The Island Council had a Central Committee meeting on Tuesday, October 11 to handle two amendments to the 2022 budget and the 2021 annual report. Various topics were discussed, ranging from agriculture and energy to banking services and the different projects that are in execution.
At the start of the meeting, chaired by Councilman Carl Buncamper, Commissioner of Finance Bruce Zagers explained that the two budget amendments were necessary due to the special purpose grants that the Public Entity Saba received from the Dutch Government to carry out various projects and initiatives. The budget amendments and annual report will be handled in a public meeting of the Island Council on Thursday, October 13.
Commissioner of Social Affairs, Housing, Agriculture and Sport Rolando Wilson gave an update on some of the developments in his portfolio. He explained that work continued on the new units A, B and C at the Under the Hill housing project with the interior and exterior finishing taking place, and the main road and access road being constructed.
However, it has proven unfeasible to make the December 2022 deadline for the housing project. Once completed around March next year, 18 families will be able to move into the new homes. The housing foundation OYOHF, together with the social workers are selecting the occupants for the units.
Wilson announced a solution for the rainwater drainage at the Johan Cruyff Court. During this year’s renovation, the surface was sloped in two directions to guide the rainwater toward the gate. However, this method proved insufficient with heavy rainfall, causing people’s property down below to get flooded. To solve the problem, the wall between the private property and the sports field will be heightened and pipes will be installed to take the rainwater onto the parking lot of the Carmen Simmons Cultural Center next door.
As for the hydroponics farm, Wilson explained that besides growing leafy greens in the showroom, Gezondheid Farms started to grow seedlings of various fruits and vegetables, including cucumbers, watermelons, tomatoes and strawberries. The retaining wall under the first small greenhouse was completed, and the floors of both greenhouses were cleared of vegetation. The concrete ramp leading up to the small greenhouse was poured. Also, the concrete foundations for the small greenhouse are being built.
Commissioner Zagers provided some information about the Saba Package 2.0 which was signed in June this year, the four themes and 10 ambitions, and the pending increase of the free allowance for Saba. Zagers mentioned the good relations and mutual trust between the government of Saba and the Netherlands and gave a short update on his recent talks with the ministries in The Hague and the establishment of the Task Force.
Councilman Hemmie van Xanten asked for an update on the reconstruction project at the Sacred Heart Primary School. Commissioner Zagers said that reconstruction works were progressing, but that the target date of March next year might not be met due to some challenges with the foundation of the building, but that the project would be ready for the 2023-2024 academic year.
Van Xanten further enquired about a customer satisfaction survey of the products from the hydroponics farm. “We need to know what the Saba people want to see produced by this farm. The hydroponics farm is there and it needs to be successful.” He said that the affordability of the products from the farm versus the imported products was still an issue.
Councilman Vito Charles looked at agriculture and food security from a broader point of view. He asked what the priority was in agriculture from the perspective of what kinds of food should be locally produced to feed the people in terms of food security and health.
Commissioner Zagers said that even though the hydroponics project did not have a good start, it was important to give it time as he was convinced that the farm can contribute to making sure that fresh produce is always available. “I believe that our people have a right to fresh lettuce and tomatoes not only on a Wednesday when the boat comes in, but every day.”
Zagers said that when a natural disaster happened in Florida, like the last hurricane, it showed how dependent Saba is on food supplies from abroad. “The hydroponics farm can help to bridge that gap. It won’t solve all food security issues, but it is a way for us to become more self-reliant. I am sure that the hydroponics farm will be a success, just like Saba Splash, a high-quality product that people had to get used to.”
Councilman Charles said it was good to see that the banking situation would be addressed with the establishment of the Task Force. He mentioned that there is technology available to pay by card, phone or watch, which is not used on Saba. He said that this technology would help to improve banking services on Saba.
Both Councilman Charles and Van Xanten brought up the reports of the school gym being left dirty and even damaged by outside persons renting the facility. Charles said it was important to instill in people that they leave the place clean or even cleaner than how they found it. He said sports facilities needed to be used properly and respected. Commissioner Wilson agreed and also urged people to keep the sports facilities clean and not to damage them.