Thursday , November 30 2023

COLUMN: The Hague needs to show more respect for the proud politicians on Saba

By Ronald van Raak.
It was a typical story that I was told on Saba, the beautiful island in the Caribbean, which has been part of the Netherlands since 2010. After the hurricane Irma, the King came to visit to see the damage. But the Sabans had cleared up so much debris and repaired damage that some residents wondered if Willem-Alexander would still get a good picture. It is an anecdote, the damage on the volcano island was great no matter how hard the people had dealt with it. But it says something about the pride of these residents, who worked hard for centuries to save their paradise.

Saba is a volcanic island with a special tropical cloud forest (Mount Scenery). the most beautiful coral reefs in the world (Saba Marine Park) and a unique population of less than 2,000 inhabitants. The Sabans originate originally from Scottish, Irish and Zeeland pirates – the official language is English.

If on March 20 we in the European Netherlands vote for the provinces, they will vote on Saba for the island council. For the first time, people on Saba (who are not part of a province) will also be able to vote for the Senate. The ‘weight’ of these votes only leads to 0.01 seat.

The SP is the only socialist party in the Netherlands, I always say, but actually this is not true. Because since 2010 our country has a second socialist party, the Saba Labor Party (SLP). The leader of this party is Ishmael Levenston, who has been a member of the Island Council since 1975 with a few interruptions. Levenston is a striking politician, usually dressed entirely in white, with a long gray beard and boyish pretentious eyes, despite his age of 78. Ishmeal has been struggling with his health lately, which is why he has given room to the youth; his party-member Monique Wilson has now become the leader.

1,105 Sabans can cast their vote on 20 March, for an island council of five members. Ishmael Levenston is number two on the list of the SLP. This “opposition party” now has two seats. The other three seats are for the Winward Islands People’s Movement (WIPM), or the ‘government party’. I put this in quotation marks, because political polarization is strange for this island, the decisions in the island council are usually taken with general approval. Thanks to this stable administration, large projects can be tackled, such as a large solar energy park and the development of the port.

In nearby Sint Eustatius, also part of the Netherlands since 2010, no elections are held because the local government has been thrown out by the government for fraud and unlawful acts. The most influential politician on this island even threatened to kill the Dutch soldiers who came to help Irma after the hurricane to repair the damage. The contrast with the sister island of Saba cannot be greater.

The difference with Bonaire, where since 2010 local politicians have been particularly busy with arguments and not with the concerns of the people on the island, is also large.

I’m curious about the outcome of the elections on Saba: the island is in good hands with both parties. I am much more concerned about the attitude of the Netherlands. Little Saba is now largely governed by ten ministries in The Hague where there are civil servants who know a lot about laws and regulations, but not about small-scale local government in the Caribbean. Those civil servants can’t do much about that either, but they drive Saba crazy. To repeatedly have to explain that rules that seem logical in The Hague are absurd for Saba. That residents can do many things better themselves.

Already in 2015, a ‘Saba Summit’ was held on my initiative in the capital of Saba, in which members of parliament and local politicians made agreements about practical things that Saba could do better itself without being dependent on the syrupy bureaucracy on the other side of the world. Every year thereafter, new promises have been made to Saba but every initiative has stranded in the ministries.

All those people on Saba have been showing their skills and good skills for many years. After March 20, The Hague must show more respect for Saba and give the politicians more confidence.

Ronald van Raak is lid van de Tweede Kamer voor de SP fractie en fractie woordvoerder Koninkrijksrelaties.

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