THE HAGUE/SABA:--- The visit of the Saba Island Council to the Netherlands was generally perceived by the delegation members as very positive and conducive to the relations with the Netherlands, especially in terms of bringing forward Saba’s issues and discussing solutions in the interest of the people.
On Friday, July 1, the Island Council closed off its yearly working visit to the Netherlands. The delegation, consisting of Chairman Jonathan Johnson, Island Council Members Carl Buncamper, Vito Charles, Eviton Heyliger, Esmeralda Johnson, and Hemmie van Xanten and Island Registrar Akilah Levenstone, had a busy schedule with many meetings and location visits.
“During these visits, we can highlight our issues, explain why we need solutions and how to go about that. It is a yearly opportunity to express our concerns and to discuss solutions,” said Esmeralda Johnson. “The main goal of our travels to the Netherlands is to continue to raise awareness for the Saba issues. The physical distance between Saba and the Netherlands is big and we are not always on the mind of The Hague. When we are here, we can address our issues. Often after our visit, we see increased attention and solutions,” said Vito Charles.
“It is absolutely important to be here for the connections, the networking, and to build a relation of trust. By being here and discussing Saba’s issues, we can help remove obstacles before decisions are taken. For years, Saba has been speaking with one voice, jointly bringing forward the issues that are important for Saba. That contributes to the good relations with The Hague,” said Hemmie van Xanten.
“It is always important to make your presence known. Let your counterparts know that you are working on behalf of your constituency and to make their voices be heard. The visits open doors. Over the years we see that they are more open to listen to us. This is especially important in the relations with the Dutch Parliament,” said Eviton Heyliger.
“The visits of Dutch delegations to Saba are important but equally important are our visits as Island Council to the Netherlands. These visits definitely have an added value and lead to a better understanding of how things work, contribute to more comprehension of each other’s positions, and teach us how to prepare for talks,” said Carl Buncamper.
“In general, we talked a lot about the basic services that Saba should have. Having these services in place is difficult because of our small size and secluded location. It is important to seek attention for these issues because our citizens should not have to suffer for that,” said Johnson.
The delegation’s visit was based on several pillars, explained Buncamper: healthcare, representation in The Hague, changes to the WolBES and FinBES laws, developing of people with a distance to the labor market, housing, and the banking/notary issue. The lack of notary services has been a constant source of concern and has been pointed out by the Island Council time upon time. “I find it is taking too long to get us a notary. It needs to be addressed badly, not from today, but yesterday. People have died without having their last will notarized,” said Heyliger.
The delegation visited Bazalt Wonen, the housing cooperation that is already active on Saba, to talk about the Housing Vision. The Island Council wants the people to have better access to affordable housing and, rental and social housing.
“It is extremely hard to build, buy a house on Saba, and it is getting more and more expensive. We have a shortage of affordable housing due to the very expensive mortgages, and there is a lack of affordable social and rental housing. We need to see this addressed. There is a role for the Dutch Government and the Public Entity Saba to solve this,” said Charles. The Housing Vision can help to pinpoint the problems and solutions and indicate the roles of the national and local government.
“The 18 social housing units that become available hopefully at the end of the year won’t solve the shortage, because we have about 70 families on the waiting list,” said Heyliger. He said it was also important for people to be able to build their own homes. “We talked about how we can solve that, for example with soft loans, and assistance of the Netherlands with the construction of the home’s foundation and cistern,” said Heyliger.
At the Authority Consumer and Market ACM, the delegation talked about the rising energy prices, in particular the large increase in the electricity bill, and how to reduce these costs. “We talked about ways to bring down the cost for example by introducing more solar power,” said Van Xanten. “We are very concerned about the rising fuel prices, and we believe there should be a structural solution for this. We need this addressed in the short term,” said Charles. He said he was in favor of a system with a certain range for electricity prices with a high and low threshold, in combination with subsidies.
The delegation spent two days in Hoorn where the members attended the Year Congress of the Association of Dutch Municipalities VNG. The VNG can also help to be Saba’s voice in The Hague and in the relations with other municipalities, said Buncamper. “The VNG will lobby more for us, and that will surely be beneficial for us because the VNG lobby is very powerful,” said Johnson. She said at the VNG congress, the delegation learned a lot about services and programs on a municipal level.
Attending the VNG congress is not only good for networking, but it also allowed the delegation to reflect on areas where Saba struggles and to see that for many challenges, there are solutions. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Buncamper said.
Johnson spoke of a “momentum.” “I see change happening, slowly but surely. The agreement on the Saba Package is a very positive development. We were well-received in the Netherlands. We had a listening ear and a lot of understanding for our issues,” she said. Heyliger said that “overall” he was very pleased with the visit. “You keep carrying out the duty on behalf of the people and give content to the cooperation with the Netherlands,” he said. The Saba delegation during its visit to the Netherlands did so unified, with one voice.