SABA — A four-member delegation, headed by Commissioner Bruce Zagers, was in The Hague from Monday, October 2 to Tuesday, October 10 for meetings with the different ministries and political organizations.
There were multiple reasons for going to The Hague at this time, explained Zagers. Meeting with the ministries and political organizations was important timewise with the November 22 Dutch Second Chamber elections.
Another important topic on the agenda was the drafting of the Saba Package 3.0, an agreement in which the Public Entity Saba and the Dutch Government state their shared ambitions that they want to work on Saba’s further development. Saba’s agenda was discussed with several political parties.
The implementation of a social minimum for the Caribbean Netherlands islands, including Saba, and the eradication of poverty was discussed with the ministries. The Saba delegation attended the presentation of the report of the Social Minimum Committee Caribbean Netherlands, chaired by Glenn Thodé, to caretaker Minister for Poverty Policy, Participation and Pensions Carola Schouten and caretaker State Secretary of Kingdom Relations and Digitalization Alexandra van Huffelen on Friday, October 6.
The timing of the visit of the Saba delegation was also relevant because of discussions on the recent report of public sector consultancy bureau IdeeVersa about the height of the free allowance for the public entities, the visit of Minister Schouten to Saba at the end of October and the visit of State Secretary Van Huffelen to the island in November.
The Saba delegation further used the opportunity to discuss the different projects that are in the pipeline for Saba. These projects include the new Solar Park, the new Black Rocks Harbor, the new school buildings and agriculture initiatives.
There are different funding possibilities of the Dutch Government that Saba can make use of for projects, such as the SDE++ program to stimulate sustainable energy production and climate transition, the National Growth Fund and the Regio Deals.
Saba was offered assistance to write project proposals to apply for funding from these initiatives. “The funding opportunities are there, but we lack this specific capacity, technical expertise. It is important for Saba’s development that we bridge that gap for the many projects that we want to carry out. The offer to assist us with this is most welcome,” said Zagers.
At the end of the visit, the Saba delegation had a wrap-up meeting with Director-General Kees van der Burg of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water management to talk about some of the sentiments and to share some views of the visit.
Close the gap
“Although there is opportunity to tackle the challenges that we face as an island and there are the reports of IdeeVersa and of the Social Minimum Caribbean Netherlands Committee, we lack a cohesive approach how to close the gap and to eliminate the backlogs,” said Zagers.
The Commissioner also addressed the matter of the social minimum. “There is momentum now, there is some money because of the structural fund that was recently announced, but there is an election in November which could impact the momentum one way or another. Yet there is still not enough attention for the immense cost of living. Increasing the social benefits is not the only solution to solve poverty issues. There needs to be more focus on the layers that have been created that negatively impact prices on Saba,” he said.
Cost of living
To bring down the cost of living, the import system that is currently in place needs to change. It needs to be simplified, become more customer-oriented and reflect the small scale of Saba. “On an island where almost everything has to be imported, bureaucracy, an overdone import system and complex, cumbersome procedures, along with extremely high shipping rates, all have an adverse effect on prices.”
According to Zagers, efforts to make Saba more sustainable and to increase the locally-grown produce don’t show immediate results, while the reality remains that the island greatly depends on imports. “There should be a better balance between the different ministries to work in a more practical approach that works for our small scale.”
Overall, Zagers was positive about the visit to The Hague, since it also provided an opportunity to network, to discuss Saba’s agenda and to explore ways how to jointly contribute to Saba’s development. Besides Zagers, the delegation consisted of Head of the Finance Department Maureen Hassell-Van der Kaap, Head of the Community Development Department Rosa Johnson-Hassell and Senior Policy Advisor Nicole Johnson. The delegation returned to Saba on Wednesday, October 11.