Saba Commissioner Bruce Zagers looks back at a very successful visit to the Netherlands. During the two weeks, Zagers and his small delegation, were able to table Saba’s issues and concerns at the various ministries in The Hague. “There is comprehension for Saba’s issues. It is a new, positive environment with this Dutch Government.
“It was a hectic two weeks, but positive in every aspect. We were very well received. There were many compliments for Saba and the way we are doing things on our island,” Zagers told The Daily Herald in an interview on Friday, shortly before heading back to Saba.
The meeting with State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops was productive and took place in a positive atmosphere. “The State Secretary is very motivated to carry out his coordinating role for the Caribbean Netherlands. He has the right approach and he certainly is more positive about doing something about a major issue like poverty,” said Zagers.
The Commissioner said he was content to learn that finally something seemed to have changed in the attitude of the Dutch Government. “We are at a point of no return. Nothing was done with the evaluation report of the Spies Committee. Finally, now we have the social minimum study that is coming out soon.”
Zagers said, “All eyes” were on the social minimum report and the action that the Dutch Government would take as a result. “We are at an important cross roads.” The Commissioner specifically mentioned the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament which he said had been “very much on top” of the social minimum issue, demanding that a study be carried out and the living conditions of the islands’ residents improve.
In the opinion of the Saba Government, the Dutch ministries should reserve funds for projects to combat poverty before the social minimum study is finalised and not after. “The ministries should not wait until the results are officially announced, but they should act now in order to be able to achieve results before 2019, in time for the Spring Memorandum (voorjaarsnota),” Zagers said.
The Saba delegation emphasized that an integral approach was necessary to eradicate poverty to revitalise the economy. Measures that were mentioned, included: the lowering of the cost of electricity and telecom, the reduction of the employer premiums, increasing the minimum wage, as well as the social benefits for people receiving social security “onderstand”, elderly pension AOV and disability allowances. Lower transport prices via air and sea would also aid in revitalising the economy and lowering the cost of living.
Saba wants to assume more tasks and responsibilities in the execution of local policies. The Dutch Government has responded positively to this call. But words and nice promises are not enough, said Zagers. “The more for more motto makes for nice talk, but we need to see it happen. Words are not enough.”
The Saba Government wants to see a shared responsibility for the processing of work permits. Decisions regarding work permits would be made on Saba under the supervision of the back office in Bonaire. “We need a more proactive system of dealing with work permits that is less time-consuming and caters to Saba’s economic development,” said Zagers.
Saba also wants a shared responsibility for the offices of the Social Affairs and Labour Department and the Social Department of the Saba Government. This would enhance the one-stop shop principle and benefit those persons that need social services.
While in the Netherlands, Zagers and his delegation managed to secure direct access of the Saba Government to the Caribbean Netherlands Steering Group through the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK. Having direct access to this important steering group will enhance Saba’s chances at getting things done in a way that benefits the island and its people.
“Agenda points and priorities about Saba should be made with Saba,” said Zagers, who mentioned as priorities: poverty alleviation, more structural funding, lowering the cost of living and cost of doing business, the division of tasks, creating a hurricane reserve, support for the execution of incidental projects carried out under the Regional Envelope, a better functioning of Caribbean Netherlands Police Force KPCN and supporting departments.
The Daily Herald.