THE BOTTOM, SABA — The Island Council on Wednesday, November 10 adopted the multi-annual budget 2022-2025 and approved to cover the US $1 million deficit of the 2022 budget from the general reserves, as the Executive Council advised.
The 2022 budget has a deficit because of the lack of structural funding from the Dutch Government and the free allowance (‘vrije uitkering”) which has been too low for a number of years. The 2022 budget shows US $13.1 million in expenditures and US $12.1 million in revenues. It concerns a skeleton budget with financial allocation at a bare minimum, Finance Commissioner Bruce Zagers has pointed out on several occasions.
Several Members of the Island Council were critical of The Hague. “The deficit is created by the Netherlands and limits our ability to plan ahead and to pay decent salaries. We have good relations with the Netherlands, but that should not come at the expense of Saba and its people. It is time we engage with the Netherlands to tell them the truth,” said Councilman Vito Charles, who added that Saba could still have a constructive dialogue with The Hague while telling the truth.
“Once again we are forced into accepting a budget deficit. We need real results from the Netherlands. We should get the support that we deserve. Our level of professionalism needs to be rewarded,” said Councilwoman Esmeralda Johnson.
Best kid in class
“We expected things to get better, because we did right. We waited patiently, yet nothing was done about our structural shortage. Being the best kid in the class didn’t pay off,” said Vito Charles during the Central Committee meeting on Tuesday, one day before the Island Council adopted the budget.
Charles said that contrary to the promising statements made in the Dutch Parliament, the Dutch Prime Minister and Finance Minister did not echo the same sentiments. “We have said and done it all. It is high time for The Hague to step up. We can’t continue like this,” said Charles, who posed a number of questions about the consequences of the structural underfunding, including the fact that some local government employees earn less than the social minimum.
Island Council Member Hemmie van Xanten said it was “sad” to hear the message of Commissioner Zagers about the dire financial situation and a budget that once again has no room for executing policy. He was very critical of The Hague’s standoffish attitude to raise the free allowance.
“The Netherlands is forcing us to our knees. Maybe we have to do the clog dance to get them to understand the dire situation that we are in. I sincerely hope that The Hague will listen to Saba. They know it is impossible to balance our budget and yet they do nothing about it.”
Van Xanten complimented Saba’s Finance Department for again delivering a high-quality multi-annual budget document. “Maybe The Hague can see this as an example, because so far, the Dutch Government has not been able to make a comprehensive overview of what the ministries spend on behalf of the Caribbean Netherlands.”
“It is regrettable that we are once again in the situation of having to discuss and pass a budget which may seem balanced on paper but in reality, is not the budget that the island and our citizens deserve.
Every year our local government have to beg to get the attention of the decision-makers in The Hague, hoping that a structural solution will come,” said Esmeralda Johnson.
According to Johnson, the US $1 million deficit on the 2022 budget is a clear indication that the free allowance received from the Netherlands remains insufficient to cover the structural tasks of the Public Entity Saba. “Without economic security and independence, our government continues to struggle to keeping up with the demand for public services, new public infrastructure and maintenance.”
All four members of the Island Council present at Wednesday’s meeting gave the Finance Department a big compliment for their work. “A job well-done,” said Eviton Heyliger. “I want to acknowledge the Finance Department and all relevant stakeholders for delivering a detailed and sound multi-annual budget. The new approach of presenting the policy plans in a more readable format is very helpful and provides more clarity on the plans and intentions of the Public Entity Saba,” said Esmeralda Johnson.
At the start of Wednesday’s meeting, Commissioner Rolando Wilson lit a candle for former Island Council Member Ramon Adolphus Hassell who passed away at the age of 84 and has served in a variety of functions in government, including as a member of the Island Council for the Saba Democratic Labor Movement SDLM from 1987-1991 and 1995-1999, as Central Committee Chairman and as Acting Lt. Governor. Hassell was active in many organizations such as the Sede Antia. One minute of silence was observed, while outside the flags flew at half mast.