On March 2nd, I was on Facebook and I saw a set of well-articulated and important questions regarding the current political campaign by Ms. Janelie Barnes. Each and every question touched down on important issues that I feel many in the community want to know but few have asked. I applaud Ms. Barnes for taking it upon her to be the voice to bring out these concerns. I value the questions and concerns of every citizen and I want to take the time and respond to these very important and well-formulated questions that everyone should hear the answers to. It would not sit well with me knowing I have seen this and not give my take on them as a candidate standing for office. Mr. Editor, thus please allow me to answer these questions in your newspaper.
Below is the excerpt of the Facebook post word for word. I have not changed anything to respect the integrity of Ms. Barnes’ thoughts. I have only placed my responses in italic text.
“SOOOO election day is only 16 days away and up to now i haven’t heard not one politician say anything to convince me to vote for them!! All i’m hearing from the WIPM party is “SLP can’t do anything for the people of Saba” and SLP whining about what WIPM has and has not done for the island. As a young voter her are some general questions i would like to get answers to..
- How do you plan to reduce the cost of living?
Right of the bat I must state that NOT one individual will single-handedly reduce the cost of living on the island territory of Saba. Reducing the cost of living and/or mitigating its further increase, is a process that requires many stakeholders to make it a reality. However, I am of the opinion that a solution can be worked out by combining the wills of many stakeholders, including the representatives of the local government and the national government in The Hague, the private sector, our non-governmental sector, and our residents in general.
A fair start has been made by the WIPM led government and the private sector, for example with the costs for certain products within our supermarkets. But this alone is not enough. Another area that the WIPM led government has spearheaded is to allocate budgetary aid for organizations within our community that supports our people that are most in need and not being able to have a dignified existence due to the high cost of living on the island. Examples are support for the local housing foundation to be able to assist individuals and families that cannot afford their own place in the regular housing market. Additionally all residents have a responsibility to prepare themselves to be as productive as possible, to ensure that our economy starts a sustainable strengthening process where residents will be able to more realistically increase their disposable income. The WIPM led government continues to fund, in part, the adult continuing education, the youth opportunity programs and even a social workplace. A more long term solution is to also continue to improve the connectivity and viability of the education sector with the local labor market. This is an area that much effort is going into but unfortunately the impacts of such improvements are long term.
- Some of you talk about increasing salaries and pensions.There are probably more people on pension than people who are employed, so where is the “extra money” gonna come from?
We do have a relatively large percentage of residents that live primarily from their pensions, as compared to our neighboring islands. Some on a single pension (old age or AOV) and this is tough, if not at times almost impossible. Increases in pension are primarily based on the minimum wage, and the authority that regulates the minimum wage is part of the national government in Den Haag. Along with my colleagues in the council, and the executive branch of our local government, I will continue to substantiate, through evidence based documentation that has been and is being prepared at various levels, why this group of residents are in dire need of an increase and other social support mechanism put in place to support the transition to higher pensions in time. Under our present WIPM led government the local government has already made some leeway with regards to manifesting an understanding at the national government and their ministries with regards to the unhealthy and precarious buying power of our society and in particular that of our pensioners and low income earners. During this term the government got a commitment to adjust the minimum wage and this was done to the tune of a 6.1% increase. This is a medium to long term process and will require perseverance and continued documentation of the vulnerability of our residents that fall in this category.
- Economic growth, how is this to be accomplished and done so that ALL reap the benefits and not just “SOME”?
We must together embark on more sustainable economic development, and this is achievable through a multi-sectorial approach. BUT a critical factor in achieving favorable objectives and results related to a sustainable economic growth is to move more of our labor force from low income jobs into medium to high income jobs. Education is the pillar of economic growth, thus preparing our youth to better access the job market and/or be successful in tertiary education is the way forward in my opinion. I will continue to sensitize our youths to seek career paths that allow them to be entrepreneurs and diversify the labor market to allow even further sustainable economic growth, and also potentially diversify the overall experience of our tourism product. The government will have to seek and introduce appropriate programs to assist local entrepreneurs to prepare proper business plans, prepare the entrepreneurs to execute these plans, and to once again have programs in place to allow our residents to be able to borrow the necessary funds at low interest rates to be able to get started.
- Health care and education, what are your plans to improve them and how long will it take? What can be done to keep the kids motivated to stay in school or even motivate them to further their studies? Will you create new jobs to bring our youth back to the island?
Much is already being done in both of these sectors. Let me touch on healthcare first. It unfortunately remains true that much frustration is experienced due to the lack of proper communication of the system and from the inability of residents to contract additional insurances due to the lack of other medical insurance packages, as is the case in European Netherlands. Additionally, it is fair to expect people to have a level of responsibility for one’s own wellbeing, BUT this can only be realized when one’s disposable income allows us to do so, and as we all know this is not the case for many of our residents. This will mean that the local level government will continue to substantiate an increase in certain areas of healthcare to be once again included, or a program provided through social affairs to assist those that are not in a position to comply with such a responsibility. It is difficult to put an exact time frame on such a development and I can only stress that I will continue to communicate and substantiate the unfair practice that is levied on the people of Saba because of the deficiencies that are still embedded within many of our residents’ low incomes.
With regards to education, the governments and the managements and staff of the schools are working towards the enhancement and improvements of curricula, education care, and enhanced access to opportunities to further one’s education. More incentives should be given to stimulate and motivate students to achieve their dreams by preparing themselves for their career path of choice. Many jobs on our island are filled by people from our neighboring islands and other parts of the world, and if we can motivate our local students to choose a career path in these areas it will mean that they can have a vacancy to occupy upon their return once well prepared and meet the requirements of the job profile.
- Tourism, what are your plans to increase it without damaging the bit that we already have and living up to our “UNSPOILED QUEEN” NAME?
Saba has a tourism master plan. However it is my opinion that development in tourism must not harm our natural beauty and resources. Tourism thus needs to be developed in a sustainable manner. It is important to have a well prepared Spatial Development Plan in place that preserves our natural environment but at the same time allows our residents to have economic opportunities within this framework. Both levels of the WIPM led government (executive and island council) are well on their way with the preparation of the Spatial Development Plan. Prior to the approval of a final document, the local populous will need to be consulted to ensure we are all on the same page.
- Culture, how do you plan to re-energize our old culture so that they are continued? (I’m not talking about carnival either Saba Day)
As you may be aware I am part of a number of NGOs that have some of their focus on culture. In recent months with many of our more mature population have been interviewed and some of their experiences (and particularly their Saba Lace Work) have been documented in order to preserve the techniques so that these can be taught to future generations. The hope is that eventually once such work has been completed; it will be available to the entire community. A further step will be that it can be introduced via the curricula in our schools. Other forms of preservation that have been supported through our local government, directly or indirectly, have been the preparation of documentation to preserve recipes and the likes so as to not lose these priceless cultural commodities.
- Taxes, what are plans for changing taxes on the island so that it decreases the burden on the tax payers and businesses?
The WIPM government continues to lobby to change the taxation system on our island to one that is more in line with our contextual reality. However, just like with pension, the authority for this decision does not lie with us, but with the national government in Den Haag. This can be done but we may have to do a lot of talking before it comes to pass. This is not an easy task but my person, along with the others that form part of the present WIPM led government, will continue our efforts to drive home the need for a tax system that is more contextually sound for the realities that we live on Saba, and thus create a fairer system that one and all can contribute towards without feeling that a noose is placed around their necks.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST
- YOUTH ACTIVITIES, what are your plans in this area? What ideas can you come up with to keep the children off the streets besides sports? How are those activities to be funded???
Work on the parks are progressing though not at the pace that was anticipated and proper management teams (via a committee or NGO) should be introduced to secure proper management. The proper development and improvements of our parks can allow for much quality time for parents and their youngsters, and even allow for quiet time for some of our community in general. Of course I encourage individuals to take the initiative to submit suggestions for the diversification of activities for the youth and the community in general to the Island Council. Once these have been received, the suggestions can be discussed with the intended target group(s) and an action plan can be created to implement it.
I am aware that the diversification of the various activities available locally can be improved. But it is equally important that activities are not only developed and implemented to ‘babysit’ kids of all ages, but rather that the diversified activities will allow parents and caregivers to participate along with their children. It is critical that parents can get as much bonding time with their offspring from the earliest of stages. This will enhance the chances of a stronger and better balanced family unit, which will instill (in many cases) a sense of heightened responsibility in children and parents alike.”
I wish everyone a safe election season. Remember to responsibly exercise your democratic right on March 18th! If anyone would like to contact me or would like more information, you can call me at 416-7777 or see me on Facebook.
Carl A. Buncamper
Island Council member and #4 Candidate on the WIPM list