Senate delegation, Executive and Island Council take part in session

SABA—Four main topics for Saba were elaborated on and discussed during a session with the Executive
Council, Island Council and the delegation of the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament, the Senate, on
Monday, February 28.
The Senators listened attentively to the presentations about livelihood, renewable energy,
economy/tourism/nature/agriculture and finances. The delegations posed many questions that were
answered by members of the Executive Council and Island Council.
The session, which was held at the Eugenius Johnson Center in Windwardside, was opened by Island
Secretary Tim Muller. He said it was important for Saba to use the momentum of the visit of the 13
Members of the Senate’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations in fostering the relations with
the Netherlands, to exchange information and to “put a dot on the horizon.”
Island Governor Jonathan Johnson elaborated on how Saba coped during the COVID-19 pandemic with a
hard-hit local economy, an initial hard lockdown, a highly successful vaccination program, stringent
measures at the border and financial support from the Dutch Government.
Gideon Wilson of the Community Development Department gave a presentation about poverty on Saba,
its challenges and ramifications. Many people are living under or near the poverty threshold. People
living in poverty tend to end up deeper in the cycle. “Most clients when they can’t pay their rent, they
take an advance on their salary or go to a loan shark, and they get into even deeper problems. People
are stigmatized. The social workers listen and assist the clients so they can get out of the cycle,” he
Councilman Vito Charles said that people were living in great stress with several jobs trying to survive, a
situation that also affected children in these families. With the very high cost of living on Saba, people
are having difficulties making ends meet, Charles said. Councilman Eviton Heyliger said that many
persons living in social housing had trouble paying the rent at the end of the month, that they ended up
being behind on payments and often were too proud to say this.
Commissioner Rolando Wilson said the regulations at the National Social Affairs and Labor (SZW) unit
were too bureaucratic and insufficiently effective. “As local government, we feel the duty to help people
struggling with poverty, so we created our own Community Development Department,” said Wilson.
Councilman Carl Buncamper said the focus at the SZW unit was too much on the process instead of on
the impact of poverty that people were facing. “There needs to be more flexibility so people can get the
support they need,” he said.

“We hired our own social workers because we saw that the SZW unit was not doing enough. Structures
were put in place without our involvement. A one-size-fits-all was implemented that doesn’t benefit the
people that need help. Establishing the social minimum is key and this has still not happened. It is a long-
time discussion and we need a dot on the horizon so people can live a dignified life,” said Commissioner
Bruce Zagers. Asked by the delegation how Saba wanted to achieve that, Zagers responded that a higher
minimum wage, a higher pension, a realistic ‘onderstand,’ affordable electricity, telecom and water
were needed, as well as the establishing of the social minimum.
SEC presentation
Mark Zagers, Dexter Johnson and David Leonce of Saba Electric Company (SEC) gave a presentation
about the Saba Energy Strategy, the plans to add 1to 3MW in additional renewable energy, combined
with additional energy storage, grid intelligence and modernization, energy efficiency and a
conservation program, and electric vehicles. At the same time, SEC faces challenges such as high fuel
prices, the lack of capital for investments and a small consumer base while trying to keep the electricity
tariffs as low as possible. The fixed rates have been subsidized for three years due to the crises, but it is
not structural and slated to end this July.
Policy Advisor Courtney Hassell gave an introduction to Saba’s economic development, where the island
wants to go, the economic challenges that it faces and how to move forward. She announced the start
of the economic impact assessment. Poor banking services, high costs, the too stringent conditions to
get a mortgage, the absence of a postal code, the lengthy immigration process for working permits all
have an adverse on doing business on Saba.
Tourism Master Plan
Director of Tourism Malinda Hassell gave a presentation in which she mentioned the presentation of the
Tourism Master Plan this summer, the challenges of the tourism industry, the slow recovery during the
pandemic, Saba as a green destination and the dependency on the hub St. Maarten. She mentioned the
importance of connectivity and the need of having sufficient airlift. She said that there were currently
only 124 hotel rooms which is not enough for the demand. The opening of the new Arawak Hotel later
this year and the renovation of the now closed Scout’s Place in the future should alleviate the shortage
of capacity.
Policy Advisor Justin Simmons-De Jong gave a presentation on the efforts to invest in agriculture and
nature. The local production of fresh produce increases food security at lower prices and promotes
people’s health. To preserve nature, the restoration of the coral reef is taking place and erosion is being
tackled by, among other things, promoting of responsible animal husbandry, the removal of wild goats
and reforestation.
Financial challenges

Head of the Finance Department of the Public Entity Saba Maureen Hassell spoke about Saba’s sound
financial management and the financial challenges. The free allowance is too low to cover the
operational costs of a government that has seen an increase in tasks and responsibilities. The large
portion of incidental funding as opposed to structural funding makes it hard to manage, to plan ahead
and it creates a lot of risk. “There is a great uncertainty of funding. We go from year to year, not
knowing whether we get the funding. Our very core of government is funded through incidental
funding,” said Hassell. The lack of structural funding makes it impossible to present a realistic budget
and there is no financial space to implement new policy.
Commissioner Zagers pointed out that in six years, the free allowance increased less than US $1 million:
in 2016 it was US $8.9 million and in 2022 US $9.8 million. He said Saba needed a substantial increase in
the free allowance. “We have been a responsible partner. Raising the free allowance sends a message
that if you achieve things, you get things,” Zagers said, referring to Saba’s steady accomplishments in
sound financial management over the years.
Warm welcome
Leader of the Senate’s delegation Paul Rosenmöller said the entire Committee was very passionate
about contributing to the solid relations in the Kingdom. He said that while these relations have a long
history, there were always challenges and room for improvement. “We want to talk about how we as
Senate can contribute to solve those challenges, to make things better for the islands and to improve
the relations in the Kingdom. We want to listen and to learn from you.”
Rosenmöller thanked Saba for a warm welcome. “We are always impressed by your hospitality,” he said.
For some Members it was their visit to Saba, while some had already been here a few times and others
many times. He said a visit of the delegation of 1.5 days was obviously too short and that the Committee
would certainly be back.
After a visit to the location of the new harbor at Black Rocks where they received an update about the
project from Commissioner Zagers, Policy Advisor Zelda Meeuwsen and Rijkstrainee Hester van Halen,
the Senate’s delegation interacted with members of the community in a meet & greet. The delegation
left for St. Eustatius in the late afternoon.