Saba forced to submit skeleton budget again

The public entity Saba this week was forced again to submit a skeleton budget to the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT due to the lack of structural funding to cover the local government’s operational cost.

Because the free allowance (“vrije uitkering”) has not been substantially adapted to the current situation, Saba for the second time in a row was faced with a skeleton budget, but because the financial law FinBES prescribes a balanced budget, the draft budget was made balanced by covering the deficit with the general reserve.

According to Finance Com­missioner Bruce Zagers, this will further weaken the liquid­ity position and will put an immense strain on the govern­ment’s ability to function in a responsible manner.

“For several years the finan­cial problems that the public entity Saba faces are known. This has been confirmed by the CFT, by the auditor Ernst and Young and in various oth­er reports. The unfavourable liquidity position of the Saba government is also widely known and has been docu­mented in various reports,” said Zagers.

The Island and Executive Councils have indicated mul­tiple times that with the level of the current free allowance, the Saba government cannot properly execute its legal tasks that were agreed on with the Dutch government in the past. In due time, this means certain tasks will no longer be able to be executed. According to the Saba government, it is impos­sible to continue executing at an acceptable level, tasks that have been intensified over the years.

“Incidental funds for projects that have structural cost have negatively impacted the finan­cial position of government and the budget. Because of this, many of these initiatives are now at risk and may need to be stopped,” said Zagers.

Over the years, with less ca­pacity and resources, Saba has done “everything required” to maintain a high standard of financial management. How­ever, the public entity can no longer function in this man­ner, said Zagers.

“There is nothing left to cut in the budget. Some depart­ments have seen their staff cut back. This comes at the cost of the quality of the output be­ing produced. Maintenance of buildings and roads is now being neglected because of the lack of funding.”

Neglect of tasks

The Island and Executive Councils believe this situation cannot continue. The neglect­ing of tasks is a real threat due to the lack of structural fund­ing from The Hague. Saba and the Netherlands always work together constructively, but an urgently needed solution to this matter has yet to materi­alise, Zagers said.

As a representative of the public entity Saba, he has be­come “increasingly frustrated” with watching the National Department Caribbean Neth­erlands RCN function with­out any financial limitations. “Whether it be with an exor­bitant number of employees, or through their investments, the local government can only watch as it struggles to keep services operational,” he said. Zagers was also critical of the disparity between salaries for equal positions, which, in his opinion, proves that a superior government, one which has re­placed that of the former cen­tral government of the Neth­erlands Antilles, exists in the Caribbean part of the Dutch Kingdom.

“Although the Executive and Island Councils feel it necessary to pay a liveable wage and provide employment op­portunities with benefits equal to those offered by RCN, the local government is not in a financial position to do so. There is no way that the need­ed structural increases for salaries will be possible under the current poor financial situ­ation,” he said.

Zagers said Saba is “certainly grateful” for the assistance by the Dutch government over the years and for the funding that is still in the pipeline. “In­vestments in a new harbour, amongst many other projects, cannot be overlooked and show the commitment of the Netherlands.”

Furthermore, investments were made in education and healthcare, but, added Zag­ers, the local government, for example, is not in a position to carry out modest maintenance to school buildings, and the investments that were made in waste management are result­ing in structural cost that is far greater with the majority of recycled waste being exported.

‘Political will’

“We hope that with the for­mation of a new Dutch gov­ernment, there will be the nec­essary political will to make these changes. Eleven years after the constitutional transi­tion we should not continue to be in such a position.

“Saba has proven to be a trustworthy partner. We have proven to do what has been re­quired with less resources and less capacity. And although we appreciate all the incidental money that has gone towards improving Saba, it has come to a point where we feel that the structural needs are being neglected by the national gov­ernment,” he said.

The points that Saba wants to see urgently addressed include investments in social develop­ment and poverty eradication, investments in economic devel­opment and an increase of the free allowance which will benefit good governance and capacity.

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