Archive for May 5th, 2008

Protecting brand Cayman

| 05/05/2008 | 0 Comments

By Wendy Ledger (Monday, 5 May 2008)

4 comments

Yet again, “brand Cayman” is coming under fire with less than
favourable reports coming from many different directions. Just last
week, Members of Parliament in the UK said that offshore financial
centres (OFCs) in its Overseas Territories could seriously damage
Britain’s reputation and called on the Foreign Office to do more to
strengthen regulation, including sending in UK investigators and
prosecutors to such places, and the Treasury Select Committee has also
launched an inquiry into the goings on and the reasons for OFCs.

Add this to the ongoing mystery corruption investigation by Scotland
Yard, and Cayman’s PR gurus are facing some hard times ahead. Nor is
it just Cayman’s reputation concerning finance and corruption that we
need to be concerned about. The public scolding of a gay activist in
Royal Palms last week by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service has
reignited Cayman’s homophobic reputation on the gay and lesbian world
stage. 

All of these things, alongside the environmental concerns regarding
the soon to open dolphinariums, the trouble at the Cayman Turtle Farm
and other environmental negatives, from road building to our failure
to address recycling issues, have a negative impact on “brand Cayman”
because, to twist a common phrase, “what happens here doesn’t stay
here.”

The world is watching and we can no longer afford to simply let people
say what they will about the Cayman Islands and ignore it. “Sticks and
stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us” is nonsense.
Words do hurt us and quite deeply. Tourism is directly impacted by
environmental issues, homophobia, poor customer service, employment
exploitation or any other memorable, but not necessarily pleasant,
eventsthat occur to people visiting here. We need to take a much more
serious approach to protecting “brand Cayman”.

In the era of the World Wide Web, bad news travels faster than wild
fire, and as a nation we need to do far more to improve our image
overseas than we are currently doing. While there are certainly a
number of efforts going into raising our profile as one of the most
compliant OFCs in the world, just one collapsed hedge fund, of which
there have been many lately, is enough to undermine those attempts.

One police incident concerning an over flirtatious gay activist can do
more damage to the arrival stats than a plethora of magazine articles
about destination weddings could ever hope to repair. And for all of
those who think we don’t need gay tourists, think again. Homophobia
doesn’t just put off those who may be gay, it puts off many people who
will associate homophobia with other illiberal attitudes.

Moreover, as the world faces a global economic decline, gay tourism
remains a lucrative option as the “pink dollar” is often less impacted
by recession, not least because gay men in particular usually have a
greater disposable income because they generally don’t have
dependents.

The dolphinariums, too, could prove to be a PR disaster for “brand
Cayman”. While they are bound to be popular with cruise passengers,
these facilities are unlikely to offer any advantage to the islands’
stay-over tourism product. Moreover, aside from the mixed messages
they send out to the world at large about animal cruelty, if there is
any fatality or serious injuries to dolphins or humans, the fallout
could be extremely detrimental.

While there will always be those who suggest that what Cayman does is
Cayman’s business, and no foreigner, gay, environmentalist, politician
or police should be telling us what to do, as our economy is utterly
dependent on the outside world for both our tourism product and our
offshore sector, that type of thinking will not help our future
development.

We can no longer afford to stand passively by and allow the country’s
name to remain synonymous with money laundering and primitive,
outdated behaviour. Cayman is a modern developed 21st Century
community that plays a significant role on the world economic stage.
Sadly not a lot people know that.

JC Calhoun:I am in agreement that Cayman needs to respond to
negative attacks in the Media.  For too long we have not
responded and the criticisms, well founded or not, have been left
unanswered.  Yes we need to be much more proactive, however, we
must be careful to present a logical well-researched response, or it
will do more damage than good.  

Further, we must realize that the complainants, for the most part,
have an axe to grind and they are only representing one viewpoint on
any given issue.  Although we need to respond, (and in cases
where wrong doing is obvious, take the appropriate action and
publicise that fact), just because there is a complaint doesn’t mean
we are automatically in the wrong.  Something that a liberal
columnist calls  “primitive and outdated behavior” for
example, may in the Cayman Islands be the accepted Moral/ Ethical
position of the majority. And it just may be that Cayman is a popular
destination because of, not in spite of, these positions.

So, by all means, do all the positive promotion and selling of our
Islands that you want, but DO NOT advise us to lower or change
our standards for the sake of luring a few more tourists!  We
have already sacrificed far too much to the God of Political
Correctness.

David Miller: I agree with JC. Why do we think that
we are wrong when people have been coming here for so long? We will
definitely get more people to travel here and buy more if we stay who
we are. Yes, there will be those that claim they will not come back
because of our stand, “respect”. As far as I’m concerned they can and
should bypass these islands. We don’t need to change Product Cayman –
decency, respect for our forefathers – it should be enhanced.
 Because, regardless of what a few say, and believe me a few do
say they don’t like Cayman for this or that, if they’ve got the money
they’re coming back. We should be getting more of the Bible south to
come to Cayman. That’s half of the USA population. But we need more
activities that will bring them here and, at the same time, “Cayman”
will be a better place for it. Don’t you agree? Come on Cayman!
Respond!

Chris Randall: I’m sure it was completely unintended,
but Wendy’s article is the best argument I’ve heard for a while in
favour of restrictions on the media. If we must protect “Brand
Cayman”, then how better to do than by not publicising any of it’s
perceived shortcomings?  Far easier to simply restrict what may
be published than to persuade the whole population to change their
attitude to something or alter their behaviour.

reply@caymannewsservice.com

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A battle lost but a war to wage

| 05/05/2008 | 0 Comments

By Wendy Ledger (Monday, 5 May 2008)

Against the backdrop of a surge of environmental and conservational
interest across the Cayman Islands, the low-key, but persistent,
campaign against the two captive dolphin facilities currently in
development in West Bay soldiers on. With more than 1,700 people
joining the Chamber of Commerce’s Earth Day clean up last month and a
significant body of support for George Town’s last piece of remaining
Iron wood Forest, the Keep it Wild and Keep Dolphins Free campaign is
still seeking more hands-on support and has by no means given up the
fight.

There is no doubt that the campaign failed to prevent the facilities
from going ahead, something that activists say was already a fait
accompli before they really got going, but Billy Adam continues to
spearhead an awareness and education programme about what he calls the
deception and dishonesty associated with the dolphin trade, and other
campaigners still believe there is hope, that in the end, the war
maybe won through the purse.

One of Cayman’s original activists said the campaign direction is now
focused towards persuading people simply not to visit the facilities.
She said that the hope was local people and especially schools 
would not patronise the parks and that in time the cruise ships could
be convinced to stop selling ‘swim with dolphin’ excursions to their
passengers, who are expected to be the main patrons of the two parks
due to open in Cayman in the next few months.

Adam says that one cruise liner at least, Radisson Seven Seas, has
already stated it won’t sell the dolphin tours and that a number of
countries around the Caribbean are turning against the idea in
principle. Imports of dolphins are also being halted more frequently,
most recently in the Dominican Republic, where the particular dolphin
importation documents proved to be false.

“These were the same papers, however, that the Cayman Islands’
government was willing to accept,” said Adam, who added that the
captive dolphin business was not just cruel and unpleasant but one
associated with dishonesty.  He said that he would continue to
educate people about the industry and why we should not entertain
these facilities in Cayman. “It’s easy to find information
demonstrating how unpleasant this business is. The whole industry is
based on deception and we will keep on bringing forward the evidence
about it.”

Cayman’s two facilities, which are due to open in the summer, are both
based in West Bay. Dolphin Discovery Cayman Ltd is on a site leased
form Boatswain Beach and the other, Dolphin Cove Cayman, is along the
coast from Morgan’s Harbour. The facilities were granted government
approval before the current administration took office. However, in
spite of significant opposition within the community, the People’s
Progressive Movement (PPM) government did not halt the earmarked
projects but instigated a moratorium in 2006 to prevent any further
facilities being developed before a more comprehensive law to govern
such facilities was established – one that has not yet emerged.

Some 2,000 people signed a petition against the dolphinariums and the
government is, according to Adam, in receipt of more than 5,000
letters from Caymanains and others from around the world raising the
numerous objections to such facilities and the reasons why. The vast
majority of members, some 75% of the Cayman Islands Tourism
Association, as well as leading members of the dive community, were
also against the development of the dolphin parks.

Moreover, the objections go beyond the problems of cruelty.
Humanitarian concerns, reduced life expectancy of the dolphins, 
environmental degradation to our delicate marine eco-systems, in
particular the reefs from dolphin excrement, the overall potential PR
disaster such facilities present for the country as a whole are all
important considerations weighed against who benefits from such a
project. Campaigners say the only people benefitting from the parks
are those developing them.

CNS contacted  the Minister of Tourism and Environment, Charles
Clifford, the Director of Planning Kenneth Ebanks, both of the
developers and owners of the proposed facilities, Dales Crighton and
Kent Eldemire respectively,  and the Turtle Farm asking them
among other things to explain the benefits of the facilities to the
Cayman Islands in general, and to answer the numerous accusations
about cruelty, environmental degradation and the considerations given
to the two projects from a political and development point of view.
However, CNS received only one response from a representative of the
Eldemire family stating they did not wish to comment.

Back in 2007, Gene Thompson who is partnering with Dale Crighton on
the Dolphin Discovery project, said that, while everyone was not happy
with the planned development, he strongly believed the facility would
be of benefit to the Islands and that the dolphinarium would be built
to the highest standards. “I have visited several swim-with-dolphins
programmes over the years and they were phenomenal experiences. I
strongly believe it will benefit the Island,” he had said. In past
media reports Thompson has noted the Dolphin Discovery facility would
be a first-class attraction, with space enough for 20 dolphins but
would hold only eight dolphins in the first instance.

These dolphin facilities have received criticisms the world over, and
the concept of captive dolphin facilities has become increasingly
controversial across the Caribbean region. The fact that that none of
the people involved in the development or facilitation of these sites
here in Cayman was prepared to defend them speaks volumes in the face
of considerable documented evidence to suggest the practice is at best
unpleasant and at worst fundamentally corrupt.

However, across the World Wide Web there are numerous reviews from
people who have visited such facilities throughout the Caribbean
literally raving about the experience, and while there are so many
people willing to pay to swim and ride on dolphins, some suggest it is
unfair to point the finger at those who are tapping into the lucrative
market. With so many other questionable animal activities taking place
around the world, from circuses and bullfighting to horse and dog
racing, the question remains why the developers of the dolphin
facilities in Cayman should be any more vilified than those who are
willing to attend.

However, with Cayman’s overseas image constantly balancing on a
delicate thread many continue to ask whether such facilities would
offer any real benefit to “brand Cayman” when there is a significant
risk that it will cause damage to the islands’ overall image.
Considering the current efforts to attract higher net worth
individuals to the islands since the opening of the Ritz Carlton-Grand
Cayman, and a desire to offer the Sister Islands as a green tourist
option, these facilities could certainly be detrimental to the
development of these aspects of Cayman’s tourism brand.

By and large, the vast majority of customers to the two dolphinariums
will be cruise passengers. They are unlikely to attract overnight
guests that choose Cayman specifically for these parks, as the exact
same facilities are available across the Caribbean.  Balance the
very low net gain to Cayman overall with the very genuine concerns
that, as the two developments near completion, they could have a
negative effect on the ecological integrity of our marine environment,
perhaps more pressure needs to be brought to bear on government to re-
assess the issue and to police these facilities very closely.

In 2006 the government said it had to honour the approval awarded by
the pervious administration, and that if the developers were obeying
the law then there was little to be done. Clifford said it was
important to understand that if the dolphin entertainment facilities
satisfied Planning Department requirements and all other regulatory
demands there are no further impediments to their operation.

“Even if we decide that it is not something we want for Cayman, we
need to put legislation in place for this. However, the legislation
cannot apply retroactively,” Clifford had added at the time.

Even before the doors open, accusations that one of the facilities has
not submitted anti-degradation reports before receiving planning
permission, and an absence of reports from the country’s animal
welfare committee concerning the husbandry of any imported dolphins,
suggest that the parks may not be meeting the country’s current
regulations regarding the welfare of the animals and the marine
environment.

One of the major problems is the growth of algae on the reefs from the
extra nutrients that will be in our local waters from dolphin
excrement, which experts say is already a problem in Cayman because of
the turtle farm and hotel septic tank effluents, which trickles
through the rock and sand into the water. 

Thomas J. Goreau, PhD President, Global Coral Reef Alliance said that
he was alarmed to see a lot of algae in Grand Cayman waters. “To my
surprise, every place I dived around Grand Cayman had too much algae,
and it is urgent that the Cayman Government get a handle on
controlling the problem before it ends up like Jamaica, where the
reefs are now almost entirely dead and covered with masses of weeds,”
he said.

Another issue is maintaining the health and welfare of dolphins in
captivity, which is not easy. The life expectancy of these sea mammals
declines dramatically in parks and the unfortunate death of a dolphin
in Cayman would certainly be damaging to the country’s image. Even
more damaging would be the death of a visitor.

Dolphins themselves can be very dangerous – they are after all wild
animals, even if they are bred in captivity. Earlier this year in the
Netherlands Antilles, three people came close to death when a pair of
performing dolphins reportedly turned on some swimmers because,
experts said, the creatures were exhausted from over performance.
During mating season, it is not unheard of for dolphins to become
extremely aggressive and attack humans biting and head butting them.
There have been several reports over the years of visitors to marine
parks experiencing the other side of these creatures, which are
usually billed as cuddly, sweet, friendly creatures who just love to
play.

There are certainly a number of concerns surrounding the opening of
Cayman’s latest tourist attractions. From the welfare of theanimals,
and the safety of the visitors to the damage to brand Cayman. However,
there is, it seems, nothing to stop the impending opening days.

Nevertheless, Adam says he will not give up the fight, and other
campaigners say more support is needed now from the community to put
pressure on the cruise lines who will be the ones selling the
excursions. Preserving the environment and the concept of sustainable
tourism is gaining popularity here, and there is no doubt that
Caymanians are demonstrating a greater willingness than ever before to
object and speak out about things they perceive could be detrimental
to their country. So, even if the first dolphin battle has ended in
defeat, it does not necessarily mean the war is lost.

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Cayman’s revolving prison door

| 05/05/2008 | 0 Comments

By Wendy Ledger

Although not everyone who has problems with literacy will end up in jail, a disproportionate number of prisoners are functionally illiterate. The vast majority of inmates at HMP Northward, more than 80%, are struggling with basic reading and writing skills.

While there is a significant body of evidence to support the theory that crime and illiteracy or low educational achievement are directly linked, those few inmates that voluntarily attend reading classes at Northward receive only two hours tuition per week. Moreover, a return to crime after release is far more common among illiterate prisoners and a persistent problem for Cayman’s prison population.

Getting out of a life of crime when you cannot read is also extremely difficult and the primary reason why so many prisoners re-offend and return to jail with increasing regularity. Northward’s revolving door, it appears, is directly linked to the failure to equip prisoners with the skills they need to lead a crime-free life – not least how to read.

At the end of 2006, regional criminology expert Yolande Forde published a report examining the factors relating to criminal behaviour in Cayman and why people were inclined to commit crime. In the study she revealed that many inmates serving time in HMP Northward had gone through the school system without ever having their reading problems addressed. Having been failed by the education system, they were later failed by the criminal justice system.

“Many of the same people who commit crime appear before the court time and time again,â€Â she said. “The formal processes of the justice system do not focus on the causes of criminality. Rather they aim to determine the legality or illegality of the act.â€Â

She explained that by focusing on culpability and meting out punishment, the Cayman Islands had created an inbalance in the approach to crime with little attention having been paid to the causes of criminal behaviour.

Since the report was published, Education Minister Alden McLaughlin has made enormous strides in addressing the inadequacies in the education system, which will in future, hopefully, prevent youngsters with learning difficulties from falling through the cracks. Future educational changes, however, will do nothing for the existing prison population, which currently has very limited access to any kind of basic educational provision.

It costs around $53,000 per year to keep an inmate at HMP Northward while they serve their time waiting to be released back into the community to, more often than not, re-offend. Historically, Northward has functioned as little more than a holding facility for habitual offenders, with both rehabilitation and education in short supply.

The creation of the post of Commissioner of Corrections in 2006, filled by Dr William Rattray, was expected to herald in a new era for the prison and what was hoped would be a move towards reducing recidivism rates through rehabilitation. Since his arrival, the prison staff have undergone numerous training programmes and various reports and assessments of the prison population have been made. 

This week, Government Information Services (GIS) sent out a media release announcing that, in partnership with the probationary service, the prison system would be introducing an individualised plan for each inmate serving a sentence of two years or more and for those released on probation. The idea behind the initiative is to tailor corrective measures using a multi-disciplinary approach to help the individual avoid re-offending.

When CNS spoke to Dr Rattray, he explained that this new measure would focus on what is termed crimogenic need. He said the risk and needs assessments were associated with behavioural issues and would determine the needs of the prisoner from a cognitive perspective. In other words, the assessments would established what type of behavioural programme would be suitable to address the problems of violent prisoners or sex offenders, for example, and seek ways of altering future behaviour.

Rattray added that these assessments are not educationally based and, as he also agreed that a large percentage of the prison population is essentially illiterate, many of the inmates will not have the necessary skills required to take any type of behavioural management programme since most require at least limited literacy ability.

He did, however, state that all the prisoners undergo a separate educational assessment to determine their literacy levels, and the prison service would continue to depend on volunteers to provide that basic education where needed, which has been the case for sometime. He also explained that there were future plans to introduce a specialist programme which would involve literate prisoners teaching the illiterate ones, but there are no set plans for a full educational literacy programme to be provided by the prison service.

Currently inmates at HMP Northward who want to learn to read receive only twohours per week of instruction from a group of Cayman Islands Reading Aides (CIRA) volunteers. The reading materials, workbooks and the like which the volunteers use are paid for by sponsorship from Rotary, who fundraise throughout the community. Michelle Pentney, CIRA’s prison co-ordinator, said this is an inadequate provision considering the fundamental literacy problems that so many prisoners face. However, she said she hoped to increase the hours on offer shortly.

“Since we have been waiting for the new classrooms to be built, we have had to reduce the weekly provision from four hours per week to just two, which is not enough. However, with the completion of the new building, we should now be able to add at least one other class on Saturday mornings, perhaps even a third,â€Â she said.

The classes depend primarily on the services of volunteers and securing enough tutors from the community to come to the prison can be difficult. One volunteer told CNS that the problem of dealing with prison literacy through a volunteer programme alone is not easy for a number of reasons.

“Not all CIRA volunteers can attend the prison for classes as they currently take place on Wednesday afternoons. It is more difficult to recruit volunteers to help prisoners as it is not as an attractive proposition for volunteers asspending time with what they perceive to be law-abiding members of the community who also need help with literacy,â€Â she said.

“Other problems have more to do with when we are not there. The prisoners don’t really have any other support or encouragement for their literacy studies and they don’t have time allocated to do homework with someone supervising their reading outside of the two hours, so it’s hard for them to progress. All of us who are literate know how easy it is to procrastinate over extra study or work we bring home. Imagine how much more difficult it is for people with learning difficulties in a prison environment. The prisoners need to be helped and encouraged, even when the volunteers are not there.â€Â

While teaching prisoners to read may not be very glamorous, there is endless research available that points very clearly to education being a major tool in the fight against recidivism. At HMP Northward, none of the $53,000 spent on each prisoner is spent on basic literacy education. Considering that roughly four out of every five prisoners cannot read, Cayman’s road to reducing repeat offending still looks decidedly rocky.

Rattray is clearly cognitive of the fact that the prisoners’ needs are extensive and that literacy is among them. But the introduction of a sophisticated system of behavioural programmes may well be undermined if prisoners cannot read and write. In her report, Yorke recommended introducing inmate assessments and sentence planning, but she listed remedial education as the primary component.

 Most experts agree that addressing the causes of offending behaviour with regards to sex and violent offenders is certainly fundamental to the problem of repeat offending and protecting the community. Criminologists in the UK and the US also point out that such programmes must go hand in hand with literacy projects because, if the inmates do not have the skills to learn in the first place, they cannot be expected to get the full benefit of rehabilitation and specialist behavioural programmes.

Rattray did note some significant barriers to learning within the prison system, and justified the plan to utilise inmates in future education programmes rather than official staff.

“Many prisoners find it hard to admit to literacy problems and others have had very bad past educational experiences, which makes them weary of formal education programmes. This is why the idea of training other prisoners to teach the illiterate students will prove more effective, as they are more likely to relate to a fellow inmate,â€Â he said.

Rattray also pointed to a number of successful vocational programmes that have been running at both HMP Fairbanks and Northward. He said the programme was expanded and they would eventually be able to offer nine vocational programmes that would result in technical qualifications certified by the University College of the Cayman Islands (UCCI).

“We have worked in conjunction with Employment Relations to find out which fields there are labour shortages in and we are creating programmes which will lead to meaningful qualifications that can also lead to genuine employment opportunities,â€Â Rattray said.

He also explained that some prison officers had taken a specialist course to help them teach prisoners how to run their own small business. Some 75 prisoner officers have also been trained to conduct the new risk assessment that is now underway for prisoners serving sentences longer than two years. All of these initiatives are likely to make a significant impact. After all, anything that offers prisoners an opportunity to change their lives is beneficial to the community at large. However, experts note that cognitive or vocational programmes can be of little use if the prisoners can’t read.

Illiteracy is not the only cause of dysfunctional or criminal behaviour but it is the most fundamental and perhaps easier to tackle than the more complex behavioural problems that many prisoners suffer from – which, according to some criminologists, are often rooted in the frustrations associated with functional illiteracy and the humiliation they suffer in society as a result of not being able to read. 

While there are numerous factors involved in the road to criminality, illiteracy is one of the main reasons why so many criminals cannot break their cycle of re-offending. Almost without exception, illiterates feel ashamed, stupid and unwanted. They tend to disengage from society and become involved in drugs and crime. If, however, prisoners can be taught how to read, they can then learn to do anything.

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