THE HAGUE--The Dutch government will look at the possibilities to bundle the multi-annual incidental funds and include these in the structural contribution to the public entity Saba, Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops stated on Monday.
This will be done in order to reduce the administrative burden of the public entity and to increase the policy manoeuvring space, the minister stated in response to written questions that Member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) submitted last month.
Van Raak sought clarity after media reports that the Saba Island Council had walked out of the November 7 meeting to handle the draft 2020 budget of the public entity Saba to protest the lack of structural funds from the Dutch government. A substantial part of the Saba budget consists of incidental contributions from The Hague, which makes it hard to maintain a sustainable financial household.
Van Raak asked the minister if he understood the frustration of the Island Council members that “whereas they had their finances in order, they barely received any structural budget to carry out policy.” The Member of Parliament (MP) repeated his earlier call to have Saba carry out more tasks on its own and to make sure that it receives sufficient finances to do so.
Minister Knops explained that Saba has structural means in the form of the free remittance, which amounts to more than US $9 million and its own (tax) revenues of more than US $1 million. Aside from that, the Dutch government pays close to US $1.5 million per year as a structural contribution towards the upkeep of the local infrastructure.
Of the 30 million euros that the Dutch government has made available for the Caribbean Netherlands through the Regional Envelope, 13 million euros has been awarded to Saba, of which the largest chunk is for the construction of a new, hurricane-proof harbour. This investment will also serve to increase Saba’s revenues from tourism.
Knops further noted that Saba in the past years has received many incidental contributions from the various ministries in The Hague, which (partly) finance structural tasks. He confirmed the amount of the free remittance (“vrije uitkering”) in the review of the division of tasks between the Caribbean Netherlands public entities and the Dutch government.
As part of the 2019-2022 Saba Package agreement, which Knops signed late June this year, it was agreed that the public entity Saba and the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK would make a joint effort to cover structural tasks with structural means.
In this regard, the Ministry of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports VWS from 2020 onwards will structurally add US $400,000 to Saba’s free remittance to execute the sports and prevention agreement and to help finance afterschool activities.
Knops shared Van Raak’s opinion that Saba’s political and financial stability offered space for a Saba-specific policy aside from the joint policy for the three Caribbean Netherlands islands. He responded affirmative to the MP’s question as to whether he was prepared to see to it that Saba received more means to spend on its own and more policy freedom.
As for getting in touch with the Saba Island Council to, as Van Raak put it, “restore mutual trust,” the minister noted that BZK personnel and he himself had regular contact with Saba’s Executive Council. “The agreements that are part of the Saba Package, including solid government finances, are monitored every half year.”
In a reaction to Knops’ reply, Van Raak stated that he was content to note that the minister seemed to take the Island Council protest seriously, but added that The Hague now also had to deliver. He asked why not look per task at what Saba can do on its own and see where help is needed?
“The attitude in The Hague seems willing, but the efforts and the focus are too much on regulations and too little on the possibilities. I will keep reminding the minister of this,” Van Raak told The Daily Herald.