Speech of Commissioner Bruce Zagers on 2018 Saba Day

Commissioner Bruce Zagers speaking on 2018 Saba Day celebration (Photo GIS Saba)

Good morning and welcome to this 43nd Saba Day celebration here on the beautiful grounds of the Harry L Johnson Museum. I would like to express a special welcome to the many visitors and the people of Saba who are here this morning to celebrate. Your presence this morning is greatly appreciated. Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great honour I wish everyone who is in attendance here this morning a Happy and Blessed Saba Day.

This year marks the 12th consecutive year that I have given a speech for Saba Day. Composing a Saba Day speech is never an easy task and as one would imagine, each year it gets a bit more difficult. However throughout the years I have been able to express my opinions about where we have come from, where we are today and how we continue to progress.

The ambiance for this Saba Day has a much different feeling to the celebration a year ago. Although last year we were privileged to have the royal family commemorate Saba Day with us, as Sabans, we celebrated with a heavy heart after having experienced the wrath of two major hurricanes. A year ago there was far less certainty about the overall recovery not only of Saba but also the Caribbean region. Today, if you didn’t know, you would not think we had been hit by such devastating hurricanes only a year ago. Our vegetation is as lush and green as ever, damaged homes have been built back stronger and more importantly the Saban way of life resembles normalcy again. We must however give thanks to God that we have been spared from hurricanes this year as that would have surely slowed our recovery.

Two weekends ago while getting ready to depart from St. Maarten, I joined in a conversation amongst a group who were expressing their opinions about the breakup of the Netherlands Antilles and that it was the worst thing that could have ever happened to these islands. From Saba’s perspective I begged to differ and I went on to reflect on some of the hardships that we had to endure with during the years before 10-10-10. Back then a budget was basically a wish list and it was a struggle not just from one month to the next but from day to day trying to find creative ways in order to keep the government and the basic services operational. Struggling to pay regular bills, month end salaries, organizing medical evacuations, ensuring that the hospital pharmacy was stocked with medicine and that our teachers and schools were equipped with the tools to educate our children were just few of the examples that I gave to express how difficult things were on Saba back then. Today we don’t face any of these same problems and positive advancements have been made in almost every sector not only in government but also with NGOs and the community.

Now, eight years since the transition, I would be lying if I said everything was perfect as there will always be room for improvements. However I am confident that Saba is moving in the right direction and the future is bright. Saba can boast of having stability within government and strong financial management. The results of these two fundamental principles have allowed for Saba to receive considerable project funding which is managed by your local government. Because of this, we have been able to truly develop and transform our island unlike many islands in the region or even developed countries have done in such a relatively short period of time. From a new runway and a renovated terminal building, to a completely renovated hospital, to planned new school buildings and renovated classrooms, to new playgrounds in our villages, to an expanded harbor which will start next year; progress is being made from one end of the island to the next in areas that are vital for our people and for the future growth of our island.

In addition to these tangible projects we have established a new social domain department to support our community, we are actively involved and support programs that improve the well-being of our youth, additional social homes are being built that will improve the living conditions for many families, a water project has been executed that has reduced the price of water by about 50% and we continuously do our utmost to work with all stakeholders to find practical solutions to further promote community development as a whole.

Unfortunately not everything is in our control as many aspects of reducing the cost of living and alleviating poverty is the responsibility of the Netherlands. Next year we will see some positive developments with marginal increases in the levels of minimum wage, social welfare and pensions. These small improvements will signify a start of at least the process to improve the standard of living for our people. But it’s not yet near the goals we aim for. Next week I will be traveling to the Netherlands where the lobbying process will continue as we further seek practical solutions for problems that have far reaching consequences for our community.

People who travel all over the world are continuously impressed when  they come here for the first time with the organization, cleanliness and beauty of our island, and the hard work of our people. As Sabans, we are a proud and resilient people. We have a “do first” mentality where we “do” before we wait for someone to “do” for us. This is what makes Saba such a special place!

The foundation for an even stronger and more resilient Saba continues to be built which bodes well for a bright future. Together as a society Saba will continue to rise above and be an example for good governance supported by a strong, hardworking united community. Saba is our unspoiled queen, and all of us, government and the people, play a very important role to ensure that our cultural and social values are maintained so that future generations of Sabans can know and appreciate what it means to be Saban!

Ladies and Gentlemen have a happy and blessed Saba Day. May God continue to bless Saba and her people!

Bruce Zagers

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