The Saba Island Council travelled to Bonaire last week for a series of meetings and to attend Bonaire Day.
On Monday, September 4 and Tuesday, September 5, the Island Council met with representatives of the Tax/Customs Office, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (SZW) and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW). Also, on the program was a meeting with the Island Councils of Bonaire and St. Eustatius.
At the Tax /Customs Office, Island Council Members Vito Charles, Elsa Peterson, Saskia Matthew and Hemmie van Xanten, accompanied by Island Registrar Akilah Levenstone, were able to relay the concerns that Saba residents have with regard to the way that Customs provides customer services where people feel that they are not treated in a proper way. “We feel that as a public servant, one has to deal with people in the best way possible,” said Charles. This situation was recognized by the Tax Office/Customs and will be addressed.
Another issue with regard to Customs is the time that it takes to get refrigerated/frozen cargo out of the harbor when the boat comes in. The time it takes to clear incoming shipments has become longer and without proper cold storage facilities, the cold products rapidly deteriorate, which adversely affects businesses and consumers on Saba. “We made clear that this needs to be addressed in a different way, together with the different stakeholders,” said Charles.
The gasoline situation on Saba also came up at the meeting with Head of the Caribbean Netherlands Tax Office Claudia Toet and Customs Inspector Eddy Thielman on Monday. “We spoke about the previous gas situation on the island and how we can better communicate with each other and the community,” said Matthew. “We received an explanation of the system of excise tax and we stressed the urgency of the situation,” said Peterson. The wish of the Island Council to have more Sabans become Customs officers and the possible options to solve the language issue was discussed as well.
The meeting with Mischa Prinsenberg of the Ministry SZW on Monday mostly focused on work permits and the adjusting of the list of professions to make it easier to bring in people for certain jobs like nurses, explained Matthew. The importance of having sufficient outreach in the community by the SZW team to help vulnerable people was emphasized. The community outreach must be accessible and cater to the needs of individuals.
“We also brought up the concerns of the business sector about sick leave payment. The system is not totally clear. And, we explained that the SZW unit needs to meet more with employers and employees about their rights and obligations. People come to us when they are unclear about this,” said Charles.
The meeting with Nina den Heyer of the Ministry of OCW on Tuesday focused on the role and authority of the Public Entity Saba and the schoolboard, the school curriculum, increasing the number of agreements with universities in the region and teaching Dutch as a foreign language. “The Dutch language remains important for certain positions on the island, including the uniformed services, it is therefore imperative that we upscale the level of Dutch currently being taught on island,” stated Peterson, who said she was in favor of a higher level of Dutch being taught starting from a younger age. “Our language policy is cardinal, especially where it pertains to the Dutch language in education. We think this is very important and past students have expressed this as well,” said Mathew.
Matthew referred to the roles of the different stakeholders in education. “I think that everybody needs to know what role they play so we can serve the community better. Even though the law states that the Public Entity is solely responsible for the school buildings, transportation and school uniforms, it is important as an island to have an education vision,” she said.
Island Councils meet
The Island Councils of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba met in Bonaire last Tuesday. This meeting was a follow-up from the joint meeting that the Island Councils of Saba and St. Eustatius had in The Hague in June this year. Bonaire was unable to attend at that time for logistic reasons.
During the meeting in Bonaire last week, the Island Councils discussed the framework on how to collaborate on collective issues. “We talked about how we will engage with each other and how to deal with issues that we all face,” said Peterson. The Island Councils intend to meet regularly.
The three Island Councils made use of the opportunity to draft and send a joint letter to the Dutch Second Chamber on Monday about the proposed changes to two important laws that regulate governing in the Caribbean Netherlands, the WolBES and FinBES.
“We feel that as islands, we did not have enough input in the proposed law changes. We would like to see a set procedure how to address the islands’ concerns in these cases,” said Charles. The letter was drafted with unanimous support of all three Island Councils.
On Wednesday, the Saba Island Council and their colleagues of the other two Island Councils attended the Bonaire Day festivities. This year’s theme was ‘Together we form one community.’ Matthew said the visit to Bonaire was highly successful. Charles and Peterson shared that sentiment.