Members of the Island Council, during a meeting on Thursday, October 13th, to handle two amendments to the 2022 budget, brought up the issue of the rising cost of living, the effects of high prices on the people, and the mitigating measures of government.
All three Councilmen present, Hemmie van Xanten, Vito Charles, and Carl Buncamper, used the opportunity to motivate their vote. Van Xanten, the first to speak, mentioned several outside factors that had a big, adverse impact on Saba’s economy and the price level. He referred to the 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine war, and the worldwide rise of food and energy prices. “These are crises that we had no influence on. Yet we were severely impacted by them,” he said.
Van Xanten said that even though everyone wanted progress for Saba and prosperity for all, things were very hard for a large group of people. “Saba over the years has substantially increased the minimum wage, and it is now the highest in the region, but it does not cover the increased cost of living.” He pointed out the reality for many: having to ask for a credit to buy food towards the end of the month, having to put groceries back on the shelf because they cost too much, having to leave the car at home because there was no money for gas, and not being able to go on a family vacation.
“We all share the same concerns, whether in the opposition or not,” said Councilman Charles. He said that people needed an adequate salary or social allowance to cover their costs and that steps were taken to raise these. Yet, the fact is that many people have problems paying the bills; they can’t afford proper housing or build a house.
“Change does not happen overnight,” said Charles. “When we became a public entity in 2010, nobody knew we would get Hurricane Irma or the pandemic. But we weathered the storms with the assistance of the Dutch government and the local government. It is important to recognize that if we still had been part of the Netherlands Antilles, it would have been a different story. I am not saying that all is right, and we must continue to work for progress and work for this island. For that, we need critical thinkers,” said Charles.
On a track
Councilman Buncamper said the Saba government, with assistance from The Hague, had made true strides for the most vulnerable groups. “It is a process; we are on a track, and it takes time. We have seen improvements in certain areas, and there is room for progress in other areas.”
People’s buying power has been decreasing for several reasons and because of multiple developments, said Buncamper, who pointed out that the government was taking steps for everyone to have a livable wage. “Is it going at a pace that we want? No, but we are trying to expedite things. We know that people are hurting. This government will keep working on making things better,” he said.
The first and second amendments to the 2022 budget were approved with three votes in favor. The budget amendments concerned minor changes due to special purpose grants and received positive advice from the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT.