During their visit to The Hague last week, Saba Commissioners Bruce Zagers and Chris Johnson worked on creative, structural solutions with the Dutch ministries to get funding for social and economic development projects for the island within the tight budgetary parameters.
Both the Dutch Government and the Saba Government have had to take budget cutting measures, which have been affecting financial leeway. Saba is most thankful for the funding of projects so far, but these are incidental investments, said Zagers in an interview with The Daily Herald at the end of the visit to the Netherlands.
Zagers explained that structural financing was needed for maintenance and to keep things running. He mentioned the projects to upgrade the harbour and airport, infrastructural projects such as the parking lot and public cistern at Windwardside, the recycling and waste management plant. All were carried out with incidental funding.
“The problem is maintenance. There is no money for that. The airport was extensively upgraded, but in the future we will need money to keep it up. As things stand now, we only have enough money to change light bulbs. We need structural funding,” he said.
The funds to cover the costs associated with the maintenance of these projects once they are executed have not been secured by the Dutch Government. And, the Saba Government is unable to put money aside for maintenance and other structural related costs with the tight finances and strict order to balance its budget. “We are working with a skeleton budget.”
The waste management facility and the related recycling efforts have been doing relatively well, said Zagers. “But it would be a pity if we would have to close it down for lack of maintenance.” Sabans are starting to get used to recycling, to separate their waste.
Saba is one of the few islands in the Caribbean with a recycling facility and the related collection system. “We are setting an example in the Caribbean with a recycling system of this quality. We will try to keep it open. We will do our best, but closing the facility for lack of funds would be sad,” said the Commissioner.
Recently two large, 40 foot containers with plastics, aluminium, card board and glass were sent to St. Maarten for further handling by a recycling company on that island. Saba’s incinerator has been experiencing some difficulties. Technicians from abroad will be arriving soon to fix it.
Zagers said that an additional information campaign was needed to increase awareness of the importance of recycling. “But it makes no sense to start an awareness campaign if the incinerator is not working properly. As soon as it has been fixed, we want to launch another campaign.”
The lack of structural funds and the requirement of having a balanced budget presents a challenge that calls for creative solutions and outside the box thinking in order to secure the necessary structural financing for the important projects for Saba in the area of infrastructure and social economic development, Zagers said. He said that so far, the Dutch ministries were willing to help find creative solutions for this problem.
The fact is that the Dutch Government so far has not increased the free allowance (“vrije uitkering”) for the three Caribbean Netherlands public entities, Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, despite the recommendation in the recent IdeeVersa report, which included the aspect of maintenance in its figures.
Zagers said that the positive recommendation in the IdeeVersa report has not resulted in an increase of the free allowance. “For us that is disappointing because all three islands are working with skeleton budgets, which makes it hard to get things done in the interest of the people.”
Zagers and his colleague Chris Johnson met with representatives of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK last Tuesday. Discussed, among other things, were the preliminary findings of what will be the formal position of the Dutch Government in response to the reports of the Caribbean Netherlands Evaluation Committee chaired by former Minister Liesbeth Spies.
The three public entities have drafted their formal response to the evaluation reports. “It is a process. This was the first indication of what can be done as a reaction to the evaluation reports,” said Johnson, who confirmed that in April the islands and the BZK ministry will meet in Bonaire to further discuss the input of the ministries.
“The responsibility now lies with the Dutch Government. I sincerely hope that The Hague will put the money where its mouth is. The reports clearly state what needs to take place. The question is now whether The Hague is willing to invest,” said Johnson. He said that it was important to keep the reports drafted by the Spies Committee on the table. “A lot of work has gone into that and that should not be swept under the carpet.”
Johnson said that Saba’s focus in talks with The Hague has been the social economic development. “The social economic level needs to be raised, and the bureaucracy cut down. We need more efficiency, we need to be able to set our own priorities, take on more tasks locally.”
According to Johnson, there is enough money, but it needs to be spent more wisely, and with less bureaucracy. “We find that The Hague is focusing on regulations, studies and more studies,” he said. He emphasized that Saba continued to be positive and constructive.
During their visit to The Hague, the two Commissioners met with several ministries, as well as Minister of Economic Affairs Henk Kamp, State Secretary of Social Affairs and Employment Jetta Klijnsma and Leader of the Democratic Party D66 Alexander Pechtold.
The Commissioners also attended a presentation by BlueRise, the company from Delft that has ambitions to start an Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) project in Saba to generate electricity for the island, and possibly drinking water.
The Daily Herald.