A delegation of the Saba Island Council paid a working visit to Bonaire earlier this month. The official four-day program included meetings with members of the Bonaire Island Council, Bonaire’s Island Governor Edison Rijna, Commissioner Nina den Heyer, the national parks foundation STINAPA, the Health Insurance Office ZVK, the Immigration and Naturalization Department IND and BES(t)4Kids, as well as the Bonaire Day celebration.
The Saba delegation consisted of Island Council Members Vito Charles and Esmeralda Johnson, and Island Registrar Akilah Levenstone. Other Members of the Island Council were unable to travel to Bonaire due to other commitments. The delegation traveled to Bonaire on Wednesday, September 1 and returned to Saba on Wednesday, September 8. This was the first time in two years that a delegation of the Saba Island Council visited Bonaire. Last year’s visit didn’t go ahead due to the pandemic.
The delegation had important meetings with three members of the Bonaire Island Council: Esther Bernabela, Elvis Tjin Asjoe and Désirée Coffie. Discussed were, among other things, the cooperation between the Caribbean Netherlands islands, poverty, the social minimum, connectivity between the islands, the free allowance and the cost of living.
The Saba delegation expressed support for the motion that the Bonaire Island Council adopted in early September 2021 with regard to the needed establishing of the social minimum and the association measures to combat poverty. According to Council Member Charles, the motion showed that it is important to work together as islands in order to send a stronger message to The Hague.
Working closely with the other two Island Councils, in general, is important. “Our visit to Bonaire and the meeting with the Island Council Members there showed that it is important to meet with our counterparts to discuss developments for we face similar challenges and issues,” said Charles.
For example, in the area of connectivity, residents from both Saba and Bonaire have to pay high ticket prices for flights to neighboring islands. The cost of living is high in all three Caribbean Netherlands islands. Ideas about how to lower this cost were discussed.
The meeting with Bonaire Commissioner Den Heyer was very good, said Charles. “She has always had good relations with Saba. She again expressed support for cooperation. It was good to see that she and the Island Council share the same views.”
While on Bonaire, the Saba Island Council Members brought up the idea to have a meeting with the Island Councils of Bonaire and St. Eustatius later this year. Ideally, also participating would be the Executive Councils of Bonaire and Saba, and the St. Eustatius Government Commissioners. “We want to have some type of conference with the Island Councils and the Executive Councils where we could discuss the areas of cooperation that we can work towards together,” said Council Member Johnson.
Johnson said that they were very well-received. “Everyone was very welcoming and enthusiastic to exchange views. They were eager to hear about the issues that we face on Saba and positive about trying to achieve things together as the Caribbean Netherlands. Our visit confirmed that cooperation is very much needed. We have to work together, despite the physical distance,” said Johnson.
The issues that Sabans face in their dealings with the ZVK, and in particular the medical referrals were discussed with the new ZVK Director Curvin George and his team. The length of time that it takes to get appointments with medical specialists was talked about, but also the importance of streamlining the referral process. “It is a cumbersome process. Medical referrals on Saba are mainly to St. Maarten where the specialists are. Yet, the ZVK treats these referrals as abroad referrals. These referrals should be easier because the current process hampers Saba patients from getting swift medical care,” said Charles.
In the meeting with IND Director Ingrid Sealy and her team, the Saba delegation was given a presentation. Discussed were the issuing of work and residency permits, a process that is too slow in the opinion of the government, many residents and entrepreneurs on Saba. Also talked about was the issuing of priority permits. The Saba business sector and the different foundations still have problems with getting these permits expedited. The delegation was informed that a structural solution was being looked at.
The goat culling project was discussed with representatives of STINAPA. “It was interesting for us to hear how this project is being executed on Bonaire, how they deal with the challenges and what kind of solutions they have come up with. We talked about the involvement of stakeholders and making them part of the discussions at all times,” said Charles.
The meeting with BES(t)4Kids team and the presentation were very interesting, said Johnson. The focal point of this meeting was the childcare pilot program for children with special needs. “We discussed what the program looks like and they cater to this target group on Bonaire,” said Charles. Johnson said it would be good to see if this program could also be implemented on Saba.
During a courtesy visit to Island Governor Rijna, the current developments on both islands were discussed. The Saba delegation on Monday, September 6 attended the Bonaire Day celebrations in Kralendijk. Saba Island Registrar Levenstone had a separate meeting with Bonaire’s Island Registrar Shuzelle Pieter to discuss matters of common interest and increased cooperation between the Island Councils.
Charles and Johnson were very positive about their visit to Bonaire. “This visit after such a long time was very important to reestablish contact without counterparts on Bonaire. With the formation of a new Dutch Government ongoing, it is critical for the islands to speak with one voice to address our issues in The Hague. I am happy that Bonaire shared this opinion, and I look forward to the follow-up meeting with Bonaire and St. Eustatius,” said Charles.