A delegation of 10 members of the First and Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament visited Saba on Monday, May 2. Besides the formal part meeting with the Executive Council and Island Council, the program included a presentation session on topics such as poverty, public health, tourism and economic development, as well as a meet and greet and various site visits.
The delegation arrived with a Winair charter from St. Maarten in the morning and was welcomed by Island Governor Jonathan Johnson, Island Secretary Tim Muller and Government Advisor/Second Acting Island Secretary Gerald Simmons-de Jong.
Members of the management team of the Saba Electric Company (SEC) Dexter Johnson, Mark Zagers and David Leonce met with the delegation right after arrival to give information on the investments in renewable energy, the Saba Energy Strategy 2020-2030 and the ambition of 100 percent sustainable energy, and the challenges such as the steep increase in the cost of importing fuel for the generators.
At the Eugenius Johnson Center, a meeting took place with the Executive Council where Commissioners Bruce Zagers and Rolando Wilson spoke about the continuous challenges that Saba faces, for example, the problematic referral of patients abroad, the high cost of living and doing business, government’s difficult financial position and the lacking connectivity. “We have a lot of issues that require your attention. It is important for us that you take these back to The Hague,” Wilson told the Members of Parliament (MPs). “Decisions are taken for us, not with us,” said Zagers, who noted that Saba’s good financial reputation and having good relations with the Netherlands didn’t necessarily reflect in a much-needed higher free allowance or the pledge to transfer more tasks to Saba.
In the meeting with the Island Council, Members of the Island Council brought up pressing matters that have been on the table for years such as the lack of notarial services and the poor banking services that have an adverse effect on Saba, its population and its development. “These are basic needs of the people that are not met,” said Island Council Member Carl Buncamper.
Councilman Vito Charles pointed out that after many letters to The Hague, these matters were still not solved. It is very cumbersome and expensive for residents to have to go to St. Maarten for banking and notary services, Councilman Eviton Heyliger explained. “The gap between the banking system in the Netherlands and Saba is gigantic,” said Councilman Hemmie van Xanten.
Council Member Esmeralda gave a candid, powerful speech about “paying the price for living in paradise,” the lack of attention from The Hague, the room for more radicalized opinions because structural big problems are not solved, and the need for the Parliament to “truly be the change that my community on Saba needs and deserves.”
“Thank you for receiving us. We noticed from the moment we landed here that Saba is truly special. It is about listening and explaining, and that is what we are here for, to listen and to engage in talks,” said
Dutch delegation leader Mariëlle Paul. “We appreciate and value your input and how you deal with the many challenges. Thank you for sharing so candidly.”
In the presence of the Executive Council and the Island Council, a group of young and dedicated civil servants gave inspiring presentations to provide the Dutch delegation background information about poverty alleviation, public health, the new harbor project, tourism, economic development, the school buildings, childcare and culture. The presentations were provided by Gideon Wilson, Jane O’Flynn, Tedisha Gordon, Nicole Johnson, Malinda Hassell, Courtney Hassell, Evita Pronk, Rosa Johnson and Elsa Peterson. Delegation leader Paul thanked the “young, energetic team” for their presentations. “We heard a lot of ambition and hard work, we learned about your plans and concrete next steps.”
Next on the program was a meet and greet with the community, followed by three site visits: the location of the new harbor at Black Rocks with Nicole Johnson and Bruce Zagers, the Marine Lab of the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF) where SCF Director Kai Wulf and researcher Alwin Hylkema provided information and the hydroponics farm where Jim Garza of Gezondheid Farms and Policy Advisor Justin Simmons-de Jong talked about this agriculture project. The delegation left for St. Eustatius in the late afternoon.
The Dutch delegation consisted of Members of the Second Chamber Mariëlle Paul (delegation leader), Roelien Kamminga (VVD), Jorien Wuite (D66), Joba van den Berg (CDA), Don Ceder (CU) and Liane den Haan (Group Den Haan), and of Senators Boris Dittrich (D66), Joop Atsma (CDA), Peter Ester (CU) and Toine Beukering (Group Nanninga). The clerks of the Permanent Committees for Kingdom Relations in the First and Second Chamber Eva Meijers and Fred Bergman were also part of the delegation.