HARBOURVIEW—On the request of the Honorable Prime Minister Silveria E. Jacobs, the Social Economic Council (SER) researched the cost of living on St. Maarten. The advice request listed the following categories for study: the cost of living of two, three, and four family households, monthly expenses, monthly income, basic needs, living wage versus the minimum wage, and the possibility of establishing a ‘living wage’ threshold. On Friday, April 1, 2022, the secretariat of the SER held a meeting with the Honorable Prime Minister S. Jacobs to discuss the content of the cost of living advice. The secretariat of the SER was represented by the Acting Secretary-General/Senior Policy Advisor, S. Arnell, Legal Policy Advisor, C. Bute and Policy Advisor and author of the advice, C. Vlaun.
The need to establish the cost of living for the average individual is of paramount importance for the SER. Due to the lack of data and access to data, the SER advised the Government of St. Maarten to fund an independent study on the matter. The SER additionally acknowledged that a previous attempt by the University of St. Martin (USM) and the St. Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform to establish this data via the National Institute for Family Finance Information (NIBUD) was not pursued by government in 2019.
The main objective of SER’s advice outlined the need for a two-part study to be conducted on the cost of living and price developments on St. Maarten. The SER acknowledged that a variety of policy changes are being requested and researched on the basis of the Country Packages introduced by the Government of the Netherlands in connection with liquidity support. Nevertheless, the policy changes must be grounded within updated, independent data. The Cost of Living Advice reiterates the previous 2019 advice of the SER, ‘Data Matters’, calling for data collection independent of government.
The SER acknowledged the existence of data collected by the Department of Statistics (STAT) as well as other entities. However, the most recent data on household expenses and price developments were collected prior to Hurricane Irma (2017) and the COVID-19 pandemic. As these events have had major impacts on the economy of St. Maarten, combined with the looming threat of rising prices due to rising shipping costs and international developments, new data must be collected. Once an independent entity does the preliminary research and data collection, the SER advised that the Department of Statistics is properly equipped and funded to update the data.
The advice presents established price increases over the years of a variety of expenses. Certain price increases are above regional and international trends, a fact established by prior studies on price developments on St. Maarten. However, in order to render a more complete advice on price developments over the years, the SER needs access to additional and updated data.
In conducting the research for the advice request, the SER established that STAT’s ‘Household Budget Survey’ (HBS) would have been most relevant to answering Prime Minister Jacobs’ request. The most recent HBS was published in 2017 with data that was collected by the Department in 2015. Additionally, the data could not be used to determine household budgets based on household size. Furthermore, as the SER reached out to various government departments and external partners, new and updated data was either unavailable or withheld from the institution.
The SER looks forward to revisiting the topic of cost of living once the Government of St. Maarten has had the independent research conducted. The updated data will allow for the SER to evaluate various opportunities for intervention of government policy to better the socio-economic standing of the country. The SER included a 6-month deadline for the research to be conducted as the cost of living is a pertinent issue. For more information on the SER, please visit our website www.ser.sx