Saba: Visit to the Netherlands yields positive results

Den Haag/Saba – The Saba delegation on Friday, September 16 concluded a successful working visit to the Netherlands with the securing of various commitments that will benefit Saba’s community.

The delegation had meetings at ministries, and with dignitaries and government organizations. A highlight was the establishing of the Task Force that will look at solutions for long-time issues such as banking, connectivity, real estate and notary services among other things. Commissioner Zagers signed the Task Force document on behalf of the Public Entity Saba. Other signatories were State Secretary of Kingdom Relations and Digitization Alexandra van Huffelen and St. Eustatius Deputy Government Commissioner Claudia Toet.

Saba Package and WolBES, FinBES

During a meeting with State Secretary Van Huffelen, the delegation discussed the evaluation and upcoming changes of the WolBES and FinBES laws which focus on different levels of financial supervision, the function of the Kingdom Representative of the National Government Department for the Caribbean Netherlands RCN and the future increase of the size of the Island Councils and Executive Councils. A working group will be visiting Saba in October for talks with the Island Council and Executive Council on this future increase.

Also discussed with Van Huffelen was the Saba Package with a focus on digital infrastructure, digitization in government, digital services for the public and the economic side of digitization. Human capacity was another issue that was discussed as it requires continuous attention with the limitations of a small island. This matter was also discussed with the Association of Dutch Municipalities VNG. Together with the VNG, the Public Entity Saba will look into temporary, short-term assistance until the positions are permanently filled. The Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations (BZK) will support the Public Entity Saba financially with these initiatives.

Free allowance

Next year’s evaluation of the free allowance was discussed in a meeting with representatives of the Ministry of BZK. As of next year, the system of the free allowance will be evaluated every year, in consultation with the islands. The free allowance for Saba will be increased gradually in the coming years as part of the Saba Package 2.0.

The possibilities to allocate funding from the Regio Deals of the Dutch Government for Saba’s overall development was also discussed with the Ministry of BZK, as well as the so-called reference points under which the ministries create visions and ambitions for various policy domains that affect the islands.

Investments in poverty eradication, the social domain, public health, healthy lifestyle and sport projects on Saba were discussed with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (SZW) and the Ministry of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sport (VWS).

Other infrastructure

The Saba delegation met with representatives of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (IenW) to talk about important future investments that are needed for Saba’s water infrastructure. On the table are Saba’s ambitions are to extend the water pipeline to the new harbor location, to increase the capacity on the existing pipeline from Fort Bay up to The Bottom and Windwardside in order to pump up more water and faster, to improve the intake for the Reverse Osmosis water plants and to secure more water storage capacity.

The delegation also met with representatives of the Ministry of Economic Affairs as well as the Minister of Climate Rob Jetten. Issues such as telecom, sustainability and tourism were discussed. Future investments into renewable energy on Saba was the main topic of a meeting with Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Rob Jetten. These investments are important not only from a point of sustainability, but also to make Saba less dependent on fossil fuel, which currently greatly impacts the price of electricity.

Opportune timing

According to Commissioner Zagers, the timing of the visit to the Netherlands for strategic discussions was opportune as it was just before Budget Day on the third Tuesday of September, the end of the year memorandum (“Najaarsnota”) and several crucial debates in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament next month. Commissioner Zagers had individual meetings with Members of the Second Chamber Joba van den Berg and Jorien Wuite.

The Saba delegation travelled back to Saba on Sunday, September 18. The delegation consisted of Commissioner Zagers, Island Secretary Tim Muller, Senior Policy Advisor Nicole Johnson, Head of the Public Health Department Jane O’Flynn and Senior Social Worker of the Community Development Department Lucrecia Paulina.

Renewable energy plans discussed with Minister Jetten

The Saba delegation met with Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Rob Jetten to discuss the renewable energy plans for Saba.

“We talked about the importance of more renewable energy with the objective of eventually reaching 100% on an average day, which will greatly reduce our dependency on fossil fuel,” said Commissioner Bruce Zagers, who met with Jetten, together with Island Secretary Tim Muller and Senior Policy Advisor Nicole Johnson. Saba is looking for investment support from the Dutch Government for the renewable energy plans.

The most feasible scenario to eventually accomplish 100% is a combination of wind and solar energy. This scenario has the highest fuel savings to reduce the variable tariff for the consumer. At an average day with sun and wind, sufficient energy would be generated to fully supply Saba, and no diesel would be used to run the generators in the power plant. On such average days, there would be a 100% independency from fossil fuel.

Overall, the combination of solar and wind energy would result in a projected reduction of 76% compared to the current usage of fossil fuel. Currently, Saba has two solar parks, one is located next to the Juancho Yrausquin Airport and the other above the Medical School. As part of the new project, a wind turbine would be constructed, possibly at Fort Bay. Without the solar parks and the subsidies, provided by the Public Entity Saba and the Dutch Government, consumer’s electricity bills would be considerably higher.

Having solar and wind energy, together with additional battery storage, will provide Saba with the highest renewable energy fraction of more than 80%. This will help Saba get closer to its target of 100% sustainable energy in the future. The best scenario was determined with the assistance of an external consultancy, The Green World Company (TGWC), hired by the Saba Electric Company (SEC).

Minister Rob Jetten with Commissioner Bruce Zagers (center) and Senior Policy Advisor Nicole Johnson.

Commissioner Zagers welcomes establishing of Task Force

The Task Force that was established in The Hague last week is a very welcome move to address some of the long-time, urgent matters for Saba, said Commissioner Bruce Zagers.

“Finally, a step in the right direction with a high-level task force that will focus on addressing the bottlenecks that impact our people, our business community and our cost of living. We have been making these problems known for years and with this signing, we now have a commitment that these issues will be addressed,” said Zagers.

Zagers signed the Task Force kick-off document at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK on September 14, together with State Secretary of Kingdom Relations and Digitization Alexandra van Huffelen and St. Eustatius Deputy Government Commissioner Claudia Toet.

The Task Force will work on solving a number of bottlenecks that were identified by the Public Entities Saba and St. Eustatius and in the inter-governmental agreements with the Dutch Government. These bottlenecks include: postal code and citizen service number (BSN), banking services, notarial services, diversification of the economy, undivided estates (housing and real estate), digitization, telecom and internet services, residence and work permits, movement of people and goods.

During the meeting with the State Secretary, Zagers specifically addressed some of these pressing matters. He explained how the lacking of proper banking services has been hampering Saba’s residents and businesses. He mentioned that the Saba Business Association (SBA) has been advocating for a solution for very long.

“When asked by the State Secretary which area I felt was the most important topic to focus on first, I suggested banking without hesitation. Our people and business community deserve better banking services in the widest sense. The current services that are available now are either limited or very expensive. We also need to create opportunities where people can have proper access to mortgages with affordable interest rates. Proper banking is essential for growth,” he said.

Zagers also spoke about the healthcare referrals system and the transport of patients, even though this is a matter that will be part of a separate evaluation and is not in the Task Force list of subjects. “This is an area that I see as a quick win to secure a means of better transportation for patients. WINAIR, which is partly owned by the Dutch Government, should be the primary means of transport while still making use of the charter flights when needed. This is especially important for elderly people and people with mobility issues. Using WINAIR would add more flight capacity for Saba as well,” said Zagers.

The Task Force will be getting to work right away. There will be monthly meetings with the State Secretary to monitor the progress. “I am optimistic that this Task Force will be able to come with practical solutions to these issues that have hindered our progress for years. We have high expectations and we hope for breakthroughs,” said Zagers. 

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