Island Council adopts 2022 budget with deficit

The Island Coun­cil of Saba on Wednesday, November 10, adopted the multi-annual budget 2022­2025 and approved covering the US $1 million deficit of the 2022 budget from the general reserves, as the Ex­ecutive Council advised.

The 2022 budget has a deficit because of the lack of struc­tural funding from the Dutch government and the free al­lowance (`vrije uitkering”) which has been too low for a number of years. The 2022 budget shows $13.1 million in expenditures and $12.1 mil­lion in revenues. It concerns a skeleton budget with financial allocation at a bare minimum, Finance Commissioner Bruce Zagers has pointed out on several occasions.

Several Island Council members were critical of The Hague. “The deficit is created by the Netherlands and limits our ability to plan ahead and to pay decent salaries. We have good rela tions with the Netherlands but that should not come at the expense of Saba and its people. It is time we engage with the Netherlands to tell them the truth,” said coun­cilman Vito Charles, who added that Saba could still have a constructive dialogue with The Hague while telling the truth.

“Once again we are forced into accepting a budget deficit. We need real results from the Netherlands. We should get the support that we deserve. Our level of pro­fessionalism needs to be re­warded,” said councilwoman Esmeralda Johnson.

‘Best kid in class’

“We expected things to get better because we did right. We waited patiently, yet nothing was done about our structural shortage. Be­ing the ‘best kid in the class’ didn’t pay off,” said Charles during the Central Commit­tee meeting on Tuesday, one day before the Island Coun­cil adopted the budget.

Charles said that contrary to the promising statements made in the Dutch Parlia­ment, the Dutch caretaker prime minister and finance minister did not echo the same sentiments.

“We have said and done it all. It is high time for The Hague to step up. We can’t continue like this,” said Charles, who posed a number of questions about the consequences of the structural underfunding, including the fact that some local government employ­ees earn less than the social minimum.

Island Council Member Hemmie van Xanten said it was “sad” to hear the mes­sage of Commissioner Zag­ers about the dire financial situation and a budget that once again has no room for executing policy. He was very critical of The Hague’s standoffish attitude towards raising the free allowance.

‘Clog dance’

“The Netherlands is forcing us to our knees. Maybe we have to do the clog dance to get them to understand the dire situation we are in. I sin­cerely hope that The Hague will listen to Saba. They know it is impossible to bal­ance our budget and yet they do nothing about it.”

Van Xanten complimented Saba’s Finance Department for again delivering a high-quality multi-annual bud­get document. “Maybe The Hague can see this as an example, because so far, the Dutch government has not been able to make a compre­hensive overview of what the ministries spend on behalf of the Caribbean Netherlands.”

‘Regrettable’

“It is regrettable that we are once again in the situation of having to discuss and pass a budget which may seem bal­anced on paper, but in real­ity is not the budget that the island and our citizens de­serve. Every year our local government has to beg to get the attention of the decision-makers in The Hague, hop­ing that a structural solution will come,” said Johnson. According to Johnson, the $1 million deficit in the 2022 budget is a clear indication that the free allowance re­ceived from the Netherlands remains insufficient to cover the structural tasks of the public entity Saba.

“Without economic secu­rity and independence, our government continues to struggle keeping up with the demand for public services, new public infrastructure and maintenance.”

All four Island Council members present at Wednes­day’s meeting gave the Fi­nance Department a big compliment for its work.

“A job well done,” said Evi­ton Heyliger.

“I want to acknowledge the Finance Department and all relevant stakeholders for de­livering a detailed and sound multi-annual budget. The new approach of presenting the policy plans in a more readable format is very help­ful and provides more clarity on the plans and intentions of the public entity Saba,” said Johnson.

Ramon Hassell

At the start of Wednesday’s meeting, Commissioner Ro­lando Wilson lit a candle for former Island Council member Ramon Adolphus Hassell, who passed away at the age of 84 and has served in a variety of functions in government, including as a member of the Island Coun­cil for the Saba Democratic Labour Movement (SDLM) from 1987 to 1991 and be­tween 1995 and 1999 as Cen­tral Committee Chairman and as Acting Lt. Governor. Hassell was active in many organisations such as social-cultural funding agency Sede Antia.

One minute of silence was observed, while outside the flags flew at half-mast.

Commissioner Rolando Wilson lights a candle for deceased former Island Council Mem­ber Ramon Adolphus Hassell while the Island Council stands.

The Daily Herald.

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