“I am infected with the Caribbean virus, the virus of warmth, family and friendship,” said Dutch caretaker State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops in his final words during Thursday’s handling of the draft 2022 Kingdom Relations budget.
“I came to love the people and the islands because I got to know them,” said Knops, thanking everyone who has been working day in and day out to improve the life and well-being of the people in the Dutch Caribbean. With the formation of a new Dutch government, this was most probably the last budget handling of Kingdom Relations for Knops.
“In the past years during my visits, I have met many people at least 1,000 — and I have seen the many heroes on the islands. I think of Christina Hodge of Dutch Quarter in St. Maarten, of Desi Pinedo of the Shelter Rock Paradise in Curacao or people of the women’s shelter in Aruba. I have met many of these unsung heroes.”
Knops said he considered it a great privilege to have gained the experience of getting to know the islands and their people. “I admit that my view on the kingdom has changed and ameliorated.”
His message to everyone involved, government officials, members of the parliaments (MPs): “Work together, respect each other, proceed step by step to fight inequality and injustice, and to give content to the autonomy that was fought for. Serve the people. It was a great honour. Thank you.”
During the budget handling on Thursday, Knops had a heated exchange with Member of the Second Chamber Attje Kuiken of the Labour Party PvdA. The source of discontent was the manner in which the Dutch government has been tackling poverty in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.
The Second Chamber for several years has been clamouring for a structural solution to eradicate poverty by establishing a social minimum. Parliament wants to see an increase of the legal minimum wage and the social welfare allowances on the islands.
MP Jorien Wuite of the Democratic Party D66 on Thursday filed a motion which called on the Dutch government to raise the minimum wage and social allowances in Bonaire and Saba by 10 per cent per January 1, 2022. The motion is expected to receive majority support when it comes to a vote on Tuesday, October 26.
MPs Laura Bromet of the Green Left party GroenLinks and Kuiken have submitted an amendment to the draft 2022 Kingdom Relations budget to free up one million euros to raise the social allowances in the Caribbean Netherlands per July 1, 2022, so no one has to survive on less than 70 per cent of the legal minimum wage.
On Thursday, Kuiken filed a separate motion in which she called on the Dutch government to raise the minimum wage and the social allowances and to finance this from the coronavirus support packages for the Caribbean Netherlands.
State Secretary Knops said he while was “sympathetic” towards the idea of raising the minimum wage and the social allowances, he noted that a further increase of the minimum wage should not hurt the local economies of the islands and that employment should remain profitable.
Knops relayed an earlier concern of the Dutch government that raising the minimum wages and social allowances too much would attract people from the region. He repeated the point of view of the current Dutch government that the social minimum has to be implemented in phases.
MP Kuiken responded in an agitated manner. “I hear a lot of nonsense from the mouth of the state secretary. It is 11 years after the implementation of the new constitutional relations and there is still great poverty on the islands. They are part of the Netherlands and they have been neglected for 11 years. I am sick and tired of the insinuations that people are lazy and don’t want to work.”
Knops acknowledged that there was still work to do to improve things for the people in the Caribbean Netherlands. He said the current government had taken more steps to raise the standard of living than the previous Dutch government.
Kuiken, still upset, replied: “We are abandoning the people in the Caribbean Netherlands. Investigations were carried out, the reports are there with solid proof about poverty and the need to establish a social minimum, and yet this government did not execute them. It is a bloody shame how we treat our people on the islands.” She said that as a daughter of a mother who was on social welfare, this was a matter that was very dear to her heart.
Knops did not agree. “We all know what poverty does to people. This government has been taking steps and did more than the previous government.” He said the new Dutch government has the important task to implement further steps to reduce poverty. He emphasised that he was not against raising the minimum wage and the social allowances, but that this was actually a matter for the budget of Social Affairs and Labour.
For Kuiken, this was no excuse. “After five years, I am done with everyone using the previous government as an excuse not to take steps, which they can set themselves. The state secretary has the power to arrange this. This may very well be his last debate. Use it.”
The Daily Herald.