PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten –As former Minister of VSA of the recent interim cabinet; I’m deeply baffled and at the same time saddened at the direction my country Sint Maarten is being driven into. International human rights are to be respected and adhered to by all government; Sint Maarten and Kingdom government.
During my tenure as a minister of Public health, Social Development and Labor I conducted checks and balances within my ministry which resulted in a frightening wake up call. The ministry is in desperate need of funds and not cutting measures as is constantly being applied. The ministry of VSA is one the of the most important ministries when it comes to wellbeing of the country’s population, therefore I sat with my team and was looking into possibilities that can generate rapid funds to execute the many tasks to assist the people. The result of these meetings were that there are 24 revenue generating tasks that can immediately be implemented. Based on the above I can clearly remember that I proposed during a budget com-meeting for us to look into revenue generating options instead of constantly abiding to the Dutch imposed unreasonable measures that will only drive Sint Maarten into poverty.
1) The ministry can generate minimum guaranteed +5 Million Ang per year. I was working on getting things moving into that direction but due to short time didn’t get to finish it. My advice to government: Have that advice push forward, look into it as all the legal grounds are there for each fee that ministry of VSA can collect and is losing out on collecting. We have already missed out on collecting 10 years @5 million = 50 million ang on guaranteed income towards the coffers of government. A copy of the document is still in my possession might that be required. Are we going to continue ignoring these things that are right in front of our faces?
2) Other cost cutting measures that can be executed by our local government are:
a. “huur gebouwen=rent ” posts in the budget showing for building rental per year different amounts for the different buildings:
b. 1,706,400 per year meaning 142,200 p/m,
c. 2,236,478 for another building per year meaning 186,373 per month and so forth amounting to a total of 12 million per year in rent expenses. My advice to the government: This budget post needs to be revised and renegotiated with landlords which includes some locals and Dutch Europeans as landlords. At this point and time everyone has to contribute to the economy that has been more than liberal with them by giving them tax breaks.
d. Rechts-deskundigen=consultants is another post that needs to be reviewed, a lot of high amounts that could easily cover 2 to 3 LOCAL/NATIONAL qualified personnel to execute the job. Since the government apparatus is one whole, it is time that the consultants that are hired can work in a more cohesive manner that can affect all the ministries simultaneously instead of every ministry having several consultants. Everyone as one island which does avoid more effective country policies being formed at one time that entails all ministries as 1 piece that can move the country forward. Minimizing the number of consultants will not only save government money but will also contribute in getting some of our qualified locals employed since it has already been budgeted for. Government should also review the pool of civil servants that are on the payroll being paid for years but not actually working and exercising the function they are being paid for. As it is now the country can’t sustain these nonperforming personnel it needs working employees that can deliver to help carry the load.
e. These huge companies “investors” that are getting tax breaks, aren’t they supposed to have reserves that can cover salary payments for a certain amount of months? The insurance that they supposed to have in place as well, where is it? The business license has to be changed into providing them the tax incentive but when they want to change their name within the 3rd to 5th year have them pay 1% of the accumulated revenue directly to the coffers of St. Maarten, if laws are not in place, make them. It has been proven that this group is abusing the laws of the land in many aspects. In my humble calculation it will generate approximately 12 million guilders.
f. The Dutch government can pay directly to the utility company of Sint Maarten (Curacao) just like how they did it with the BES islands stating for a couple of months the population don’t have to pay utility bills and so they can use that money that they would have paid to help cover other bills. Example groceries which have gone up due to increase in prices but also due to the fact that everyone had to stay at home in order to help control the spread of the virus. That’s a way to directly help and impact the people and also be in compliance with fundamental human rights as a kingdom government. Gebe would definitely have a ballpark figure of what is the overall monthly billing and expenses. The local government has a role to play in this as well to sit and negotiate.
3) With the lack of proper policies not being in place that would have contributed to a more transparent management of this country, this covid -19 pandemic has only:
a. enlightened the existing situation, especially the injustice towards the hardworking class
b. The unemployed group that was already experiencing discrimination and inequal opportunity in the labor market.
c. Exposing the illegals that have been occupying jobs of locals, businesses not being reprimanded when not complying with the laws of the land.
Based on the above “ point 2 lack of proper policies” I started working on policies that could protect and benefit the local market. Because of the short time frame of my tenure I was only able to pass one policy but there are others that was being worked on as well.
Have human rights lost its value when setting up such a proposal as was sent to Sint Maarten, Curacao and Aruba?
By imposing the government of Curacao, Sint Maarten and Aruba to execute the proposal as is, in the proposal the articles, Article 2.1 and Article 2.2 non-discriminatory principle are the ones being violated. The conditions in the proposal is pushing the government to be in violation with article 7. Which states “the right to just and favorable working conditions, fair wages with equal pay for equal work within the Kingdom”. All this to be referred back to the International Covenant on Economical Social Cultural rights.
What is the intention of this proposal?
The cost cutting measures of Parliamentarians (25%), Ministers (25%) and civil servants (12.5%) will generate between 4 to 7 million ang a month… In the proposal sent by Holland they made mention of reductions on salary being implemented without any time lines but until it reaches our minimum wage which is 1,489 Ang. The cost cutting measures that entails salaries of employees goes against human rights as being implemented. Minimum wage in Holland at the moment is 1,636 Euros= 3,185 Ang.
Is it to put the country in a more disadvantageous /negative position?
Whether the loan is at 0% the fact remains the kingdom has an obligation that is supposed to be adhered to which is clearly being violated and as such should be presented in the United Nations as a serious violation against human rights within the kingdom. How is it possible that in an agreement that besides going against human rights principles, also has no timeline put in place as if you are putting the people forever in a state of being under your control. it has reached to the point that the Kingdom partner feels that they; all the way
across the ocean can trample over the entire governmental apparatus and by extension also the private sector with their proposed measures. If Kingdom pursue the above cost cutting measures it’s in violation of his immediate obligations of The Kingdom):
– To generate and adequately allocate emergency income for household in need and businesses by making use of their maximum available resources to assist effectively and expeditiously.
– State (kingdom government) is in charge of progressive realization aspect in making use of all maximum available resources towards achievement of full realization of these human rights aspects
– Sint Maarten is not a state but a territory in the state of the kingdom of the Netherlands therefore falls under kingdom obligation
– State (kingdom government) through a universal safety net has the obligation to invest immediately in health sector and medical equipment including covid-19, reinforce social safety net for basic decent income provision
– State should provide financial support to individuals and households in need in the form of a decent income or by helping employers paying their bills and wages through universal 1 st phase universal basic income. (not a loan at 0%)
– In a second phase of a pandemic or catastrophe: State should be establishing a solid and universal social security net and protection system allowing for the realization of an adequate basic standard of living
– State has the obligation to invest in nutrition, housing and education systems and local environmental systems
– To avoid retrogression of the country by whatever measures are being taken (this is not the case in the proposal)
– Private debts payments should be suspended and loans interest free
– Sxm is part of the kingdom, worker rights are human rights, what is the kingdom of the Netherlands doing to avoid impoverishment of this country? These measures are not towards that but to the contrary.
4) The Kingdom has a fundamental responsibility based on treaty with members of states and associate members in the region when it comes to natural disasters. They are supposed to plan, respond and reduce risk in situations like a hurricane and pandemic and other natural disasters.
What has the kingdom done in this extent? And why not? The UN secretary General Mr Gutierez said in April 2020 in regards to compliance with human rights in covid 19 measures. He stated “measures that restrict human rights should be proportionate to the evaluated risk, necessary and applied in non-discriminatory way”. The measures as presented ”imposed” are drastic and have far reaching consequences not only for the overall living conditions, but individual financial non-compliance and social deterioration. My advice: present the above to United Nations and quoting the Gutierez statements.
5) Human rights (=workers right) are not respected: poor and needy household have to be addressed in an equal manner within the kingdom which is not the case. The state has an obligation to bring the country out of poverty not by misusing or abusing their power. My advice to government:
Present the violations that they are committing and have that discussion at table as partners or have this discussion on United Nations level. Either the kingdom partner rectifies its position or Sint Maarten will have to seek for outer help.
6) Advice: As much as many doesn’t want to recognize that prayers have its powers in everything we do, there is still the group that believes it does. I would want to suggest indeed a national prayer weekend starting from Friday night 8pm when everyone is at home going into the weekend. Making it a 3 days prayer session at the same time. We are in a pandemic and approaching a next hurricane season too. Prayers will do no harm on the contrary it will enlighten the atmosphere besides the many other benefits it may have.
I can mention A LOT more points that can contribute to the country welfare and why not to blindly accept the proposal as is. Taking this money right now without actually fixing our shortcomings means stimulating the wrongdoings within the country that were never dealt with in the past as everyone will be so much involved with “recovery of covid” the same groups in the same lower & middleclass layers will continue to be negatively affected. They will be the ones suffering of non-bill payments, lower chance of getting employed if the government does not tackle the illegals issue and with the policies to really defend and protect the people. The country can NOT support the situation as is. A bigger influx of people will be coming in as everyone from other countries continue to seek to improve their lives and Sint Maarten remains on that option list as everyone knows that control is limited and law enforcement is on the back burner which allows the abuse of the system and the
abuse of human rights. What’s the true intention of all the nice talks and putting up of fake defense for the people if your actions are screaming out subdue to all unreasonable conditions set forth by the Dutch government. Like I said in many of my press briefings and meeting in Parliament, the country can’t continue down this path.
I would like to publicly voice my disagreement and invite my ex colleagues in government to reconsider!
My final advice to the government is : revise ,dig deeper into it and stand up for (Y)our rights if they don’t want to reconsider, bring it to the UN if not reject the proposal as presented!
Former Minister of VSA Pamela Gordon Carty