Commissioner Johnson says That Islands Are Ready to Set Their Own Priorities.
“If the Dutch government says they are ready to allow us to set our own priorities I want the Kingdom to know that we are ready to do so,” Commissioner of Constitutional Affairs, Chris Johnson said ahead of the constitutional workgroup in Bonaire. Commissioner Chris Johnson will be travelling to that island this week for the second meeting of the constitutional workgroup. This meeting is a follow up to the first meeting that was held on Saba in February with the Commissioners of Constitutional Affairs of Saba, St. Eustatius and Bonaire and also the Secretary General of Kingdom Affairs, Mr. Richard van Zwol.
The commissioner stated that there is a lot of focus and attention being paid to the islands at this moment. Reports have been very critical of the “vision or rather non vision” of the Dutch government when dealing with three BES islands. The Minister of BZK, Ronald Plasterk has stated that the Dutch Government is ready for the islands to start setting their own priorities. Johnson said “We feel that too much is being spent on studies and reports and European priorities, while every one of the BES islands wants to spend more on Social and Economic development. We want the evaluation to focus on human rights aspects, poverty alleviation and in depth look at the over load of rules and regulations for these islands. All of us hope for common sense to be reintroduced to the BES islands and once and for all get rid of the nit picking and power play system that includes no practical checks and balances.”
The Commissioner said that during this meeting, he would like to “highlight a number of things that are going wrong” and also to propose possible solutions from the islands. “While certain things are going right particularly in the area of secure government finances and sound island budgets , things are going horribly wrong in other areas. The biggest problem is the lack of common sense and understanding of the economic realities of the island. It seems as if many persons charged with implementing laws are wearing blinders and can only see in one direction. A lot of this stems from having a weak central contact office. Either the National Representative has to be given some real authority, or the position needs to be completely removed”
One area of concern in the past months has been admittance of temporary workers to the island, where persons arriving on the island to do complex tasks for contractors have been denied entry at the ports and repatriated, while they were coming to do work on ongoing projects. The commissioner points out that a more practical solution and one that he has suggested in the past would be to have The Netherlands conclude a treaty with St. Maarten, similar to what it has done in other countries, where checks for visas would be carried out there, before persons are allowed to travel onwards to Saba. Immigration officers on Saba would only need to make sure that persons are entering with proper identification and the need for scanning would be removed.
“At times it feels to locals like they are entering North Korea or some forbidden area. It is easier for persons to travel through Europe then to return home to their own island. Tourists are especially confused seeing that they are travelling from one Dutch port of St. Maarten to another Dutch port of Saba. Saba is not on the way to anywhere, we are the end of the line. You can’t just jump on a jet and fly to Europe from here. The rules and regulations need to start reflecting the real situation of these islands,” the commissioner stated.
Work permits are another point of contention between the island and the Dutch Labor department. Persons with particular skills are sometimes hard to find and processing times at the Labor Department are unnecessarily long and only serve as hindrance to businesses that need to acquire permits in an expedient manner. The solution proposed by the commissioner would see the work permit process being handed back to the island. “Saba is regulated like The Netherlands even though we don’t get the advantages and neither are we a transition point to The Netherlands. Work permits are not transferable, so I see no reason why they cannot be processed by the Public Entity.”
He also questions the need for a Customs Department when their main task is to collect ABB on Saba. “If this is their main task ,”says the commissioner, “then I propose that we hire two persons locally that can carry out this purely administrative task. I believe this would save a lot of money as well as being more efficient for the business persons and travelers.”
Saba Government Information Service April 13, 2014