Speaking points Government Commissioner, Alida Francis, at news conference with Dep PM Carola Schouten Wed 11th May, 2022

It is my honor to extend a warm and friendly greeting to the Minister for Poverty Policy, Participation and Pensions, Carola Schouten and her delegation as they prepare to leave St. Eustatius.

Though your visit has been brief, we hope you were able to develop a true appreciation for us, not just as a welcoming people, but as a truly hard working, dedicated and proud people who are part of the Dutch Kingdom.

We hope that you discovered that though we are small, we have big ambitions and a giant will to see St. Eustatius and its people grow and develop.

I wish to publicly thank you for visiting St. Eustatius and for your expressed commitment to help us resolve some of the pressing issues that are deeply concerning to us.

Minister Schouten’s presence here to observe and share ideas on the way forward on these critical issues are a demonstration of her Ministry’s commitment to collaborate on matters of importance to the people of St. Eustatius and the Caribbean Netherlands

During her whirlwind visit she and her delegation met with the Government Commissioners and Island Council, as well as the Central Dialogue St. Eustatius, Directorate of Social Affairs and Employment(SZW) unit, the Social Support Unit and  Bes (t)4 Kids.  The Minister also further acquainted herself with the island and the socio-economic challenges. The message from the stakeholders on St. Eustatius was the same across the board.

At the center of these discussions were the important subjects of poverty and employment, as well as social affairs. More specifically the relatively high cost of doing business, water and electricity costs,

It’s no accident that we focused on poverty and unemployment because, in many ways, these two are linked.

We cannot be a caring society unless we first tackle the monster that is poverty.

How can we progress, how can we grow, how can we develop into a first-class, self-reliant people when 52 per cent of our population live below the poverty line?

That is one in every two people. That is the person sitting next to you in church. That is the person ahead of you in the queue at the supermarket. That, frankly, is your son, your daughter, your mother, your father, the person sharing your home, living below the poverty line.

52% is a troubling statistic and we must act with haste to reverse this situation, to bring dignity and contentment to the lives of every Statian, no matter their socio-economic status.

The report on poverty among single parents and children in the Caribbean Netherlands, presented last month by the National Ombudsman revealed the serious issues facing single parents and children living in poverty in these islands.

It also made some important recommendations such as:

  • Developing an integrated approach for, and access to, facilities and services 
  • Focusing on the provision of more financial help and debt counselling and easily accessible legal services
  • Breaking the taboo on parenting support and making it available and accessible.
  • Ensuring that childcare is available free of charge.
  • Offering affordable courses to enable single parents in particular to continue to learn and develop.

We have the recommendations. The time for action is now.

We have made small steps with a ten per cent rise in the minimum wage, but there is a lot more to be done if we are to strike at the heart of poverty

For example, it is important to ensure there is sufficient social housing with the waiting list of over 100 persons

And our people must be trained - and in some cases, retrained - if we are to improve their chances of finding suitable, gainful employment.

These are some of the issues we have discussed with the Minister Schouten an her team.

And we agreed that while SZW will help tackle the problem, they cannot do it alone. There is a role for the Ministry, there is a role for The Public Entity St. Eustatius and there is even a role for those persons who are challenged by these social problems.

As the Ombudsman indicated in his report last month, there is an urgent need for close cooperation between Central Government and the Public Entities.

There are costs involved that must be covered and every stakeholder must play a role

And, SZW has promised to help set up a sheltered workshop at Statia, both in terms of financing and support from knowledge and expertise.

These were fruitful meetings on critical matters. Now we must begin the process of lifting the quality of life of every Statian (step by step).