photo: Hazel Durand

THE BOTTOM – Reacting on the announcement of increases in social support on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, Commissioner of Social Affairs Rolando Wilson said this increase will still not be enough for those residents on Saba who are most in need.

On Saba social support will increase from $72 to $181 per every two weeks, starting March 1, 2017. Jetta Klijnsma, State Secretary of Social Affairs and Employment announced this during the recent work conference on social security in Bonaire.

Commissioner Rolando Wilson – photo: Hazel Durand

Commissioner Wilson said while following 10-10-’10 focus was placed on implementing various tax laws and the local police department was expanded, no practical emphasis has been placed on the social issues the islands face daily.

“I feel the increase still needs to be revised. I have people coming to me crying. They are collecting about $600 from the AOV and they have to pay their electrical bills, cable, food, etc. You see them go to the shops picking up stuff, but then they have to put it back because it cost too much. The cost of living on Saba is very high.”

For example he said a rent subsidy is needed for families living in social homes. “There is a back log at the housing foundation because persons can’t afford to pay their rent. We asked the Dutch government for assistance in this area, but they said the local government would have to offer such assistance. The government is nonetheless able to assist in home repair.

During the summit on Bonaire, the Dutch Parliament delegation expressed their support for setting up a special provision for persons in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

Island Council Member Vito Charles thinks the application of the Social Support Law (Wet maatschappelijke ondersteuning” Wmo) would be a good idea for Saba. “It means that the local institutions have the opportunity to help those most in need. The local government knows who needs help more than others.”

Island Council Member Monique Wilson also thinks the introduction of the Support Law would be a good idea for Saba, however she thinks Holland needs to get a better understanding of the actual situation here on Saba. “A lot of the actual costs for locals are not being factored in,” said Island Council Member Wilson.

She challenged the Dutch politicians to actually live as a Saban for a day and experience the real situation. “They cannot only rely on the CBS research and reports, because somehow the results of these reports are not always realistic,” said Island Council Member Wilson.

“Sometimes I think the message gets diluted, because there are many civil servants that have to carry the message back to The Hague and sometimes they filter it the way they see things. Everything is managed in The Hague, so if you don’t feel it you don’t know it,” said Charles.

“It’s hard to see poverty on Saba, but we know it’s there. But if we look at places like St. Eustatius and Bonaire it’s more obvious. So the question is; why is Holland not seeing that the islands need more help in this area. There is the perception that we should be happy with what we receive, because we receive so much, but again if the right people are not being targeted it doesn’t make sense”, Charles commented.

From the Saba representatives who attended the summit it was communicated to Commissioner Wilson that the First and Second Chamber are surprised that the islands still face many social difficulties. However Wilson said at this point it should be more than obvious that social affairs remains a challenge; considering the many studies and information gathered on the topic. “Holland needs to stop the bureaucracy”, said the Commissioner.

Charles pointed out that last year when the Island Council met with the Second Chamber in the Netherlands they expressed the urgency of certain increases in social premiums. “We believe without this more people will fall into poverty, as those that are at the poverty line are running the risk of falling into poverty.”

Charles noted that it was indicated to them at the time that more information was needed before appropriate increases could be made. “The Island Council feels a social minimum needs to be established, because it doesn’t make sense to increase minimum wages and pensions if you don’t know where the threshold is. We believe as a government that on an island like Saba people should be able to thrive and not just survive.”

Minimum wage
The Department of Social Affair and Labour announced last week an increase in the minimum wage by $0.31. It was $5.37 in 2016, now it is $5.68. Last January Klijnsma announced that the minimum wage would increase by 20 percent in 2017 subsequent to the initial discussions about an increase following 10-10-10.

However Commissioner Wilson pointed out that such an increase is still not sufficient when for example parents are forced to work three jobs to cover their basic expenditures. He said this as a result is creating delinquent behavior, which is being echoed by school officials. “There are people holding three jobs to survive, it is not right, because they don’t have time for themselves or their children”, said Commissioner Wilson.

In finding means to help such families, the government is planning to offer budgetary courses for those families that may have trouble organizing their finances.