The Saba Island Council is experiencing its current working visit to the Netherlands as very positive. The meetings are going well and there is more understanding of Saba’s issues.
The five Island Council members last week had a full, mixed program with meetings of different kinds, focusing on various topics such as the slavery past, racism, discrimination and the effects thereof, diversity and inclusion, economic development, healthcare, connectivity, capacity building, strengthening the Island Council, legislation and cooperation.
Meetings took place with the Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sport and the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations. Cardinal healthcare issues were discussed such as the medical referral system, medical transportation and the complaints procedure. The Island Council also enlightened the Second Chamber about matters such as the importance of establishing a social minimum, investing in connectivity and addressing the banking system and the high cost of living.
Room for improvement
Island Council Member Vito Charles said that while some things had gotten better, there was still room for improvement, and the need remained to address the issues in the interest of the Saba people. One of these issues is connectivity, which people complain about, especially because of the high airfare prices. The Netherlands has been looking at a Public Service Obligation (PSO) for public transport between Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten.
“This is a very important matter for Saba which depends on St. Maarten for central services. It was good to hear that the Netherlands is far along in its research to establish a PSO. It was good to receive an update and to see that it is a priority in the agenda of The Hague,” said Island Council Member Elsa Peterson.
The Island Council Members felt an increased comprehension in The Hague. “A shift is happening. There is more consideration for Saba and its development in a positive way. They increasingly see us as equal partners. In the past when we had a meeting, they would mostly forget you after we walked out the door. We now feel that our story is more heard and that we are more accepted,” said Island Council Member Hemmie van Xanten.
“There is definitely more consideration in the meetings overall. Being new to the Island Council, I feel well-received here. People want to hear what you have to say and to discuss how we can solve things together,” said Island Council Member Saskia Matthew.
“It is good to see that over the years, the dynamics have shifted and that there is more attention for the islands. But we should not get complacent. We need to continue to work together and make sure that we are on their minds in The Hague. The islands are not always the first that come to mind and we should keep working on that. Don’t take it for granted,” said Vito Charles.
The working visits to the Netherlands serve an important purpose, the Island Council Members said. “Establish and maintain relations in a positive, respectful manner,” said Hemmie van Xanten. “In the Netherlands there are 300 plus municipalities which are close by, but we are far away, so it is important to be here,” said Charles.
“In making informal agreements and maintaining contacts, we keep working in the interest of our people and getting things done for Saba,” said Matthew. The Island Council has a role to play in this as well. “When we ask the Netherlands to remain consistent, we also need to keep consistent, and that is to work for Saba and its people,” said Elsa Peterson.
In a meeting at the Ministry of Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relations (BZK), the Island Council was informed about the procedure to change main legislation that regulates many governing aspects of the Caribbean Netherlands, namely the WolBES and the FinBES. It is important that Saba has sufficient input in this procedure, said Charles. “These are two very important laws for Saba and we need to make sure that there is enough time and opportunity for our input,” said Charles.
Meeting with Statia
Seeing that both the Saba and St. Eustatius Island Council were in the Netherlands, it was decided to have a meeting at the headquarters of the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG) in The Hague. The Bonaire Island Council was unable to attend due to other obligations.
The Saba and Statia Island Council talked about creating a structure to collaborate on issues of mutual interest in the benefit of the people of the two islands. Saba and St. Eustatius share a number of highly relevant mutual issues such as connectivity, healthcare, poverty alleviation and several other challenges that come with being a small island.
The Saba Island Council continues its visit this week. The program includes attending the VNG Annual Conference in Groningen, visiting the Frisian Island Schiermonnikoog, as well as the Friesland Provincial House in Leeuwarden and the Gelderland Provincial House in Arnhem. The Island Council returns to Saba on June 18.