When looking ahead to a new year it is always important to reflect on the previous one. The year 2018 was an important one for the continued development of Saba. We were very fortunate to be spared from being hit by hurricanes and because of this we have seen the beauty of our vegetation not only fully recover but also flourish. The last rounds of hurricane repairs are ongoing as we continue to strive to build back stronger so that we can be prepared for the inevitable. Many infrastructural projects continued throughout the island with the airport resurfacing being the highlight. The local government continued to be an example for stability, strong financial management and an advocate for promoting good governance. Lastly, some progress has been made with the Dutch Government which will bring some first steps starting this year to reduce poverty on our island.
The planned increases for 2019 in the minimum wage, AOV and the other social benefits signify a change in the approach from the Netherlands. Although these changes are modest at best, it does send a signal that there is political will to address the known poverty problems on Saba, Statia and Bonaire. During the course of 2019, especially during the planned evaluation period which is scheduled for the summer, it will be important that we continue to strive for the establishment of a realistic social minimum while also looking at mechanisms that can be used to reduce the cost of living and cost of doing business. Reducing electricity, telecom and transportation rates would go a long way in reducing the financial burden for our people while it will also stimulate our economy.
In addition to the increases in the social benefits, the national government has also reduced the employer premiums by 5 per cent. This savings allows all employers an opportunity to increase wages without necessarily having to increase financial obligations. From these savings, Government has decided to increase wages by 3.5 per cent (pension premiums etc must be taken into consideration), while having special attention for the lower salaries. For the lower salaries, the increase will be rounded up to US $200 gross per month ensuring that the ones who need it most will receive more. We hope that the private sector will also pass these savings on to their employees.
The lobbying process must continue so that the Saba administration can be afforded the opportunity to take on additional tasks especially where it concerns the granting of work permits. Although some changes will be implemented only for Saba which will reduce or in some case eliminate the advertising period, it is known that this is only one step in the process for a permit to be granted. Having this task transferred fully to the local administration will allow for a much more efficient process as was the case prior to 10-10-10. In addition to this, it is of utmost importance that incidental funding is made structural and as such is added to the free allowance. Currently the island government is financing what can be seen as structural tasks with incidental funding which is not healthy for a growing administration.
During 2018 most efforts went towards repairing homes which had hurricane damage. From the onset it was decided that the homes would be built back better and stronger to be as hurricane resilient as possible. Because of the additional measures to strengthen homes and the limited workforce available on island, it has taken longer than expected to complete all the repairs. However, now that we are in the process of finalizing the last projects an emphasis will be placed on other infrastructure projects that have been in the pipeline.
List of projects
These projects include: completion of the airport terminal building, renovation of the technical classrooms at Cove Bay, renovations of the Zions Hill community Center, continuation of the water pipe from Windwardside to the church in Zions Hill, expansion of the Tourist Office and the construction of public restrooms, construction of a bottling plant which will significantly reduce the price of drinking water and reduce the reliance on imported bottled water, construction of a parking lot and bypass road in St. Johns which will reduce traffic congestion by the schools, building of a new day care and kindergarten classrooms, renovations and expansions of the primary and secondary school, continued widening of the main road in St. Johns, construction of additional social houses Under the Hill, installation of lights of the Johan Cruyff Field, reconstruction of the Fort Bay Harbor and its facilities which will be the largest project in Saba’s illustrious history, installation of new waste incineration equipment and the launching of a new recycling campaign, widening of roads and strengthening of safety walls throughout the island and the repairing and installation of street lights throughout the island.
Although 2019 promises to be a busy year for our infrastructure we must also not forget that the development of our society, people and economy is also very important. In this New Year we must ensure that the population can better benefit from services and possibilities which are now offered at the newly established Social Domain Department. We will further try to strengthen this department by lobbying with the Ministry of Social Affairs to have a sort of “one stop shop” with the local and national office working more closely together in the same complex.
Investments in education
In the area of education already great strides have been made which has allowed for Saba to achieve the basic quality standard for all of its educational institutions. During 2019, significant steps must be made to further promote technical education (TVET) in our classrooms and seek for more acceptance for technical education within our community. We will also initiate a Skills Enhancement Program (SEP) for the working community which will offer the opportunity to many of our young people the possibility to learn a new skill or strengthen an existing skill. Providing educational opportunities for civil servants will also be further planned during the course of 2019. It is important that we invest in all of our people.
During the holidays we saw several visiting helicopters and charter flights bringing tourists to the island. This was a very positive sign. In the coming weeks an agreement will be signed with a consultant who will work on a plan to improve connectivity to and from Saba by air and by sea. This will be a very useful and practical plan that should allow for more opportunities than what are currently available. In addition to this we will also use this as a tool that can aid the negotiations concerning the high price of travel to and from Saba. Affordable means of transportation is extremely important for the further development of our tourism and is obviously a factor when considering a tool that can be used to reduce the cost of living and costs of doing business for our society.
I also point out a significant date which will take place in 2019. On March 20, there will be an Island Council election. Just like any other election I would encourage the voting population to exercise their democratic right. In the coming weeks leading to Election Day much will be said by all parties. Ultimately this WIPM administration has a proven track record and has accomplished many things for the development of Saba. We have earned the respect of all the relevant regional, national and international partners for being a stable, trustworthy, hardworking and transparent government and we strive to continue serving Saba and her people throughout 2019 and for many years to come.
Starting a new year is always an exciting moment. Based on some of the plans I have outlined in my message it is clear that government has very ambitious goals for 2019. These initiatives and projects will further enhance our community and improve our island infrastructure. However the local government is not in control of everything. During the course of 2019 I hope that additional steps can be made by the Netherlands to further alleviate poverty while creating a system to decrease the cost of living and cost of doing business. Ultimately the end goal should be to find the right balance which creates an environment where our people can live a dignified way of life and an atmosphere which is conducive for economic growth. I personally look forward to being a part of these ongoing negotiations with the Netherlands as I continue with my efforts to serve you for 2019 and beyond.
On behalf of myself and my family, I would like to wish everyone a blessed, healthy and prosperous 2019.
Commissioner Bruce Zagers