Published in The Daily Herald:
“Put them in a row boat and push them off into the Caribbean Sea.” Bruce Zagers of Saba, earlier this month, remembered the advice that I had given him two years ago about how to deal with all those Dutch civil servants who meddled with the island. Saba is a small volcanic island in the Caribbean Sea with an extraordinary tropical rain forest (Mount Scenery), the most beautiful coral reefs in the world (Saba Marine Park) and a unique population of some 1,800 people.
Sabans are a proud people that are largely descents from Scottish, Irish and Zeeuws pirates. The language is English. They are used to taking care of their island and solving their problems. Sabans have built a road on their steep island that was impossible according to engineers; they constructed a runway where really no aircraft should land. They have protected their unique nature and made their island a paradise for eco-tourism.
In 2010 Saba, along with St. Eustatius and Bonaire, became a special municipality of the Netherlands. Since then the island is being governed by 10 ministries from The Hague and overrun by Dutch civil servants. Sabans have made use of the connections in the Netherlands to improve facilities. Much has been invested in education, although many youngsters are having trouble with the Dutch exams. The hospital has been expanded a lot. To facilitate care outside the island, the Netherlands rents an expensive helicopter, which is also too small for the, sometimes, heavy-built Sabans.
But, the Dutch civil servants also create a burden for the people. Some taxes make the already expensive daily life on the island even more expensive, taxes that cost more to collect them than they yield. Sabans shake their head when they see a Dutch civil servant asking about the water policy (really is impossible), or when they want to introduce postal codes (not really necessary).
Saba can introduce all the traffic regulations that we have in the Netherlands, but it is much more effective when the young man who drove too fast gets a visit from Commissioner Zagers. Luckily, there are practical solutions for practical problems. Together with a housing corporation in the Netherlands, social rental homes are being constructed for elderly Sabans who by far can’t live off their small pension. Also, a nice project for tropical agriculture has started together with a Dutch university where unemployed youngsters of the island can work. Growing more own food is the most important political issue of Ishmael Levenstone, “for when the boat doesn’t arrive.”
Levenstone is the only opposition in the five-member Island Council for the Saba Labour Party, the second socialist party in our country besides the SP. We treat Saba, St. Eustatius and Bonaire as a part of us since having become part of the Netherlands, but they are not. Ten ministries in The Hague decide on these small islands with a total population of some 25,000; 150 members of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament take decisions for these islands and thousands of civil servants are involved with the islands of which they have no knowledge.
Saba is unique, a crossing between Heidi in the mountains and Pirates of the Caribbean; a neat island with lovely houses and clean sidewalks, but also a proud people that has taken care of itself for centuries. Tens of millions of euros have been spent on unnecessary civil servants and superfluous regulations. This is why this ode to Saba, because I am convinced that we have to give the Sabans more room to decide for themselves how best to invest that money, and in that way safeguard the uniqueness and own identity of their island.
Ronald van Raak
Ronald van Raak is a member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament, of the Socialist Party (SP). This article in the Dutch language will be posted today, Friday on www.thepostonline.nl. Van Raak visited the Windward Islands earlier this month as part of a parliamentary delegation.