photo: John Samson

The Hague – The Senate will once more be addressing State Secretary Van Ark (Social Affairs and Employment) and Knops (Interior and Kingdom Relations) about the failure to determine the social minimum for Bonaire, Saba, and Statia (BES). A letter describing the senators’ dissatisfaction will be produced next week.

The Senate had hoped that the cabinet would have determined the amount an individual needs to survive on the islands by the end of the summer. Senators had asked for this information in 2016. The cabinet says that the social minimum can only be determined after an evaluation to be completed in 2020.

“I cannot accept that. We’ve been at this for eight years and already have two reports”, said VVD senator Frank van Kappen during an oral session in October. Coalition partner ChristenUnie could not understand how the social minimum can be determined for 17 million individuals in the European part of the Netherlands but that it is taking this long to determine it for 25.000 people in the Caribbean part of the Netherlands.

No debate yet
The senators were visibly irritated during the session. There was even talk about calling for a new debate, around the watercooler. In that case the debate would have been with the entire chamber and not just with the commission. In such an event, a motion could have been presented which could’ve requested the cabinet to determine the social minimum as soon as possible.

As of this moment, no debate has been scheduled. “We don’t see the added benefit of it, because we just had an oral session a couple of weeks ago”, says Ruard Ganzevoort (GroenLinks), the chairman of the Kingdom Relations Commission.

Letter heading towards the State Secretaries
The letter the Senate intends to send to the State Secretaries will discuss a ‘few subjects’. Ganzevoort will only reveal these subjects next week, when the letter heads out the door. “It’s important that the letter be written on behalf of the entire Senate, so it has to be done in a careful manner.”

What’s the meaning of such a letter?

“The frustrations within the Senate about the Caribbean part of the Netherlands are immense”, says political scientist Marijke Linthorst. She was a PvdA senator from 2003 till 2015 in the Kingdom Relations Commission. “If the letter is unanimously endorsed, it will carry some heft. The cabinet cannot simply ignore it.”

“The equality between the European and Caribbean parts of the Netherlands is an important subject for the Senate. The senators have made it clear for several years now that an end should come to the arbitrary and unequal treatment.”

“That’s why”, says Linthorst, “they are so steadfast about the social minimum. In comparison to the members of the House of Representatives, senators aren’t usually swayed by political tides, and are more seclusive as to perform their jobs better. This is possible because they receive less press coverage. The pressure to get a win is taken away. They won’t let this go.”

Ganzevoort himself said on Tuesday that the Senate “finds the subject a very important one’. “In part to ensure that proper policy is created in the future. Fighting poverty is important to us.”