Ombudsman announces report on islands’ poverty – Updated

National Om­budsman Reinier van Zutphen, together with the Children’s Om­budsman, will publish his vision this year on the poverty issue in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

The National Ombudsman an­nounced this in the 2022 annual report which he presented to Chairperson of the Dutch Sec­ond Chamber of Parliament Vera Bergkamp on Wednesday. The report contained a chapter about the Caribbean Netherlands since this part of the Netherlands is also the work territory of the Na­tional Ombudsman and the Chil­dren’s Ombudsman.

The poverty vision will be based on three earlier reports that focused on poverty issues and related challenges of senior citi­zens (2019), adolescents (2020) and single parents with children (2022).

In the 2022 annual report, the Ombudsman, supported by Chil­dren’s Ombudsman Margrite Kalverboer, again emphasised the need to establish a so­cial minimum for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba to alleviate the increasing poverty on the islands “an income that is based on the real costs of living and an income with which people can make ends meet. Even though this matter is high­er on the political agenda of Dutch government, the residents of the islands have experienced little to no concrete improvement of their situation,” the Om­budsman stated.

While Bonaire, St. Eu­statius and Saba were part of the Netherlands, there were large differences in the area of facilities and rights when compared to the Netherlands, the Om­budsman observed. Apart from the lack of a social minimum, there is also no unemployment allowance like in the Netherlands, and the child allowance was only introduced on the is­lands in 2016.

“Many people feel like sec­ond-class citizens and there is distrust of the govern­ment. In the Netherlands there sometimes seems to be too little awareness that the three public entities are part of the Netherlands.”

Steps are being taken to improve the situation on the islands. “The minimum wage and child allowance were increased and mea­sures were implemented to reduce the cost of living. But at the same time, the Ombudsman concluded that the steps are going too slowly and aren’t having enough effect as yet.”

The poverty theme had a prominent place during a conference that the Na­tional Ombudsman took part in late November last year, together with the Ombudsman of Curacao and the Ombudsman of St. Maarten. Aruba does not have an Ombudsman as yet.

The main goal of this con­ference held in Curacao was to discuss how poverty affects the people in the Kingdom and how their life can be improved. After the conference, the three Ombudsmen sent a letter to Dutch State Secretary for Kingdom Relations and Digitisation Alexandra van Huffelen to express their concerns about poverty and presented a series of rec­ommendations.

In 2023, the National Om­budsman will carry out an investigation into the way the public entities St. Eustatius and Saba handle complaints filed by the pub­lic. The Ombudsman al­ready carried out a similar investigation in Bonaire in 2022.

The National Ombuds­man paid four visits to the Caribbean Netherlands in 2022. Citizens are increas­ingly turning to the Om­budsman with questions and complaints. In 2022, 198 complaints were filed in to­tal in the Caribbean Neth­erlands, 64 of which in Bo­naire, eight in St. Eustatius and eight in Saba.  118 concerned the operations of the RCN

The 2022 annual report gave an example of media­tion by the National Om­budsman. It concerns the so-called Versteeg Collec­tion of Leiden University, which constitutes of the re­mains of nine persons who were unearthed in the ’80s and stored at the university.

With an imminent lack of space for the collec­tion, Leiden University approached the public en­tity St. Eustatius to return the collection. The process came to a standstill because there was no agreement on the conditions for the return of the collection. The Ombudsman was able to get the process moving again and the collection was returned to St. Eusta­tius.

The Daily Herald.

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