The delegation of the Saba Island Council during the meetings in the Netherlands was able to point out the matters that are important to Saba, such as increasing the structural funding, establishing a social minimum, a better banking system, investments in education, social development, and infrastructure.
Island Council Members Esmeralda Johnson, Carl Buncamper, Vito Charles, Eviton Heyliger and Hemmie van Xanten, and Island Council Registrar Akilah Levenstone visited the Netherlands from June 24 to July 2 during which the delegation attended two training and had a number of meetings with various organizations and members of the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament.
It was a successful visit and the general conclusion was that overall, the support for Saba is growing. “It was a packed agenda, but it was definitely worth it. It is all about connecting, networking, and keeping up the relations. It is highly important for Saba to keep bringing up our issues and points of concern in the Netherlands,” said Van Xanten.
The direly needed improvements to the banking system on Saba, which is deemed insufficiently accessible and too expensive, was discussed in meetings with the Dutch Central Bank (DNB), the Second Chamber and the Council of State.
“Basically, we are all on the same page on this issue. As Island Council, we keep striving to achieve improved banking services, to increase accessibility of banking products for the Saba people. We need banking services and products that are up to standard. Everybody agrees that it needs to happen,” said Buncamper.
High on the agenda of the delegation was Saba’s dire financial situation due to the free allowance (“vrije uitkering”) which is too low to cover the operational, structural costs of the Public Entity Saba. “We explained the stress that is caused by the long delay to structurally increase the free allowance. We pointed out in all meetings that much depends on the long-overdue increase of the free allowance,” said Buncamper. “We want the matter of structural funding arranged, and we no longer accept reasons for delay,” said Van Xanten.
“The parties we met with were well informed about Saba’s position on the free allowance and the impact it has on government, its future planning, and the salaries of civil servants. With such broad understanding and support it is important that we see some movement on this point as soon as there is a new cabinet,” said Charles.
Another matter that has been long overdue is the implementation by the Dutch Government of a guaranteed minimum income so people can properly sustain themselves which helps to eradicate poverty, the so-called social minimum. The Island Council delegation once again stressed the need to secure this for once and for all.
“All noses are facing the same direction, but still it doesn’t get done. The current caretaker Dutch Government keeps saying it is up to the next government,” said Van Xanten. The same goes for the raising of the free allowance. “This is taking too long and the people are fed up. We have been stating the same for years. We are professional enough to run a business. Yet still we are treated as less. It is a colonial way of keeping control,” said Van Xanten.
Time to deliver
“We have lived up to every benchmark that has been set. But when it is time to deliver, The Hague throws up other issues or comes up with an excuse. We keep seeing the dot on the horizon being pushed back further. Rather than seeing the social minimum established in an acceptable timeframe, it seems that the willpower is lacking on a ministerial level to fix this,” said Buncamper.
“Not having a social minimum 10 years after the constitutional change is unacceptable and the parties that we met expressed this sentiment as well. While the economic impact of an increase is an important consideration, having people continue to live in poverty while doing nothing about it for so long is a real shame,” said Charles.
The delegation met with representatives of six different political parties that are represented in the Second Chamber. “They all expressed support for Saba and they gave us credit for the way we do things on Saba,” said Van Xanten. He noted that Saba was mentioned in a positive way during a meeting earlier this week of the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations with State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops.
“It was great to meet with the parliamentarians, especially with the new parties and the new members, as the formation process is ongoing. They heard directly from us what the issues are that are important to Saba. They are well-prepared and ready to get things done when there is a new government. Hopefully, this will mean good outcomes for the items on our agenda when that time comes,” said Charles.
The training of the Seven Senses Foundation on citizen participation and the leadership training of the Ontwikkelhuis were an important component of the delegation’s visit to the Netherlands. “The trainings were informative and we can use them to implement some changes,” said Buncamper.
The delegation had a meeting behind closed doors with the Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations. As WIPM party, the delegation also had individual meetings with members of said Committee, namely Jorien Wuite of the D66 party, Sylvana Simons of the BIJ1 party, Aukje de Vries of the VVD party, and Joba van den Berg of the CDA party. It was agreed to have regular follow-up meetings in a digital setting to keep the Second Chamber informed of matters that are important to Saba. The delegation traveled back to Saba on Friday, July 2.