For the past 5 years it has become increasingly clear that the private sector on Saba stands alone when it comes to fighting for changes in the laws that have severely hampered economic growth.
Members of the Saba Merchants Association (SMA) have attended countless meetings with Dutch delegations and sent numerous economic documents to the Second Chamber concerning the issues such as:
– The increased pressures faced from the new tax system and mounting administrative burdens and have succeeded on occasion with our BSO partners to have several of the taxes reduced but…this ended as of 2015 with the property tax and 2016 for the ABB.
However, businesses are not only experiencing pressures due to the constitutional changes but from local government as well. Several businesses on the island have been selectively targeted because they have dared to question the system. These anti-business tactics and communist tendencies should be left to those few select countries in the world in which this still exists but not for a 5 square mile island that is now a Public Entity of The Netherlands.
Some examples of how businesses have been targeted is by being forced to undergo audits. In the Netherlands audits are performed on businesses when 2 of the following 3 conditions apply:
- The business must have a total balance of 4.4 million Euro,
- at least 50 full time employees, or
- a net revenue of 8.8 million Euro to qualify for regular audits.
Although we are well aware that there are certain parts of the law that differ for the BES islands let me ask you:
– Which one of the businesses in our mirco-economy of Saba would fall under such criteria?
– Why should our private sector be targeted in such a way as to intimidate businesses and burden them to the brink of closure?
Another example is of businesses undergoing checks by the IND based on a law imposed after 10-10-10, that the business community was never informed of, which lead their employees work permit applications taking twice as legally permitted to be approved only to have to adhere to strict requirements that if not fully completed will result in these work permits not being renewed.
Instances such as these threaten the job security of the employees and their families and causes unnecessary duress that affects their job performance and home life.
In addition to that it took over a year of persistence from private sector stakeholders, BSO’s, and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, to insist that an E-Team be developed together with the local government. An E-Team which still does not function to its full potential because it struggles to obtain the necessary documents and information it needs from government to fully tackle the issues faced by the private sector so that proper policies can be developed together to support and protect the micro-economy of Saba.
What the government of Saba fails to realize is that the private sector is the driving force behind economic growth and is essential to achieving meaningful development outcomes that raise people out of poverty and put them on the road to prosperity. It is the primary source of economic growth, job creation, government revenue to finance essential public services and the goods and services required to improve people’s quality of life.
The fact that open and honest communication is so lacking with an economy that imports almost 100% of its product is astounding!
Very little is being done to mitigate the high cost of operating a business on Saba. Various external costs such as electricity, telecommunications, freight, ABB, trucking, payroll, and insurance premiums among others are what help to drive up the costs of the end product. In order to create a win-win situation for everyone involved, measures need to be taken to reduce such costs. That is why government needs to play a more active role in communicating and cooperating with the private sector.
Government should instead be focusing on developing a Sustainable Economic Growth Strategy. This strategy should consist of three main parts:
1. Building economic foundations.
2. Growing businesses.
3. Investing in people which will target the main prerequisites to achieving poverty alleviation through private-sector-led sustainable economic growth.
This should be supplemented by a solid Spatial Development Plan, developed together with the COC and BSO’s which will protect the existing businesses and lay the groundwork for a steady growth of the micro-economy and diversified development and investment opportunities.
This would help to reduce the dependency on the Saba University School of Medicine, which has been the sole economic driver while the declining Tourism product is strengthened.
Furthermore, since SUSOM is such an important driver to not only the private sector but also to the individual paying loans for developing housing to support the SUSOM student body then it should be vital that government sits together with SUSOM, the COC, BSO’s and other relevant stakeholders to discuss its future development plans and how they can be assisted in such activities.
Let us remember that this is a democratic society and that The Netherlands prides itself on transparency in government and as the BES islands so too must these islands adhere to that.
Information is a right not a privilege and as long as freedom of the press exists, we as the SMA will continue to bring to light the issues that are plaguing the private sector.
It is high time that our government realizes that the days of oppression and intimidation of the private sector are over and we will take these issues to the law if needed.
If the government intends to continually surpass the private sector and its views then we will force the issue in the press without fear of retaliation. We look forward to your answers to our questions and meeting with you immediately to solve this situation and to help the people and businesses of Saba to prosper.
President Saba Merchants Association