On Thursday, March 31st, the Saba delegation wrapped up a successful working visit to the Netherlands which included talks with members of the Dutch Government, Members of Parliament and meetings with the ministries in The Hague.
On the agenda of the different meetings were topics such as the free allowance, poverty alleviation, the high cost of living/doing business, the banking challenges, the harbor project, waste management, water management, connectivity, school buildings, housing, energy and telecommunication.
The 30 million euros envelope, allocated for the three Caribbean Netherlands islands, including Saba, in the coalition agreement of the Dutch Government was a much-discussed topic. The envelope, which contains funding for the increase of the free allowance and poverty alleviation, came up in the meetings that the Saba delegations had with the ministries as well as in the talks with the Ministers and Members of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament.
Commissioner Bruce Zagers said that the talks with the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations (BZK) with regard to the division of the 30 million euros envelope were still ongoing. He stated that he was optimistic that the outcome for Saba would result in an improvement of the free allowance. Zagers explained that no definite decision was taken since the discussions were still ongoing between the ministries on this matter.
“It is premature to say what the outcome will be, but we left The Hague with an optimistic feeling that something will be done to raise the free allowance to better enable the Public Entity Saba to carry out its tasks,” said Zagers.
Clarity on the division of the 30 million euros envelope will be provided in the Spring Memorandum (“Voorjaarsnota”) of the Dutch Government in a couple of weeks. Other budgets are also available for nature and climate change related projects in the Caribbean Netherlands. “Because of the coalition agreement, there is renewed energy for the islands. It was positive to see that all ministries are again eager to contribute to investing in the islands,” said Zagers.
The proposal to establish a high-level task force, a topic which was discussed on Saba with State Secretary of Kingdom Affairs and Digitization Alexandra van Huffelen during her visit to the island in February this year, was a recurring topic during the meetings with the ministries. This top-level team of high-ranking civil servants, which would supervise a working group, would focus on longtime, cardinal issues such as banking and notarial services, the cost of doing business, double taxation and access to mortgages.
Zagers said that these challenges have been discussed since the transition and there has been little urgency from the National Government to find appropriate solutions for these long overdue issues that are adversely affecting the islands. Establishing a high-level task force which has a mandate to focus on the critical banking issues, the cost and complexity of doing business and the lacking notarial services is paramount, he noted.
Other matters that were specifically discussed with the Ministry of BZK included the Saba Package 2.0 which will outline the ambitions of the Saba Government and the National Government for the coming years. The BZK Ministry is coordinating this agreement on behalf of the National Government, which will include the planned initiatives and funding sources from all other relevant ministries that are active on Saba. The delegation took part in several meetings with departments in the social and educational domain about shared ambitions and the need for structural funding in order to execute tasks and projects.
The Saba delegation consisted of Commissioner Bruce Zagers, Island Secretary Tim Muller, Head of the Finance Department of the Public Entity Saba Maureen Hassell, and policy advisors Nicole Johnson and Zelda Meeuwsen.