The Saba Island Council on Wednesday, September 22, 2021, adopted a motion that seeks to end the problematic banking situation for Saba residents and entrepreneurs.
The motion requests the Executive Council to initiate talks with the Dutch Government to create a level playing field between the people on Saba, Bonaire, and in the Netherlands with regard to banking services. Talks with The Hague should also result in the establishment of a Dutch bank, or any other bank, accessible for residents of Saba, resorting under the full supervision of the Dutch Central Bank (DNB). In June, a delegation of the Island Council met with representatives of the DNB.
The Executive Council is further asked to see to it that Saba residents will have the same access to low-interest loans and other favorable conditions as people in the Netherlands and to have the mortgage guarantee system also become available for Saba residents of Saba as soon as possible.
Furthermore, the Island Council wants to see an evaluation of the use of the US Dollar as the official currency as this currency may contribute to the high banking fees and serve as a deterrent for Dutch banks to do business on the islands. The Executive Council should seek the cooperation of St. Eustatius and Bonaire to achieve these goals.
Absence of banks
The motion was presented and read by Island Council Member Hemmie van Xanten during Wednesday’s meeting. The motion summed up the banking issues, ranging from the absence of banks that are established on Saba and the difficulties to open a bank account, to the struggle to secure a mortgage loan and the lacking of a mortgage guarantee system on Saba. According to the motion, the present banking system has a negative impact on the social minimum and spending power of the Saba people.
It was pointed out in the motion that Saba was served with general banking services by a branch of one bank established in St. Maarten. Opening a simple bank account by private individuals and businesses is a lengthy, bureaucratic process that can take six months or longer. This tedious process discourages economic development, it was stated.
The motion mentioned that on Saba it is “extremely difficult” to acquire a mortgage loan and that all financial institutions where Sabans can apply for a mortgage or other loans are outside the Caribbean Netherlands. In addition, the conditions to qualify for a mortgage loan are “very unfavorable and require considerable own financial input” whereby financial institutions usually finance to a maximum of the auction value of the property or even less. Senior citizens cannot qualify for a mortgage loan.
The (non-fixed) interest rates for mortgages that the financial institutions charge Sabans are around 6% and can be increased by the bank’s discretion at any time, while in the Netherlands the interest rates are sometimes as low as 1.5%, mostly fixed for a longer period of time.
The deposit guarantee system which was introduced in the Caribbean Netherlands a couple of years ago is unfair when compared to the one in the Netherlands. Under the deposit guarantee system in the Caribbean Netherlands, a maximum of USD 10,000 is guaranteed per person, whereas in the Netherlands the amount is 100,000 euros per account holder.
The motion further mentioned that the Netherlands has a mortgage guarantee system where mortgages up to 325,000 euros are guaranteed by the state. Bonaire has a five-year pilot whereby homebuyers can make use of a mortgage guarantee up to USD 325,000, offered by the Maduro & Curiel’s Bank Bonaire since this is the only bank in the Caribbean Netherlands to fall under the full supervision of the Dutch Central Bank.
The absence of a mortgage system on Saba means that potential home buyers are being disadvantaged. According to the motion, making homeownership more accessible for Sabans will have an immediate positive effect on the economy, the housing market, and as a way of wealth creation which will contribute to the eradication of poverty.
The motion was adopted with three votes in favor and zero against. In motivating his vote, Island Council Member Vito Charles spoke of the many frustrations that people have to deal with in the absence of proper banking services. “The problems are now worse than when we had two banks on the island. At least then you could get your banking business done and you could get a loan. Now you can’t do anything and that’s very unfortunate,” he said.
Both Charles and fellow Island Council Member Carl Buncamper said the motion had merit and therefore had their support. “The banking challenges are known to everyone on Saba, and the concerns and issues are mounting. It is high time that something happens in this area. Now is the time to get this momentum going,” said Buncamper.