
• “We don't know when and how this will end”
• “We didn't have the privilege to plan ahead”
• “We need a "Sint Maarten Approach "
Last but not least he said that they need the backing of the unions as an active partner in this process. It is better we come up with solutions and possibilities, because it is not Government against Unions, by doing so we can avoid "unachievable conditions" to be imposed by the Kingdom.
He said that Government already implemented a number of cost-cutting measures because they didn't want to touch the civil servant corps, but with the increasing amount of persons who need help due to them losing their jobs, the government has to help them also.
The Minister asked and we quote: "What you prefer Vacation Allowance and NO Salary for the months of August-September-October?
The decisions have to be in by May 15th, 2020 which is 8 days after the unions were contacted. The boards of the civil servant unions will have to meet and consult with their members to determine the union position to be respected by government as employer.
Topic 4. Preliminary thoughts as union leader on the measures proposed by the Minister of Finance
From what we gathered yesterday, it is very clear: If it is COVID 19 which caused a loss of income for government as our employer, then here are some preliminary arguments from workers perspective:
• Just as the private sector businesses can apply for payroll support, let them apply for payroll support!
• Just as private-sector employers to qualify for payroll support have to pay all workers their full salaries and benefits to get the 80% compensation, government as employer has to do the same!!
• Just as the Dutch government as one of the 10 richest governments in the world is compensating the businesses with 90% compensation for the loss of income and revenues due to COVID 19, let them compensate the governments of Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten too!!
• All workers in the Kingdom of the Netherlands have the human right to progressive remuneration, which have to be guaranteed by the Kingdom government, which consists of the Dutch government and the governments of Aruba, Curacao and St Maarten!
The argument that the Minister of Finance used that with the increasing amount of persons who need help due to them losing their jobs, the government has to help them too, we have the following preliminary arguments from workers perspective:
1. Social protection among which unemployment benefits is a human right in art 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in art 9 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.
2. This right to social security, just as all other economic social and cultural rights, has to be guaranteed by the state government, which is the Kingdom government, based on art 2 of International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, on an equal footing throughout the State the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and “with all means possible in the State”
3. Just as after hurricane Irma the Kingdom government had to provide liquidity support to the ST Maarten government to comply with all its financial obligations because of the effect of hurricane Irma, the COVID 19 pandemic is also a disaster which the State government has to mitigate with all means possible in the Kingdom.
State secretary Knops spoke about measures to be imposed on the government organization to get financial support from the Netherlands. Are the measures the Minister of Finance announced the ones to please State Secretary Knops? We remember that the two ministers who presented the measures yesterday, Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs and Minister of Finance Ardwell Irion, in the second week of February were in the Netherlands on a working visit to table the need for liquidity support for 2018 and 2019. Were these measures instructed by State Secretary Knops to the two ministers to implement to get liquidity support? This was before the COVID 19 pandemic was announced.
The following picture pups up at the moment. In the colonial plantation system the bomba held one of the highest positions. He was enslaved, but appointed to control the other slaves. His job was not only to keep everyone performing slave labor, but also to administer punishment. On plantations with no manager the bomba actually ran the plantation. Now the bomba was appointed by the plantation owner.
As union leader we want to remind Prime Minister honorable Silveria Jacobs and the Min of Finance Ardwell Irion, that they were not appointed by the Kingdom government neither by State Secretary Knops! Just as we as union leaders were not appointed by State Secretary Knops neither the Kingdom government, but by the union members who elected us, so also as elected officials they have to remember the following: “Don’t come and do “bomba work” for State Secretary Knops, rather represent our people and stand up for our rights to an equal treatment as workers and as citizens in the Kingdom of the Netherlands!
Before May 15nd next week the civil servants union leaders will inform the two ministers after consulting with our members what will be the measures we propose to be taken to comply with international treaty obligations!
Topic 5. How many homes have been build back better and stronger?
Last week upon request of the Ombudsman as co-coordinator of the Consumers Coalition we provided the Ombudsman with all our public statements done in press conferences on the housing situation after Irma. With three weeks from now a new Atlantic hurricane season to start, and with the news that this season will be more active and heavier than the seasons before, the question what is the housing situation in St Maarten is very legitimate.
In the Daily Herald of JANUARY 10, 2019 VROMI Secretary General Brown informed the parliamentarians of the Kingdom about the housing situation and today 16 months later we have the following questions to be answered by government and the kingdom government:
• hurricane Irma has damaged 70 to 80 per cent of available housing in St. Maarten. Which percentage of these houses have been built back better and stronger?
• the demand for housing at that time was double the supply. What is the status of demand and supply at the moment?
• the immediately after Irma the waiting list for housing almost doubled to 3,000 candidates. How much candidates are now on the waiting list for housing?
• the social-housing stock in St. Maarten consisted of 200 emergency homes, 470 homes in Belvedere, and 94 in Hope Estate. What is the current social housing stock?
• Prior to Irma, there were projects for the construction of 28 new homes in Cole Bay, 32 in Sucker Garden, 48 in Upper Prince’s Quarter, and 24 in Defiance, plus 24 senior homes; however, the plans fell through due to the hurricane. How many of these planned homes have been constructed in the last 16 months?
• St. Maarten had a total of 19,000 housing units. Is that still the case or was there an increase?
• Approximately 60 per cent of the 19.000 housing units were rentals which predominantly were single-family detached homes. What is the situation now 16 months later?
• The St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation (SMHDF) managed 769 homes for people with an income below NAf. 3,500. What is the situation now after 16 months?
• Home repairs and social-housing needs, including those of the so-called “hidden homeless,” required NAf. 508,3 million. How much money was received and used for home repairs and social housing needs in these past 16 months?
• The Dutch Trust fund managed by the World Bank consists of 0.5 billion Euro, whereas the National Recovery and Resilience Plan prepared by the World Bank Group estimated that a total of 2.7 billion was needed. How much of this 0.5 billion for the St. Maarten National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) was used to building back better and stronger homes?
• There were some roof repair programmes carried out by various organizations among which were United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), St. Maarten Development Foundation (SMDF) and a number of non-governmental organisations. How much homes have these programs repaired of the total by Irma damaged homes ?
• In June 2018 a World Bank project was signed for the reparation of 14 homes. We know that there are still homeowners of these 14 homes waiting to enter in their homes. What is the status of the World Bank projects? How many homes have satisfactorily been build back better and stronger?