The Lt. Governors of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba drew a full house in Scheveningen, The Netherlands on Wednesday evening. A crowd of some 150 people attended the informative session organised by the Antillean and Aruban organisation OCaN. All seats were taken, leaving standing room only for persons who came last. The crowd, consisting mostly of people from Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba living in The Netherlands, turned out to hear the introductions of the Lt. Governors and many made use of the opportunity to personally speak to the invited guests and to pose questions.
The Lt. Governors spoke of the financial challenges that their islands faced and the insufficient funds that they received from The Hague to adequately carry out the tasks that had been assigned to the local governments since acquiring the new constitutional status as Dutch “public entities” per October 10, 2010.
Saba’s Lt. Governor Jonathan Johnson said the difference in approach made it sometimes tough to work with The Netherlands. “We have to deal with people wearing ‘The Hague glasses.’ They step off that plane with their mind set. The Netherlands also puts everything in numbers. But in a small community like Saba there is a face behind every number. I have to explain this all the time,” he said.
Johnson said it would take “a lot of patience” to eliminate all the backlogs created over the years because of negligence under the former constitutional structure whereby Saba was part of the Netherlands Antilles. “There are many areas that must be addressed.”
Johnson and his colleague from St. Eustatius Gerald Berkel also spoke of the improvements since their island became part of the Netherlands. After some initial struggles, people on the islands now have an adequate medical referral system and every citizen is now medically insured. “Everyone is now insured and that is a major improvement,” said Berkel. “Yes there are still challenges, but at least health care is now available,” he added. Johnson lauded the high quality health care offered in Colombia and the fact that there was now a helicopter available for medical evacuations.
Berkel and Johnson said their islands were now also better equipped to fight crime because the police force was no longer understaffed, there was “more blue” in the streets and the Public Prosecutor’s Office had been reinforced.
Berkel further mentioned that students could now make use of study financing arrangements. “In the past there was no money for study financing. That is now available and that is a great advantage,” he said.
The opening of the Youth & Family Centre on St. Eustatius proved beneficial as well.
The crowd attending the event on Wednesday evening posed numerous critical questions to the Lt. Governors. They asked about equal treatment in relation to the level of social provisions, job opportunities for locals, health care and safety. People also indicated the need for an information point for Caribbean Dutch persons living in the Netherlands.
Bonaire’s Lt. Governor Lydia Emerencia, who was appointed two weeks ago, said she understood the concerns of the public present, but at the same time asked for an active and positive participation of the Bonairians. “Let’s positively contribute to Bonaire’s development. I believe in the people’s strength,” she said.
The evening was organised by OCaN’s Bonaire, Statia and Saba Committee. The Lt. Governors were in the Netherlands in connection with a series of meetings with the Dutch Ministries and Ministers. The island delegations return home over the weekend.