Rutte visit reaffirms spirit of cooperation

THE HAGUE/SABA–In the spirit of further strengthening the cooperation with the Dutch Government, Saba used the opportunity of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s visit on Sunday evening and Monday morning to address a number of issues: poverty, finances, the economic structure, public order and crisis management, the division of tasks, and good governance.

Accompanied by Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops, Rutte made a tour of the island after his arrival on Sunday evening, including a visit to several homes that were damaged by last year’s hurricanes and in the meantime have been (partially) repaired.
That same evening, Island Governor Jonathan Johnson gave a presentation about Saba’s preparations for hurricanes, how the island coped with these natural disasters and what efforts have been made in the aftermath. Evaluation points were discussed. Johnson will also share the presentation at the 2018 annual congress of the Association of Dutch Municipalities VNG in Maastricht on June 26.
The next morning, a visit was paid to the harbour where large investments will be made in the near future, followed by a meet-and-greet with Members of the Island Council and members of the community. Also present were schoolchildren who had the opportunity to practise their Dutch with Rutte and Knops.
In anticipation of Rutte’s visit to the island, Saba’s Executive Council sent a letter to him last week in which the local government highlighted a number of issues on which they have been working with the Dutch Ministries for some time already. The Saba Government asked for Rutte’s positive influence on these dossiers.
The letter also underlined the good relations with The Hague. “Saba believes in a solid cooperation. We are transparent about what we can do and cannot do. We have approved financial audits for several years. And, we aim to be practical and focused on results,” it was stated in the letter that was signed by Island Governor Johnson and Island Secretary Tim Muller on behalf of the Executive Council.
Saba is about to embark on a number of projects together with the Dutch Ministries: a new pier and the renovation of the harbour building at Fort Bay, construction of affordable homes, a new runway and the renovation of the airport terminal building, a new fire station, a new day-care centre building, a drinking water plant, reconstruction of the hospital and the adjacent home for the elderly. Investments will also be made in agriculture and different aspects of the social domain.
“You will see that Saba is in good shape. But there are a number of issues that require our mutual attention. These are: the combating of poverty, investing in solid finances and good governance, a stronger economic structure, improvements in the law enforcement sector and crisis management, and a different division of tasks. The topics are well-known to the Ministries, for we are addressing them together.”
In the letter to Rutte the issues are addressed one by one and provided with an explanation and a solution. In the area of combating poverty, Saba is proposing an increase of the social welfare (“onderstand”), a higher child allowance (“kinderbijslag”) and more money for the elderly who only receive an AOV pension and the handicapped persons who cannot work.
In aid of reducing poverty, the employers’ premiums could be decreased and the minimum wage further increased. Doing something about double taxation on goods and cutting the high cost of energy, telecom and transportation by air would also contribute to reducing the high cost of living in general and to decreasing poverty in Saba in particular.
“Saba has its financial instruments well in order, but structural means are lacking,” it was stated. Although Saba is thankful for the funds it receives for the execution of projects, the fact is that these concern incidental monies, while structural means to carry out structural tasks are lacking. The free remittance (“vrije uitkering”) is simply too low to execute all tasks for which the island is responsible.
To give the economic structure a boost, the Saba Government would like to see a better banking infrastructure, a better investment climate with lower cost of doing business, and cheaper and more frequent flights to the island. From the Regional Envelope of the Dutch Government, Saba hopes to receive a contribution for the extensive harbour project.
In the area of public order and safety and crisis management, Saba indicated in recent talks with Dutch Minister of Justice and Security Ferd Grapperhaus that it seeks more cooperation to tackle domestic violence and drugs/alcohol addiction. Also discussed was the execution of tasks of the Caribbean Netherlands Police Force KPCN in Saba, the accessibility of police outside office hours and the intake of Saba police officers.
Where it concerns crisis management, Saba would like the risks of the Caribbean Netherlands to be included in the national risk profile. An evaluation has confirmed that the crisis communication facilities are not functioning as they should. Saba very much depended on Dutch Defence during the last hurricanes.
“Saba has a stable government, the finances are in order and every year, improvements are made in the government administration. Under the motto ‘more for more,’ we think that now is a good time to give content to another division of tasks.”
An example of a different division of tasks is the room provided by the Ministry of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports VWS for Saba to carry out the preventive tasks of the Centre for Youth and Family.
Talks are ongoing with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour SZW to have the Ministry’s front office at the location of the new Social Development Unit, which will increase efficiency. Saba is also ready to assume more responsibility in the process of issuing work permits.
“We are working on a solid government administration and have been investing in it thanks to the Kingdom Relations Department of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations. However, we are concerned that the contributions are incidental, while the strengthening of the civil service requires a long-term effort,” it was stated.
The letter concluded with a positive message and a call on Rutte for his support. “The Ministries and Saba have shown for some time that cooperation leads to good results for the Saba people. It is a work in progress and we hope for your positive influence on these dossiers.” Rutte and Knops during their visit assured that they would bring the matters in question to the attention of the Ministries in The Hague.
The visit was considered very positive. “I am really impressed by what I have seen,” said Rutte during a short press briefing. He said he was also impressed by how much has happened since the hurricanes and how the Saba people tackled the reconstruction together. He called on the Saba people to keep joining hands to restore the island which he deemed “very beautiful.” Rutte promised to keep involved and to support Saba in whatever way he could.
Knops shared similar feelings about the positive developments on Saba. “I am impressed with the way Saba is preparing for the next hurricane season. The island did a very good job last year – reacted very effectively, very fast to the crisis,” he stated during the press briefing.

Source: The Daily Herald