The Daily Herald reports that Commissioner Chris Johnson briefed the Island Council members on developments since the last Central Committee (CC) meeting including the visit of Dutch State Secretary of Social Affairs and Employment Jetta Klijnsma and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Johnson stressed the importance of discussions with the state secretary about establishing social benefits acceptable for The Netherlands, bringing them up from the current level which is under the poverty threshold of the country. He praised Klijnsma for her genuine interest in the welfare of Saban residents and her ability to connect to locals, spending the time needed to understand experienced challenges. He also praised Saba’s business community for coming together in supporting the increase of the minimum wage by 20 per cent, an aspect only underscored by the failure of Bonaire and St. Eustatius counterparts to condone such an increase. This is expected to result in increased social benefits pegged to the minimum wage.
As for the visit of Prime Minister Rutte and his focus on business opportunities, Johnson highlighted the visit to the Saba University School of Medicine and the personally delivered accreditation papers. The certification in The Netherlands of the Saba medical university “is really a huge achievement.” It is the only university in the BES [Caribbean Netherlands, Ed.] to receive accreditation. As you know this is a big issue on Statia, the medical school there is leaving [to St. Maarten] and the Bonaire medical school is moving to Curaçao.” Johnson praised SUSOM’s cooperation with the Dutch Government and Island Government in submitting to the lengthy scrutiny of the accreditation process. This makes SUSOM one of only nine medical universities of The Netherlands. Johnson explained to the Prime Minister that the decision has tremendous social and economic implications for the island, with the medical school’s population forming a quarter of the island’s residents.
He also spoke of taking the Prime Minister to the Fort Bay Harbour to explain why it is the biggest impediment to further growth on the island. Built in 1972, the harbour does not accommodate current needs and this is something Prime Minister Rutte seemed to acknowledge. Johnson also briefed on the commissioners’ meeting with Statia’s executive, particularly with Reginald Zaandam, the ninth counterpart within one term with which Saba’s executive attempts to build a constructive relationship. They covered an array of common interest topics including the 2015 evaluation process, GEBE, representation in The Hague, the Caribbean Netherlands week in October, and the result is mutual interest in presenting joint positions. This coordination will allow the Caribbean Netherlands to seek results and avoid unnecessary quarrelling. The stakes are high with Commissioner Johnson expressing concerns that the 2015 evaluation will involve “some overpaid consultant telling us everything is well.” He hopes that the evaluation will go beyond a legal nexus evaluation and centre on “content, evaluating the situation on the four pillars” of central government responsibility in the islands. Saba will avoid “Statia politics” on the issue of a referendum he stated.
Talks also involved establishing a Saba-Statia direct flight and mention was made of both executives travelling in September to Bonaire to coordinate positions. Within the CC meeting Commissioner Bruce Zagers also defended the adoption of the second budget amendment 2013. The amendment is expected to be approved today in the Island Council meeting. It deals with technical adjustments concerning roadwork, computer expenses, security cameras for the harbour and purchasing of land in Windwardside for the parking area.