16th BES Islands Sue The Netherlands
Lawsuit against the Netherlands because of poverty: ‘No improvement for residents of Bonaire, Saba and Statia for ten years’
Photo: Marit Severijnse
July 16, 2022 | Marit Severijnse
KRALENDIJK – Consumers’ association Unkobon wants the Netherlands to go to court because of the poverty on Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius. What is the chance of success? And where is the local politics?
“People really live in bitter, harrowing poverty,” Wietze Koopman (Unkobon) tells Caribbean Network . “It is a scandal that at least forty percent of the Bonairean population lives far below the subsistence level.”
Food prices, electricity, water and internet are remarkably expensive on the islands. Those who earn around the minimum wage or are dependent on benefits cannot make ends meet. This has been shown for years by various surveys and personal stories from residents.
Ever thought that you would start a lawsuit about poverty against the Dutch state with the Bonaire Consumers’ Association?
“Well, not at first. At the time, we thought we could come to a satisfactory solution with reasonable consultation. But over the years, we started to feel more and more that there was no movement.”
“Small plasters have been put on for years, but nothing fundamental is really being done about poverty. And that within a rich country like the Netherlands. We can’t put our finger on why something hasn’t happened long ago.”
At what point did you think, ‘Awor si ta basta. We’re going to sue’?
“With the Kralendijk Agreement, it was promised to raise the minimum wage, on the condition that The Hague would then actually implement the cost reductions. At the time, we thought: nothing will come of this cost reduction. We have been promised that for ten years!”
“The straw that broke the camel’s back was the announcement by the Dutch cabinet that the temporary subsidies for electricity, water and internet will be discontinued at the end of 2021. Once again, it appears that cost reductions are not really being taken seriously.”
‘There is no prospect of an end to poverty’
“There is no prospect of an end to poverty on Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius. The Netherlands simply has a duty of care. It cannot be the case that The Hague does not fulfill its obligations because of the costs.”
Do you think that local politicians are too quickly impressed by the promises from The Hague?
“Well, those promises are very vague and I also think that local politicians get frustrated time and again that nothing substantial is happening. The Hague is simply too powerful and The Hague decides.”
Are local politics doing enough?
“Well, of course they do everything they can, don’t they? I know that our Lieutenant Governor Edison Rijna and our deputies always raise the poverty problem in The Hague, as we have done for the past ten years.”
‘The poverty problem has been raised in The Hague for ten years’
“Last year the Island Council of Bonaire adopted a motion with an appeal to the Dutch government: set that social minimum on the basis of the real cost of living. The motion has also been adopted by the island councils of Saba and Statia. I think local politics is doing what it can. Only, that’s not enough.”
You say that politically The Hague is too powerful for these special municipalities and that the Netherlands does not fulfill its duty of care. So you could also say: it is precisely municipal policy that should have gone to court a long time ago.
“I think it is easier for Unkobon to start a lawsuit than for local politicians, because the consumer association is really an independent association. Independent of benefits from the Netherlands and the opinion of politicians.”
It costs what such a lawsuit: $150,000 you ask for donation. What are the chances of winning the lawsuit?
“It’s difficult to estimate, because you obviously don’t know how a lawsuit like this will go. It may even not come to a decision at all, because the state will be a bit ashamed of all the publicity in the Netherlands.”
“How can it be that you cannot arrange for an equal social minimum for three villages, which is not even half a stadium full in Amsterdam? We will of course continue with the lawsuit. In our opinion, this is a more successful way than just muddling through.”
You will not immediately start the lawsuit, but you will give the cabinet a few weeks to come up with a response. Didn’t the Netherlands already have ten years to respond?
“According to our lawyer, you cannot immediately file a lawsuit and you must first have made an ultimate attempt. That is why Unkobon first had to send out a warning, but we do not expect any results from this. We do expect a response, but it won’t be: oh dear, we should change our policy quickly . We think we will come to court with an official subpoena at the end of September or early October.”
Where will Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius be in five years’ time when it comes to poverty, do you think?
“I think there are then two possibilities: either the Netherlands chose eggs for its money and still instituted an equal social minimum without a ruling. Or, before that time there is a ruling that obliges the Netherlands to set a social minimum. And that will be done in five years, I assume.”