The Bottom, Saba: State Secretary for Internal and Kingdom Relations Drs. Ank Bijleveld-Schouten visited the island of Saba as part of her information session on the BES islands and held a Town hall meeting at the Auditorium of he Saba University School of Medicine on July 8th 2008.
The Town Hall meeting must be considered to have been a great success bearing in mind the size of the island and the turnout for the session. Over 200 persons took time out to attend the session and listened very carefully to the State Secretary and also raised several questions regarding the new constitutional relationship that the island will be entering into with the Netherlands. Based on the questions it could be determined that not enough time was allotted for the town hall meeting and the State Secretary promised that she will return at a later date as she felt that there is a need for more information.
Saba’s Commissioner with responsibility for Constitutional Affairs Mr. Christopher Johnson was also very clear in his presentation and urged the Saban community to keep themselves aware of the ongoing discussions with the Dutch Government and to be always readily available as the process is not an easy one and together as a people we have to look out for the best interest of the island. Commissioner Johnson said that he was very happy that the State Secretary had decided to visit the island herself and share the information with the communities. People wanted to hear it directly from the Dutch Government. As Commissioner I have tried to keep the people informed as much as possible via the radio, newspapers and also on the floor of the Island Council. But there are certain areas in which I cannot gave the answers and that is why I felt it a need to have the State Secretary inform the community and also for the community to have a direct dsicussion with the State Secretary.
Issues that many persons in attendance touched on were the educational system, health care, the currency and taxes. The State Secretary was very clear that the Dutch Government is willing and prepared to assist the island in the areas that the island feels needs assistance. The dutch language also played a key role during the discussions and from the gathering it could be stated that most many in attendance felt that more needs to be done in order that the Dutch language would be able to play an important part within the Saban community in years to come. The State Secretary has committed that the Dutch Government is prepared and willing to help work towards improving the dutch language on the island. In the area of health care the dutch government will do its utmost best to try and assist the island in order for it to reach a reasonable standard. The issue regarding the Euro being the currency on the island was ruled out as this will not be in the best interest of the island for the time being. Everyone agreed that the matter regarding taxes is not something that will be increased to hamper the well being of the island and its economy but everyone will have to pay their fair share of taxes in order for the island to be able to meet its demands.
All in all, the town hall meeting was long overdue and this was pointed out to the State Secretary by many persons in the audience. Matters pertaining to the Police Department also played a major role during the session and many persons including Commissioner Christopher Johnson expressed their dissatisfaction in the functioning of the Police force in general. Many felt that not enough attening is being devoted to the Police Force on Saba by the Central Government. The general consensus on Saba is that the Central Government on a whole has not been living up to the standards that were laid out where the islands are concerned and has neglected the smaller islands to a large extent.
Many persons felt that even though they may not have received all the necessary information before hand that there is no other alternative at this time for Saba and going under Holland directly is the only solution. The dutch government is showing keen interest in the affairs of the island and has already committed itself to help improve matters on the island and the money to improve these facilities has already been committed and it is expected that within short the community of Saba will start seeing and feeling some improvements in various areas which is a welcome idea for the people of the island. Never before has the island seen so much money being made available for infrastructural matters.
Commissioner Johnson however pointed out that as a people we all have to become more active and start preparing ourselves for the future. We have to also take our responsibilities serious as government and as a people. We cannot sit back and think that the Dutch government will do everything for us we have to maintain that high standard that we have been accustom to over the years in making sure that we keep ourselves active and help move the island forward.
The information that was shared by the State Secretary was well received but there were some questions that still remains unanswered.
Photo; Several persons in attendance at the Town Hall Meeting.