Governor Jonathan Johnson, Commissioners Chris Johnson and Bruce Zagers, Island Secretary Menno van der Velde and financial advisor Piet Gerritsen left Friday on a week-long visit to the Netherlands with an intense schedule of meetings during the so called “BES Week.” They are expected to return on March 18. The Saba delegation joins St. Eustatius and Bonaire delegates, as well as Representative of the Dutch Central Government Wilbert Stolte.
The annual, week-long “BES meeting” became a recurrent feature during the transition period and is now an annual fixture. The visit’s agenda involves separate meetings for the governors of the three public entities and meetings for the island secretaries, while the commissioners have secured ministerial meetings based on pressing needs, apart from the overall agenda of the week.
Prior to departure the Commissioners discussed a series of problems and desired solutions with the Island Council, which are to be covered by the Saba delegation during the visit. Commissioner Johnson explained that the main emphasis during the visit is going to be on the free allowance or “vrije uitkering” and the meeting with Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Liesbeth Spies, in which the Brinkman Report will be brought up as related to the reference framework or “referentiekader.”
The annual visit is also designed as an opportunity of the Caribbean Netherlands to receive attention through a series of scheduled meetings with various ministers, “such as the Minister of Finance on the tax structure and the Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation (EL & I) on GEBE,” Johnson mentioned.
Regarding the importance of the last meeting, the Commissioner mentioned that GEBE will not be the only topic on the agenda. For Saba and Statia the trajectory of agreements with The Netherlands involves the willingness to invest in alternative sources of energy, such as developing windmills in the short-term and on the geothermal potential on the long-term. Of priority to Saba would be the relocation of the power plant from Fort Bay to a more protected location, thus reducing the risk of power-outages during rough weather, hurricanes or other natural disasters, and simultaneously improving the development prospects of the harbour. Discussions will also involve prospects for the Saba and Statia electricity companies following the dismantling of GEBE. One of the subtopics will be the request for the appointment of a transition manager to assist both islands in setting up the new companies. Commissioner Johnson said that he felt that “for this to be done the right way, you need somebody to come here.” He believes that EL & I is willing to offer this assistance for a transition manager to work along with the two local managers.
Where the island’s budget and the free allowance are concerned, the Commissioners expect discussions to centre on the method to study the island budget, as well as on the level of agreement on the overall financial standing. They do not expect to be able to obtain an actual answer as to the amount. The outcome of the national budgetary revision process, including the midyear adjustments, is expected in mid-May.
The same delay is likely to be applicable to the discussion with the Education Ministry on the funding for the planned Saba Community School. Commissioner Johnson has secured a scheduled lunch meeting with Minister of Education, Culture and Science Marja van Bijsterveldt during next week. The Executive Council is also interested in meeting with Minister Henk Kamp of Social Affairs and Employment, who is expected to attend some of the scheduled meetings, and in having extensive discussions with Minister Spies.
Source: “The Daily Herald ” 2012-03-10