Door Koos Sneek
The year 2021 lies now officially behind us. This was the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Without a doubt this pandemic has overshadowed by far all other things that took place during the year and it has been on the front page of the media about every single day of the year.
Statia, due to its strict entry-policy, has remained virtually covid free during the entire period of the pandemic. Until, when in the final days of the year also we had to find out that our island could not be spared an outbreak. 36 reported cases was the official tally on New Year’s Day and in the meantime this number has increased to 44 cases.
I guess this development should be a wakeup call for us. We are part of the world, of which we also largely depend on for our living, and we cannot forever be sealed of from the outside world. The irony here is that the pandemic hit home already even before the by government intended relaxing of entry measures, which was to commence today January 3rd.
Although I believe, when listening to the experts, that the pandemic will become under control during this new year 2022, we have to remain vigilant and as much as possible protect ourselves and those around us. We need to follow the advice of government where it concerns social distancing, hand washing and other hygiene measures and wearing facemasks whenever this is deemed necessary.
But, most importantly we need to get vaccinated, and we need to booster whenever this is deemed necessary. History has learned with other deceases that the only way to eradicate the virus or to get it under control is by vaccination. And I know that there are people, also in my close circle, who still do not agree, that this is the way out, this will remain my message as long as we are faced with this Covid-19 pandemic.
But that is enough about Corona. We have to look forward and see what the future has in store for us and what role we ourselves can play to make positive things happen.
On January 1st the minimum wages have been increased with 10%. This is in my opinion a major step in the direction of poverty alleviation and towards the goal of reaching a social minimum for all. With the social minimum also the AOV and onderstand benefits have increased.
It is our duty however to keep the pressure on the decisionmakers in The Hague and keep on reminding them of the governing accord signed between the four parties that will form the new coalition within the next weeks. This governing accord includes among other the reviewing of the social minimum and the reduction of tariffs for utilities. Immediate attention in this respect is already needed, seeing that the corona subsidies on water, electricity and internet have ceased by the end of last year, while at the same token the AFM has advised a steep increase in these same tariffs due to the increase in cost of fuel.
If no action is taken then already at the end of this month all of us will receive a much higher electricity, water and internet bill than before.
The ferry service got off with the necessary challenges. The more important it is to focus on the need for better and affordable airlift. The signals we receive from The Hague are rather promising. The minister is seriously considering selling the Dutch government shares in Winair. I believe this is a good move. It will make The Hague no longer tied to this St. Maarten airline and it will open the door for other airlines to come in as well. Furthermore, the national government is finally considering the introduction of a PSO construction which will make the air-connections to Saba and Statia public transportation resulting in more frequent, reliable and affordable airlift.
It looks good, but it is important that we keep the eye on the ball and keep this, and other matters that are important to us at center stage.
Well, next month it is four years since our local government has been sent home and replaced by a government commissioner. In my humble opinion the pace to a restoration of our local democracy is way too slow. It is my desire to have this process speeded up as much as possible. It is on the other hand extremely important that we, as local politicians, do realize that we should not take the lessons learned lightly. Whenever our democracy has been restored this should be sustainable, with people at the helm who are willing to follow the rules and who have the interest of Statia and its people as their number one priority.
In our last island council meeting of the year, it became crystal clear that there is a great lack of cooperation and a good bit of distrust between the island council and the present government commissioner. This has resulted in the meeting being cut short while a motion was adopted requesting independent mediation between island council and government commissioner. It was a good signal that this wish did not only come from the members of the island council, but it became clear, after the motion was adopted, that it was also supported by the government commissioner.
I sincerely hope that this will soon reach to some positive results. Not only need the cooperation and the communication between government commissioner and island council drastically be improved, also a consensus needs to be established to how in the shortest possible time local democracy can be restored. Herewith of course also the parliament and the newly to be appointed state-secretary of Kingdom Relations will have a great role to play.
Of course, there are many more issues that need to be addressed in the coming years. I will remain committed to do my utmost best for these and I will gear all my energy in my work to help improve the lives of the people of Statia. I wish all Statians a happy, prosperous and healthy 2022!
Koos Sneek is lid van de Eilandsraad van Sint Eustatius