THE HAGUE – The National Ombudsman is desperately appealing to MP’s to finally deal with the poverty and inequality in the Caribbean municipalities. “Stop beating around the bush”, that’s what Reinier van Zutphen said in Parliament.

Next Wednesday Parliament will discuss the severe poverty on Bonaire, Saba, and Statia once more. Ten years after they became Caribbean municipalities, they are still treated differently: the social security benefits are nowhere near enough to survive on the island.

Politicians in The Hague have, as of yet, not increased the social security benefits, because politicians fear that the prices on the islands will go up. The goal has always been: finding out how to lower the costs of food, water, and electricity.

The Ombudsman has called on MP’s to ‘stop beating around the bush’ and to ensure that people on the islands have enough money to survive. “A lot of people have to survive on welfare, but that only amounts to forty or fifty percent of the benchmark for a social minimum.”

The Hague perpetuates inequality on Bonaire, Saba, and Statia
The Ombudsman points out the scope of the inequality for the people of the three Caribbean municipalities that are part of the Netherlands. In the European part of the Netherlands, people who lose their jobs can get unemployment benefits. Inhabitants from Bonaire, Saba, and Statia are not eligible for that.

“How it has gotten this far, that I have to speak to a Parliamentary Commission about three small islands where barely 30.000 people live, is beyond me. It’s absolutely bonkers”, says Van Zutphen. “It’s literally degrading, heart breaking, but also touching to see everything that the people on the island do to move forward.”

‘Parliament obviously also failed’

“The Ombudsman has raked the Dutch government over the coals several times during the past few years due to the severe poverty in the Caribbean municipalities”, says political correspondent John Samson. “Bonaire became a special municipality in 2010 with the hopes of improving prosperity for its inhabitants. Since then poverty has grown exponentially.”

“But politically something odd has happened: we’re seeing an Ombudsman attacking MP’s who were in Parliamen, in person. Van Zutphen is now convinced that it wasn’t just the governments that failed over the years but Parliament itself. After ten years, The Hague has not been able to ensure that a few thousand people in the three Caribbean municipalities get the minimum they need to survive.”

“There are plenty of research reports to go around; every year, MP’s are ‘shocked’ by what they see when they visit the islands. The last coalition government, consisting of VVD, CDA, D66, And ChristenUnie came up with plenty of tricks to lower the costs of living, but most of them failed. People who are hungry now, can’t wait another ten years till the costs have gone down.”

“On Bonaire they say: the benefits are not enough to stay alive, but it’s just enough for us not to die. And for them it’s as hopeless as it sounds. But Van Zutphen has some hope: a lot of MP’s that he’s spoken to are new and when they talked to the media right before the elections they promised to tackle this issue immediately.”

New Parliament, same political promises
In March a lot of the political parties went into the elections with the promise that the first thing that would have to be done is to tackle the poverty on Bonaire, Saba, and Statia. Several parties acknowledge that it’s taken too long.

The Ombudsman also reminded the MP’s about a different yet important promise which still has not been crystalized: the Caribbean municipalities are the only places within the Netherlands where the Wet Gelijke Behandeling (Equal Treatment Law) is not valid, simply because it was never implemented.

“Poverty is also: not having childcare, going to school with a language deficiency, that your parents don’t have time for you because they’re working three jobs and still can’t make ends meet. Or that there isn’t any public transportation, or not being able to attend out-of-school programs”, Van Zutphen sums up.

He holds back no punches when it comes to The Hague: “A lot of nonsense is being called upon to justify not doing what has to be done. That if the social minimum goes up, the prices will go up. The first thing you have to do is follow your heart. The fallacies have to stop!”