The Island Council decided during its meeting on Thursday, November 7, to give off a clear signal to the outside world that the fragile financial situation of the Public Entity Saba caused by the continued lack of structural funding by the Dutch Government is unacceptable. The Island Council Members walked out of the meeting after delivering their highly critical remarks.
On the agenda of Thursday’s Island Council meeting was the 2020-2023 multi-annual budget. However, before Finance Commissioner Bruce Zagers would have taken the floor to give a presentation, the word was given to the Island Council.
Councilman Hemmie van Xanten, being the first to speak, explained that the incidental funds that the Public Entity Saba receives from the Netherlands instead of structural funds creates a situation of insecurity and inconsistency in the budget. He said that the Saba Government has been able to provide a four-year budget by “juggling around,” but that the essential issue remained the insecurity caused by the incidental funds.
The Public Entity Saba has been receiving an unqualified opinion from the auditors for its sound yearly financial statements. Even though the Saba Government meets the criteria of financial management, it has been unable to find the funds to raise the civil service salaries due to a lack of structural finances, said Van Xanten.
“It is difficult for government to explain its workers that there are no finances to pay a 13th month, while personnel of the National Government Service Caribbean Netherlands RCN are receiving a 13th month. This huge discrepancy between federal and local civil servants shows a clear discrimination and injustice. This difference cannot be accepted and requires drastic attention from the highest authorities in the Netherlands,” said Van Xanten.
The second speaker, Councilman Eviton Heyliger, used most of his time to pose a number of questions to the Executive Council in relation to infrastructure, agriculture, waste management, electricity prices and the outsourcing of government work, but he did address the critical finances and the skeleton budget.
“It is said that this budget is so tight that not even a sugar ant can get through it. The Island Council had no input in this budget and our wishes are not included. This is due to a budget that has reached its climax and does not allow room for anything additional. It is very sad when your government becomes a no vacancy body,” said Heyliger.
The next speaker, Councilman Vito Charles, made it loud and clear that it was time for the Netherlands to do right for the Saba people. “Despite all the accolades throughout the Kingdom for our sound financial management, we can’t even give our people a 13th month. The RCN, the Public Entity Bonaire, the Public Entity St. Eustatius will all be paying a 13th month.”
Charles wondered whether the lack of issuing structural funds to Saba was the “more for more” strategy that the new Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops was referring to when he praised Saba for its hard work and solid financial management. “It is a mere pittance.” He said that the 13th month for the civil servants was not a privilege, but that it was something that had been negotiated.
“We are part of the Netherlands, but there are great discrepancies. It is time for this discrimination to end. The Dutch Constitution should not only benefit the people in the Netherlands. We have done right. Now it is time for the Netherlands to do right for the Sabans. Sometimes you have to push back,” said Charles.
Councilman Carl Buncamper as the last speaker said that the Island Council today was setting a tone through the action it was about to take by walking out of the meeting. “This is not reflective of our executive branch, not our institution, but rather a serious call to the national government to secure a fairer and more justified approach.”
Buncamper noted that the 2020-2023 budget once again proved that even though Saba again managed to draft a balanced budget on paper, the financial situation was rather precarious. “Our budget is covered by more than 50 percent with incidental funds. This is not a picture that shouts financial sustainability. Basically, we have a well-running machine that lacks fuel to run it optimally.”
According to Buncamper, the Public Entity Saba We doesn’t have the funds to properly execute its tasks. “We have very little wiggle room in the budget with regards to our policy. Building reserves is almost non-existent and our liquidity position further deteriorates. All because of the tough stand taken by the ministries based on their interpretation and experiences with the free remittance.”
Buncamper said enough was enough. “It is the highest time to sound the alarm, even louder, clearer and more drastically than ever before, especially in The Hague. We have reached a critical junction where we cannot continue to accept the situation.” All four present Councilmen subsequently walked out of the meeting, leaving Chairman Island Governor Jonathan Johnson no other option than to adjourn the meeting.