Monday, May 20th

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Editorial - Loud and clear

The figures presented by Transparency International (TI) regarding poverty in St. Maarten (see related story) are interesting. The 75 per cent making less than NAf. 4,000 (US $2,222) per month are apparently considered below the poverty line, although everyone knows there are many earning far less and, according to the report, 22 per cent with no income at all.

The latter is a bit hard to swallow, as Government does provide some financial aid to citizens in need. Moreover, everyone who worked in St. Maarten and the former Netherlands Antilles has the right to an old age AOV pension when they turn 60.

It’s also no secret that the amount involved is far too low, even though it was increased recently at least somewhat. Then again, it does concern retirees who have often invested in, for example, housing during their active careers, which can help them cope when they get older.

One of the biggest factors is actually that many pensioners are immigrants or in any case did not spend their entire working lives on the island, which leads to reductions in their AOV allowance. This is a major issue on the Dutch side with its diverse population build-up, illustrated by the fact that 10 to 15 per cent of school-going children are undocumented.

Efforts have been made to regulate “duly employed” foreigners through the Brooks Tower Accord, but the problem just won’t go away. Under the circumstances it might be worth considering coming up with an attractive yet financially responsible system whereby in any case legal residents while still on the job can “buy” the years they are missing to receive the full AOV.

There are other contributing factors, such as the relatively high rent prices and little in the way of consumer protection. It’s thus not simply a matter of raising salaries, if that were even possible, because the cost of living simply would follow suit.

The bottom line is that there exists no magic formula for poverty alleviation and it is sure to be a gradual process, but the message that it’s high time to start was certainly loud and clear.