Ombudsman Kingdom Conference on Poverty
PHILIPSBURG, At the end of November 2022, the Ombuds institutions of the Kingdom of the Netherlands met in Curaçao for their annual meeting. The annual meeting was preceded by a Kingdom conference on poverty organized by the Ombudsman of Curaçao, Keursly Concincion, in collaboration with his colleagues from Sint Maarten and the Netherlands, who all currently serve on the IOI Board of Directors. The conference was the outcome of several round tables the three Ombuds institutions had organised in their respective territories. Participants of these round tables were stakeholders that are confronted with the poverty that exists in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom. The focus was not only on adults but also children. For this reason, the Children's Ombudsman of the Netherlands, Ms. Margrite Kalverboer, was also present.
The conference was opened by the Minister of Social Development, Labour and Welfare, Ms. Ruthmilda Larmonie-Cecilia. Although Aruba does not yet have an Ombudsman office, they were represented in the person of the Dean of the University of Aruba who gave a presentation on some of Aruba’s challenges.
The round table that was previously organised in Sint Maarten in October by the Ombudsman, Gwendolien Mossel, in preparation for the Kingdom conference had focused on the central question: ‘what type of data is required, to influence proper decision-making on poverty?’ Various reports produced by the Ombudsman, as well as a recent decision of the Constitutional Court, had concluded that government was lacking data, which contributed to inter alia a poverty line not being established. Having properly functioning and adequately resourced statistical organisations are therefore paramount as a critical first step in eradicating poverty. Interestingly, one of the conclusions at the conference was that government has a lot of data at its disposal. The question is, however, what is being done with it? What amongst other things needs to happen, was established, is the centralizing of this data across all ministries.
Representing Sint Maarten during the conference were Ms. Veronica Jansen-Webster, Department head of the Statistics and Mr. Raymond Jessurun of the Sint Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform who gave presentations highlighting Sint Maarten’s perspective. The SER Chairman, Mr. Damien Richardson also attended the conference.
The National Ombudsman, Mr. Reinier van Zutphen, in cooperation with the Children's Ombudsman, presented the outcome of three reports that were conducted on poverty in the Dutch Caribbean (BES). The first report dealt with poverty of elderly persons, the second was on poverty amongst the youth and the final report was on single parent families. It is clear from these, but also from the other presentations during the conference, that poverty is never solely a financial issue. The reason people are living in poverty can be because of an extremely low income (working poor) or having health issues and not sufficient financial backup because of an insufficient social safety net and limited savings.
The conference concluded with six action points that will be picked up by the Ombudsmen and will be presented to their respective governments.
These six points are:
1. Addressing the language challenges
2. Debt relief assistance
3. Improved social safety net
4. Access to education for all children
5. Free legal counter (assistance)
6. Elderly (care)
During their meeting the three Ombudsmen also discussed the existing problems the countries face regarding undocumented immigrants. These are people who want to earn a living in order to relieve the poverty in their home country. As there is a great need for their labour, they find work but are often exploited or work for very low wages. This and other topics were extensively discussed. After their meeting the three Ombudsmen met with her Excellency the Governor of Curaçao, Ms. Lucille George-Wout, and the Minister of Justice, Mr. Shalten Hato.
The Ombudsman listens, investigates, and recommends
Government to act on the concerns of the people
The Ombudsman is the Voice and Protector of the People!