Monday 2 May
On Monday morning, the delegation traveled to Saba. The visit to Public Entity Saba (OLS) started immediately after arrival at the airport with a presentation by the Saba Electric Company SEC about Saba’s commitment to renewable energy. Currently, 30-40% of the electricity on Saba is sustainable (solar energy). The aim is to use 60% renewable energy by 2025, with the ultimate goal of 100%. In addition to solar energy, investments are also being made in wind energy. However, installing windmills at sea is a challenge, because the waters around Saba are already very deep near to the coast. The plans have already received a $1 million grant from the EU. At the moment, additional financing is still being worked on. Investments in sustainable energy supply have become even more urgent due to the outbreak of the war in Ukraine and the associated increases in the price of oil. It is expected that making the energy supply on Saba fully sustainable will result in a price reduction of 30% for consumers.
Afterward, the delegation met with the Governor, Mr. Johnson, the Executive Council, and the Island Secretary. An exchange of views was held on several challenges that Saba faces, such as in the field of health care, as well as due to the aftermath of the COVID pandemic and the financing needs of the Public Entity Saba (special vs. structural benefits).
The delegation then spoke with the Island Council of Saba. To kick off this conversation, Island Councillor Esmeralda Johnson gave an inspiring speech, in which she reflected on her work in the Island Council, the challenges Saba faces, and why she will not stand for re-election. In the ensuing discussion, an exchange of views was held on the trust of citizens in democracy and (local) politics, and access to a number of basic services such as banks, notaries, and postal services. With both the Executive Council and the Island Council, the delegation discussed the possibilities for improvement in inter-island cooperation, both between the special municipalities themselves and between Saba and the countries Aruba, Curacao, and — in particular — Sint Maarten.
Subsequently, employees of the OLS gave several presentations on important themes and projects that the OLS is working on. The delegation was impressed by the professionalism, expertise and commitment of these local officials. First we talked about the social domain. There is an increase in the number of people on Saba with an income that is insufficient to meet the cost of living. This leads, among other things, to an increased need for social housing. The OLS provides social assistance for these people as much as possible, for example in the field of financial housekeeping, education and healthy food. Saba is at the forefront of new initiatives and projects in this area compared to many other Caribbean islands.
In the field of healthy food, the social domain works together with the department for public health and sports. The commitment of this department is an integrated approach to public health, in which we work together with healthcare providers, schools and partners in the social domain, with the aim of creating a living environment on Saba that promotes a healthy lifestyle. Various projects were discussed, for example, the commitment to sexual health and rights, mother and child care and the promotion of sport and exercise on Saba. While the COVID pandemic has impacted ongoing projects, it has also created momentum in the areas of health and care that the OLS seeks to make the most of.
The third presentation concerned the economic development of the island. An important project that is currently being worked on is the construction of a new, second harbor, Black Rocks Harbour. The aim is that the old port, Fort Bay, will eventually only be used for freight transport and that all other traffic will pass through the new port. At the moment, there are three possible options for the design of the new port on the table, depending on the available funding. Later in the afternoon, the delegation visited the location of the new port.
The new port will also offer new opportunities for the tourism sector, for example, new space for pleasure craft. Tourism is one of the most important pillars of the Saban economy. 55 companies on Saba are directly dependent on tourism. However, the accessibility of Saba for tourists poses major challenges. WinAir is the only airline that flies to Saba and tickets are becoming more and more expensive. The accessibility via the ferry service is also limited at the moment. A Tourism Master Plan is currently being developed in collaboration with the University of Central Florida. This report is expected in August 2022. Sustainability and ecotourism are an important part of this.
In addition to tourism, medical school and fishing are the main sources of income for Saba. The OLS strives for a robust and sustainable economy, which is less dependent on imports and more self-sufficient. Important challenges here are the very limited banking and notarial services, the lack of connectivity, and the high costs of operating on a small island.
Finally, a presentation was given by the departments that deal with education and childcare. The delegation was informed about the plans for a new school complex, where the schools on Saba will be clustered with things like after-school care and childcare. On a small, volcanic island like Saba, this brings challenges in terms of available land, as well as high construction costs. The aim is to make the best possible use of the available land and resources, but the financial resources, in particular, are not sufficient at the moment. A success story for the OLS is the BES(t)4KIDS program, carried out in collaboration with the Ministries of Social Affairs and Employment, VWS, OCW, and BZK and with Bonaire and St Eustatius. Within this program, major improvements have been made to childcare on Saba. A new area in which the OLS is committed is cultural policy and education. This is still in its infancy. Cultural and cultural-historical education are important points of attention.
Before the delegation proceeded to physically visit several projects, an informal meeting took place with the population, representatives of the business community, and civil society organizations. They talked to the delegation about what is going on on the island and about their (personal) wishes and concerns.
After this, the delegation visited the location for the new port of Saba (Black Rocks Harbour), where Deputy Zagers, together with responsible officials, explained the work and plans in more detail. Afterward, the delegation visited the location of the new Marine Research Station, where the Saba Conservation Foundation collaborates with, among others, the Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences in Leeuwarden and Rutgers University in the United States. The new lab, which is currently being built, offers more extensive opportunities for research into the conservation and restoration of coral reefs, off the Saban coast and elsewhere in the world. The delegation also visited the location where work is being done on the breeding and restocking of sea urchins, animals that are essential for the welfare of the coral.
Finally, the delegation visited the showroom of the hydroponic cultivation company on the island. Hydroponics is a form of hydroponics, a method of growing leafy vegetables without soil or substrate, by dissolving mineral nutrients in the water. It requires less space than open-field cultivation and is water-efficient. The aim of this farm is to eventually be able to meet a large part of the need for fresh vegetables on the island, which can significantly reduce costs as fewer imports will be necessary. Greater vegetable consumption is also expected to make a positive contribution to Saban public health. The cultivation company started in July 2021, partly thanks to funding from the Ministry of LNV. The local expert seeks cooperation with institutions in the Netherlands, including Wageningen University & Research (WUR), and regularly receives interns. The intention is to develop a larger hurricane-resistant greenhouse in the next phase.