Before their departure to The Hague, Commissioners Chris Johnson and Bruce Zagers provided extensive insights into the many issues they plan to discuss with Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Liesbeth Spies.
First to be discussed is the island’s free allowance or “vrije uitkering” indexation. The reference framework is based on the 2011 budget figures, which assumes the price level of 2010, while the public entities, particularly Saba and St. Eustatius had been confronted with higher inflation compared with the European part of the Netherlands. If the indexing of the free allowance is based on the comparatively low inflation levels of the Netherlands, the Caribbean public entities would be unable to perform their functions at adequate levels. However, if the indexation were to be based on the average inflation in the Caribbean Netherlands, Bonaire would benefit the most, while Saba and Statia would be at a disadvantage because of their higher than average inflation rates. Commissioners Johnson and Zagers seek for the funds to be indexed on the basis of the previous year’s inflation rates, similar to the indexation of the disability allowance.
The second issue relates to the backlogs in the reference framework processing, which they believe should take arrears into account. They also believe there should be a coordinated effort, overseen at ministerial level, to bridge such arrears within a maximum period of five years. The suggested solution by the Saba Executive Council is to include the calculated phasing out of the arrears in the allocated amount.
The third topic to be addressed by the commissioners is that some island government tasks should be reconsidered. These include community and social support and poverty reduction for the disadvantaged. The commissioners are lobbying for a full-time social worker position on Saba, a post which they included in the 2012 island budget with a salary of US $50,000. Given the current backlog, they seek an adjustment of the parameters of the budgetary limits on social support and poverty reduction for 2012.
A fourth topic will be the built-in financial resilience of the public entities. The island governments show positive equity on their balance sheet, built on infrastructureand buildings, but not on disposable assets. The risk of damage from hurricanes and other fluctuations reduces that institutional financial resilience, an aspect that should be incorporated in the reference framework on allocated funds. Johnson and Zagers will lobby for financial resilience calculations to be built into the allocated funds so that when risks materialise the island government would have the power to absorb the financial impact. Their proposed solution would be to have a special allowance above the free remittance for a limited number of years to strengthen the financial leverage of the public entity. The commissioners believe that restrictions on the use of such an allowance would be acceptable so that it would not be used for “normal” business but earmarked as reinforcements in the case of emergencies with clear protocols on permission to utilize it.
The commissioners also hope to discuss the individual housing benefits, an instrument available in the European part of the country. This issue relates to the work of Saba’s Own Your Own Home Foundation (OYOHF) which rents social housing to individuals unable to cover the cost of rent on the current housing market. Currently the foundation charges a subsidised social rent at approximately a third of the family income. These low social rents are OYOHF’s only income to sustain the social housing sector. In the absence of investments the social housing programme may face financial challenges. The Executive Council will lobby for individual housing allowances that would correspond to the amount customary for individuals in the Netherlands.
The Island Government is also to discuss be the manner in which an interestfree loan can be obtained. Not having received any answer one year after having applied for such a loan, the executives described, “a cumbersome administrative process.” The commissioners seek a simplified straightforward process, including a specified timeline for decisionmaking and for informing applicants.