THE BOTTOM/THE HAGUE – The Saba Island Council is experiencing its current working visit to the Netherlands as very positive. The meetings are going well and there is more understanding for Saba’s issues.
The five Island Council members last week had a full, mixed program with meetings of different kinds, focusing on various topics such as the slavery past, racism, discrimination and the effects thereof, diversity and inclusion, economic development, healthcare, connectivity, capacity building, strengthening the Island Council, legislation and cooperation.
Meetings took place with the Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sport and the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations. Cardinal healthcare issues were discussed such as the medical referral system, medical transportation and the complaints procedure. The Island Council also enlightened the Second Chamber about matters such as the importance of establishing a social minimum, investing in connectivity and addressing the banking system and the high cost of living.
Room for improvement
Island Council Member Vito Charles said that while some things had gotten better, there was still room for improvement, and the need remained to address the issues in the interest of the Saba people. One of these issues is connectivity, which the people complain about, especially because of the high airfare prices. The Netherlands has been looking at a Public Service Obligation (PSO) for public transport between Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten.
“This is a very important matter for Saba which depends on St. Maarten for central services. It was good to hear that the Netherlands is far along in its research to establish a PSO. It was good to receive an update and to see that it is a priority in the agenda of The Hague,” said Island Council Member Elsa Peterson.
The Island Council Members felt an increased comprehension in The Hague. “A shift is happening. There is more consideration for Saba and its development in a positive way. They increasingly see us as equal partners. In the past when we had a meeting, they would mostly forget you after we walked out the door. We now feel that our story is more heard and that we are more accepted,” said Island Council Member Hemmie van Xanten.
“There is definitely more consideration in the meetings overall. Being new to the Island Council, I feel well-received here. People want to hear what you have to say and to discuss how we can solve things together,” said Island Council Member Saskia Matthew.
“It is good to see that over the years, the dynamics have shifted and that there is more attention for the islands. But we should not get complacent. We need to continue to work together and make sure that we are on their minds in The Hague. The islands are not always the first that come to mind and we should keep working on that. Don’t take it for granted,” said Vito Charles.