St. Maarten Parliamentarians want welfare statistics

POSTED: 10/4/11 12:32 PM

St. Maarten – Members of Parliament want Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor Cornelius de Weever to present them with the figures on social welfare and medical assistance when he returns to Parliament on October 10, 2010 at 2:00 p.m. Speakers from every faction have requested the data because they acknowledge a link between the stagnant economy, which leads to job losses and an increase in both crime and requests for social aid.

The requested data on number of requests, number of denials, number of approvals, the age categories of recipients and the amount spent should cover 2010 and 2011. MPs also want the minister to tell him how much he projects to spend in 2012 and whether that is lower or higher than in previous years.

At the opening of the meeting National Alliance Member of Parliament George Pantophlet said the party is seeking a clear idea of the specific criteria for people to get both social aid and medical aid, and why people, especially pensioners, were being taken off the list of recipients without being notified. The faction is also concerned that the response time for medical aid, social assistance and legal aid is too long because of bureaucracy.

“The period for approvals takes too long. People should not have to wait three months, four months and six months. I know there are procedures, but we must cut back on red tape,” Pantophlet said.

Democratic Party MP Petrus Leroy de Weever was concerned about what seems to be unilateral decision making in taking people off the list of recipients, while Dr. Lloyd Richardson of the National Alliance expressed concern for people who are permanently disabled.

“If they are found not to be able to continue receiving aid, what then? And how quickly do they get an answer on whether aid will be discontinued or resumed,” Dr. Richarsdson asked.

National Alliance MP Louie Laveist gave the more detailed reasoning for the NA faction’s request.

We have a genuine concern for the people who are tired, frustrated and disgusted with the process. People generally put in a request for social aid, because they have a genuine need. The process is too long, too cumbersome and a challenge,” Laveist said.

He has requested that the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development provide the forms people fill in when they request social aid and a doctor card for the first time and for a renewal as he believes revamping the form will allow for better service. Laveist also asked whether there was an automatic renewal procedure and suggested that pensioners be included if there is one.

“I also find it sad that because pensioners get an increase on their pension through a cost of living adjustment that you cut their social aid. I understand that there’s a law to be followed, but maybe we can examine the law so that we can make life easier for the people,” Laveist said.

Independent Member of Parliament Patrick Illidge can imagine that the ministry is faced with increased requests because of the “deteriorating economy.” He also agreed with Laveist that the ministry must do more to “make life easier in terms of procedures.”

“People come to government with urgency and we must be responsible. Maybe what we need is to develop an IT platform where at the push of a button the department can access a person’s file with their basic information. That way we can improve service. We must understand the urgent need. Yes there are abusers, but with what little we have let us our utmost to give service,” Illidge said.

Democratic Party faction leader honed on in the matter of legal aid and asked whether stricter controls are needed. He also pointed out a conflict between two laws. While the immigration laws require people to state that they will be able to secure continuous care of themselves and their family through gainful employment, the ordinance social welfare allows them to request financial aid after living in St. Maarten for five years.

“There seems to be a contradiction there and I do not believe that St. Maarten should have to pay for everyone that comes here,” Marlin said.

Independent Member of Parliament Frans Richardson wants the minister to give Parliament a total outline of the policy on social welfare and medical aid and whether he thinks it is past its life cycle and needs amending. He also expressed concern about the fact that some recipients of social welfare go to the bank only to find no money on their account.

“I think renewals should be done at home as a service. Government has a lot of vehicles and we can use it for providing that service. These home visits will also allow for the department to see the person’s home situation to assess whether they are really in need of the help,” F. Richardson said.

The independent MP also wants the social welfare department to work on information campaigns to ensure that young people don’t have multiple children, which they cannot afford to take care of.

“This is a major problem and there need to be more programs that catch them early,” F. Richardson said.

United People’s Party Member of Parliament Johan Leonard requested that special attention be given to the pensioners and agreed that the response time is too long.

United People’s Party faction leader strayed from the central point in his line of questioning before saying, “I understand this is not an easy task for the Minister, but I believe that the ministry must look at improving lives.”

United People’s Party MP Jules James had a number of questions that others had asked earlier and Silvia Meyers Olivaccee reserved her comments for the second round. There was also a series of targeted questions from National Alliance MP Hyacinth Richardson.


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