Poverty high on Saba delegation’s agenda
THE HAGUE – Poverty and establishing a social minimum for Saba are high on the agenda of the Saba Island Council delegation visiting The Hague this week. Creating more awareness of Saba’s social ills among Members of the Dutch Parliament and Dutch government officials is a key component.
To illustrate the issue of poverty and what it does to Saba’s small society, the Saba Island Council has produced a 15-minute video titled “Paradise at what price,” which was shown to members of the Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations on Wednesday.
The First Chamber’s Committee for Kingdom Relations also received a copy of the video after a meeting with the Saba delegation on Tuesday. The video contains interviews with the different stakeholders, including representatives of the Centre for Youth and Family, the Social Affairs Department, Mental Health Caribbean, the Saba Benevolent Foundation, schools and the Saba Reach Foundation.
In the video, the stakeholders describe the situation of poverty and explain how poverty impacts society, while a comparison is also made with the social network system in the Netherlands.
The conclusion, not surprisingly, is that the systems are very different and that there are many more facilities and social allowances in the Netherlands than in Saba to assist persons who are having a hard time making ends meet.
“We looked at four main groups: the minimum wage earners, the elderly, families, and persons living off social welfare (“onderstand”). With the high prices of housing, utilities and groceries, people have to make difficult choices to survive on Saba,” said Councilman Vito Charles of the Windward Islands People’s Movement (WIPM).
Contrary to what many outsiders may think when seeing a beautiful, well-tended island, there is poverty on Saba, said Charles. “No matter how good things look on the outside, things are not that great at a lot of homes. Our people don’t show it. They are proud. It is a small community and they don’t want others to know that they live in poverty,” he told The Daily Herald.
The poverty issue, also in relation to the social minimum study on which the report is expected to be released soon, is very important to the Island Council. “People can’t afford to live off their pension and onderstand. We need to keep addressing this matter in The Hague. As the community’s representatives that is our responsibility,” said Charles.
Councilwoman Monique Wilson of the Saba Labour Party (SLP) said the video on poverty gave an in-depth view of the practical and procedural challenges in dealing with poverty.
“On paper people may have a job, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have poverty issues. The video helps to create more understanding of this important issue,” she told this newspaper. “Everyone deserves quality of life, to have a basic level of wellbeing. Working with families, the stakeholders see what people are going through – they see the shortcomings in the social system where the current assistance and allowances are not sufficient.”
She hoped the social minimum report would shed some light on what was needed to alleviate the people’s hurt. “A lot depends on this report, and especially the actions that will be taken to alleviate poverty,” she said.
Wilson was positive about the meetings with the First and Second Chambers.
“We all have the same agenda, which is to make things better for the people. We have the same points of interest: eradication of poverty, establishing a social minimum and the division of tasks. We are all on the same page.”
WIPM Councilman Carl Buncamper shared Wilson’s positive view on the meetings in The Hague. In his opinion, the Dutch Parliament and Dutch government are “loosening up a bit.” The distrust of the past is slowly disappearing and The Hague is more open to loosening its grip on wanting to manage things on Saba.
“The Hague is a creature that likes to hold onto procedures and sticks to a certain way of thinking. They seem to be letting go of that a little. There seems to be more eagerness to straighten up some things,” said Buncamper.
He hoped the increased level of maturity and trust would result in more active coordination with Saba, carrying out policies that benefit the island and its people, as well as a concrete action plan where it concerns the establishing of a social minimum.
The social minimum issue requires a holistic, integrated approach. “The efforts of the Saba government and the Dutch government should have one common goal, which is to realise a dignified quality of life for everyone.”
The division of tasks and the delegating of more responsibility to Saba need to materialise, said Buncamper. “It is time to start talking long term, not just short term. No more plasters. We have moved up significantly on the level of maturity and trust. Let’s hope that it materialises into something concrete.”
The four-member Saba delegation, which also includes Island Council Registrar Akilah Levenstone, will have several meetings this week with individual political parties in the Dutch Parliament and different ministries in The Hague.
The delegation will meet with State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops on Monday. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the delegation will attend the annual conference of the Association of Dutch Municipalities VNG in Maastricht.