Commissioner Chris Johnson updated the Central Committee on matters pertaining to his portfolio, including the Audit Chamber for the Caribbean Netherlands. Carl Buncamper (WIPM) opened the discussion on Bonaire’s proposal concerning the Audit Chamber, which “had at the very least raised some eyebrows.” He stressed that while the document claimed to reflect agreed-on contributions, “Saba’s per capita contribution comes up to 500 per cent more than was earmarked and cannot be absorbed in the budget.” Saba is to challenge this by letters to be sent to the Island Councils of Bonaire and St. Eustatius, since the proposal “makes it appear as if the three islands are onboard with the way the process went,” said Buncamper. He added that “Saba had expressed its desire to actually have a commission rather than a combined body” to allow for local working flexibility and avoid creating a bureaucratic burden which only benefits a larger island. The negotiations resulted in Saba agreeing to the joint Audit Chamber on condition of limited burden, which the proposal failed to reflect.
The Central Committee approved the letter and Commissioner Johnson advised an alternative route. He suggested for the Island Council to draft a counterproposal to be submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations via Saba’s delegation attending the Caribbean Netherlands Week in The Hague from October 5. Commissioner Johnson also said discussions related to the joint ownership of GEBE with St. Maarten and Statia would be slated for the Island Council agenda.
Johnson also brought up the 10 million euros allocated by the Dutch Parliament’s Second Chamber to the Caribbean Netherlands for nature and greenery. He stressed the pivotal role played by centre- democrats D66 parliamentary leader Alexander Pechtold and former greenleft GroenLinks parliamentarian Ineke van Gent. He also pointed out that the funds can be used for alternative purposes linked to the main goals and that it is the island government’s prerogative to make such decisions. Johnson said the three island governments had closed an agreement on this on Bonaire, resulting in Saba to receive 2.1 million euros for next year, apart from the free remittance. The Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation is only charged with disbursing the funds, the Commissioner said. The actual allocation of funds rests with the island government, and the executive council has already drafted the funds’ allocation. These are to be spent on drinking water filters, road solar lighting and especially agriculture projects.
Johnson said agricultural revival projects are government’s priority. “We have money, and the land that was purchased for the community school. That land can be used towards a large agricultural project.” Johnson explained that the high estimate of US $16 million needed for the new school made it an unattainable goal with only half the funds available, which had led to the project being scrapped. As a result, the available US $8 million were allocated to refurbishing and upgrading the school compound in St. John’s.