Commissioners Bruce Zagers and Eviton Heyliger recently had a meeting with Minister for Poverty Policy, Participation and Pensions Carola Schouten during which a number of social issues that are important for Saba were discussed.
The meeting, which took place at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (SZW) on June 1 during the work visit of Zagers and Heyliger to The Hague, focused on a number of topics that touch on the portfolio of the Minister and the measures that the Ministry of SZW takes on behalf of Saba and its people.
Social housing was briefly discussed, the Under the Hill project and the needs of families to have access to affordable housing. The Commissioners spoke about Saba’s social-economic situation and said that while the subsidies of the SZW Ministry did help to alleviate poverty, the cost of living remained extremely high.
The costs of bringing goods to Saba has increased exponentially, and the high taxes and clearing fees, have further driven up the consumer prices. The complex clearing system for imported goods severely hampers the cost of doing business, which affects the prices that consumers pay, Zagers explained. He explained the Minister that he has requested support from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK) and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) to carry out a quick scan of the shipping and clearing processes.
“With this information, we can see where the major price increases come from. Currently we are making assumptions that are not based on accurate data. Once this information is known, we can then have open discussions with the relevant stakeholders,” stated Zagers.
The Minister and Commissioners also talked about the collaboration between the Public Entity Saba and the Dutch Government in the area of social affairs, in particular Saba’s Community Development Department and the SZW-unit of the National Government Department for the Caribbean Netherlands RCN. Saba for years has been asking to take a more leading role in social affairs and to have one combined window with the SZW-unit in order to make it easier for people to get social assistance.
On the request of the Commissioners, Minister Schouten gave an update on the timeframe for the introduction of the social minimum. Part of the process is an independent investigation that the Caribbean Netherlands Social Minimum Committee is carrying out. The process and effects of a higher minimum wage were discussed as part of this exercise.
Commissioner Heyliger brought up the matter of the transfer fee which pensioners have had to pay when they received their old age pension AOV through the bank. He emphasized that this required a structural solution as senior citizens were already having a hard time to make ends meet.
The meeting with Schouten started with the introduction of Heyliger as the new Commissioner with social affairs and housing in his portfolio. “I have met the Minister before during her two visits to Saba. At that time, she was Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and I was a Member of the Island Council. It was good to discuss important social matters with the minister, to share our view, to hear her opinion, and how she wants to address these issues,” said Heyliger.