Opposition leader, Councilman Ishmael Levenston submitted written questions to the Executive Council in addition to the interpellation submitted in the public Island Council meeting last Friday. The first written question regarded the frequency of meetings between Commissioner Chris Johnson and the board of Own Your Own Home Foundation (OYOHF) and if the social home rents are being monitored by the executive. The Commissioner referred the question to the Island Council Acting Registrar, requesting that the Social Housing Vision document, adopted by the council in 2012, be shared with the councilman. That document sets the criteria for the allocation of housing, and Johnson remarked that rents have been publicized through past articles in The Daily Herald, precisely to deter any shadow of nepotism or influence in the allocation process. The Commissioner stated that there are no regular meetings with the OYOHF board and that he does not interfere in the implementation of the foundation’s mandate, or directs the allocation of any favours. He informed Levenston about the separation of roles, about transparency and codes of governance, based on which foundations carry out their mandates.
The second question requested an update on the public sale bids for the Captain’s Quarters property in Windwardside. Commissioner Bruce Zagers responded, informing that two private appraisals were made for the property. The vast difference in estimates prompted the executive to seek a third appraisal to gauge the real value. The outcome would have to undergo Committee for Financial Supervision CFT scrutiny and the decision would rest with the Island Council. There are two interested buyers, one for the whole lot and the other for portion of it.
The third written question was about the importance of agriculture and the executive’s strategy. Commissioner of Agriculture Chris Johnson stated that the money made available through the nature policy and that he lobbied that instead of putting those monies in studies, that they be used directly in agriculture through the building of cisterns. Once built, cisterns cannot be taken off the island, he argued. The Commissioner reiterated the social reintegration and educational goals of the Organoponics Farm at The Level, which also promotes values of agriculture, but does not target production. He spoke about the presentation he attended of a Dominican Republic local banana exporter, a company led by a Dutch businesswoman, who had started a banana collection process from small individual farmers there and certified quality for export via stickers that trace the provenance of each fruit. There too he saw “model farms” pilot projects that do not target production. He suggested that the collection approach could be replicated on Saba, if substantial land is set aside for such a project. Lack of consistency in local delivery of needed products is hampering greater use of local produce in restaurants and shops Johnson said. He also noted that such projects depend on dedicated individuals, and when they leave the island the projects decline. Agricultural sustainability, he argued, depends on financial incentives for the youth, on the belief that one can sustain a family through it.
Commissioner Zagers also agreed that government must bolster production, and he suggested the possibility of looking into a subsidy as an initial incentive.
Levenston explained that his request for clarity on subsidies was not meant as criticism of Councilman Buncamper’s involvement in the organoponics project, nor against the Cuban agricultural engineer’s work. He was satisfied with all explanations received and reiterated his support for the reopening of the agriculture station.
The Commissioners must have been happy to have been asked to explain about their activities. What sense made it to ask however all these questions of which the answers had been in the news already?
If the councilman wants to “reopen” the agriculture station, he should explain us the sense of it and how it should work. Who will be in charge of it and what is the expected outcome?
Of course the agriculture station should be functioning as it has been doing in the past. The SABAGRO project is busy for some time already with help of university Wageningen not only to achieve that but in general to create a new agriculture cooperation between the few existing farmers and producers of vegetables, fruits and herbs on the island in order to have a more constant and reliable foodproduction for the weekly demand of supermarkets and restaurants, to create small scale preservation industry of vegetables and fruit, to increase the number of grounds on which vegetables are growing and to raise also the breeding of cattle and chicken etc. plus to improve training and education in agriculture together with upgrading the image of working in that sector for youngsters. The weekly market that – deplorably – not was as permanent as hoped for, was also an initiative of the SABAGRO project. When all producers are working together in their planning and marketing there is definitely also a new role necessary for the agriculture station. All that should have been known to members of the Island Council.