Archive for June 23rd, 2009

FOI boss fights for resources

| 23/06/2009 | 9 Comments

(CNS): With a lack of resources and no staff, the new information commissioner says she has been struggling against bureaucracy and brick walls since taking up the post in January. She is also concerned that some public authorities are dragging their heels over internal reviews on Freedom of Information requests that have been initially denied. This, together with the office’s resource problems, means that the public are likely to experience delays with FOI appeals, Jennifer Dilbert has said.

If an applicant is not satisfied with the decision the information manager made in response to their FOI request, they can ask for an internal review where a more senior member of the staff of the public authority will consider the request.  If the applicant is still not satisfied, then that is when they can make an appeal to the information commissioner.

“I am very concerned that the initial application process with public authorities is already taking too long, and mindful that delays in the appeal process will further prevent the public’s requests being responded to in a reasonable timeframe,” Dilbert sai.

She added that her office has been under-resourced from the outset and is struggling to cope with the number of appeals being received. There are currently 21 requests under appeal, some of which have already been delayed by the relevant government authority but may now face further delays, Dilbert explained.

The government’s Implementation Plan for the Freedom of Information Law called for a commissioner to be in place 6 months before the law came into effect.  However, Dilbert was not appointed as commissioner until 5 January.

Dilbert stated that the Cabinet Office did assist with making some arrangements when she arrived but there was no office accommodation, supplies, equipment, or staff.

“These first six months have been very stressful and very frustrating,” Dilbert said. “Specifically, I have been subject to much government bureaucracy, especially relating to staffing, and the independence of my office has not been established.”

Although coming up against what she described as “a brick wall at almost every turn”,  Dilbert said she has now put together a small team consisting of an office manger, who joined her in March, and a deputy, appointed in mid-April, and has moved into an office space in Elizabethan Square.  “Approval for two further members of staff was finally given on Friday 19 June, after a long struggle against the government’s hiring moratorium being applied to this new office,” Dilbert added.

She explained that, while the posts have been advertised and interviews are taking place this week, it will take several months for the office to be adequately resourced with trained staff.  While trying to put in place the policies and procedures necessary to conduct fair appeals, the commissioner said some of the appeals she is dealing with are quite involved and complex. 

“Seven of these appeals have been received this month alone, as cases work through the system,” Dilbert noted, explaining that a lot of the appeals are dealt with through arbitration and mediation before she has to take all the material involved and make her ruling in a written decision.

She said statistics show that a majority of the requests for records were being well handled by the information managers.  Another encouraging trend was that in several instances where requests for records has highlighted inefficiencies or lack of systems in some authorities, the relevant authorities had accepted these problems and were making efforts to correct them.

“This is one of the benefits of Freedom of Information,” Dilbert noted, but added that it would take some time for the process to yield long term improvements and asked the public to be patient. 

She also encouraged the public to continue to seek the information they require. In the future, she will be looking into ways to make the process of requesting and accessing information as easy as possible for the general public. 

“I invite the public to visit our new website where you can find our Policies and Procedures as well as links for application forms and other helpful resources. In time, my office will be providing comprehensive ongoing public awareness and training programmes to ensure that FOI is made accessible to all in these Islands.” 

Dilbert heads the independent Information Commissioner’s Office and her powers under the Freedom of Information Law are to hear, investigate and rule on appeals filed under the law, and to monitor compliance with the law. In her early months Dilbert said she has been supported by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner in British Columbia, which has provided her with an advisor for three months, and a registrar of hearings for a two week period, and Dilbert said she was very grateful to BC Commissioner David Loukidelis, who has provided support to both her and her deputy in terms of training,information and personnel.

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DTF discovers ganja haul in shed

| 23/06/2009 | 12 Comments

(CNS): Police said today (Tuesday 23 June)that Detectives from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service (RCIPS) Drugs Task Force (DTF) have recovered 24 pounds of ganja in an overnight operation. The illegal drugs were found in an outside shed at the back of a George Town apartment complex. The drugs had been wrapped into 30 individual packages ready for selling and officers said the seizure will have a noticeable impact on the sellers’ illegal trade.

No arrests have been made in connection with the find but police said that and investigations into who might be connected to the drugs continue. “Whoever was involved with these drugs will be hurting today,” said Superintendent Kurt Walton head of DTF. “They lost a fair amount of drugs and I am sure they won’tbe very happy about it.”

Although police have not supplied an estimated street value it is understood based on local street prices that whoever had planned to sell the drugs could have expected a return of up to $40,000.

Anyone with information about the seizure is asked to contact the Drugs Task Force on 949-7710. People can also pass information about the use and sale of illegal drugs to Crime Stoppers on 800-8477 (TIPS). All persons calling Crime Stoppers remain anonymous, and are eligible for a reward of up to $1000, should their information lead to an arrest or recovery of property/drugs.

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OECD impressed with progress on transparency

| 23/06/2009 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Secretary General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Secretary General Angel Gurria has said that rapid progress has been made over the last few months on transparency and information exchange. “Over these eight months, we have made more progress than in the last 10 years,” he said in Berlin today, (Tuesday 23 June) adding that the number of tax information exchange agreements doubled to over 80 during the last six months.

He said that over the next two months, the OECD aims to strengthen the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information by setting up a robust peer review mechanism, monitoring the implementation of agreed tax standards, and developing further countermeasures against non-cooperative countries.

"In these difficult times, when governments need every dollar of tax revenue, when citizens need to be reassured that the tax burden is being fairly shared, when governments are striving to improve transparency in financial markets, it is essential that the international community moves forward," Gurria said at the meeting of 18 finance ministry officials from European Union and OECD countries.

The meeting also saw the 18 nation agree that sanctions may be applied against countries not complying with OECD standards.Although they have not yet described under what circumstances sanctions might be implemented. The agreement on sanctions was contained in a communiqué that was signed by the countries attending including some of the  “grey list” countries that have not yet fully met OECD standards. 

Among the sanctions proposed was the ending of treaties between the non co-operative jurisdictions by those that are signed up to abide by the OECD’s standards. A Swiss delegate to the meeting, finance minister Hans-Rudolf Merz, warned against the imposing of sanctions too hurriedly.

German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck told reporters measures would be taken to tackle foundations and holding companies that make avoiding tax easier. “It’s of decisive significance that we don’t stay put,” Steinbrueck said. “Declarations alone, as important as they are, have to be followed up with action.”

Funds held offshore by individuals or companies to evade taxes or escape from political instability in their home countries are “somewhere between $5 trillion and $7 trillion,” according to OECD Gurria.

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Tenth tax deal done

| 23/06/2009 | 23 Comments

(CNS): The Cayman Islands now has ten bilateral tax information exchange agreements in place following a signing ceremony today in Berlin, where Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush signed a deal which had been negotiated with the Republic of Ireland. This means that Cayman is now only two short of the twelve agreements required by the OECD to move it to the post G20 ‘white list’. According to today’s OECD progress report, Cayman remains on the ‘grey list’ of countries considered not to be fully co-operative.

Bush said he was pleased to sign the agreement with Ireland as it marked another important step towards the country’s commitment to international cooperation and OECD standards for transparency and exchange of information on tax matters. “This signing will commemorate the beginning of what I am sure will be a highly productive and mutually rewarding relationship between the Cayman Islands and Ireland,” Bush added.

He said that the newly formed ‘Negotiation Team’ had worked tirelessly to secure technical agreements quickly. “Our signing last week of a Double Taxation Agreement with the UK together with today’s signing is a direct result of their commitment and hard work. We look forward to continuing these efforts and I am confident that we will be on the OECD’s white list very soon.”

The deal with Ireland is as a result of negotiations begun in the last few weeks by the new government’s team and forms part of a list of potential other bilateral agreements with a number of OECD countries. Some negotiations were started under the previous adminsration in the wake of deals signed under the unilateral mechanism, which was not accepted by the OECD as fully compliant with its standards.

Signing on behalf of the Irish Government, Martin Mansergh, Minister of State at the Irish Department of Finance, said the TIEA was concrete evidence of the significant progress that has been made in recent months. “Ireland welcomes the commitment of the Cayman Islands to implement the OECD standards of transparency and exchange of information in tax matters and their willingness to enter into tax information exchange agreements,” he noted. “The signing of this agreement represents a new chapter in relations between Ireland and the Cayman Islands.”

Mansergh told the Irish press that the agreement would allow Ireland’s Revenue Commissioners to request information which is relevant to an Irish tax investigation directly from the authorities in the Cayman Islands. "Information that would typically be relevant is bank account information and beneficial ownership information for companies and other entities established in the Cayman Islands,” he added.

The Cayman Islands now has bilateral tax information agreements with the United States, United Kingdom, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden. The jurisdiction also has complimentary agreements with Germany, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Slovak Republic and Switzerland under the Tax Information Authority Law passed late last year.

It is understood that the technical committee of the OECD had originally sanctioned the unilateral mechanism, but at some point before the G20 meeting where the white and grey lists were drawn up decided it would have to give further consideration to that particular method of signing agreements. The OECD did state in the notes that when the so-called lists were first published that it had acknowledged the use of this mechanism to consider revising Cayman’s position from the list.

However, since then Bermuda has been moved and in today’s progress report Cayman is still on the ‘grey list’, with the same note still in place but making it clear that the jurisdiction will have to continue on towards the goal of 12 bilateral deals. Bush said last week that he is aiming to sign agreements with all OECD countries but will have the all-important twelve by September.

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New laws target UK MPs

| 23/06/2009 | 0 Comments

(BBC): MPs who break the rules could face up to a year in jail under plans for new criminal charges for Parliamentarians. Harriet Harman outlined new offences of making a false expenses claim, failing to register a relevant interestand breaking rules on paid advocacy. She also pledged to "look again" at the issue of blacking out details on MPs’ published expenses claims. Shadow Commons leader Alan Duncan said last week’s heavily edited publication had been an "unmitigated" PR disaster. Ms Harman has been outlining the government’s plans for cleaning up Parliament in the wake of public anger over MPs’ expenses claims.

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Netball team competes in JA

| 23/06/2009 | 0 Comments

(CNS): The National Under-16 Netball Squad recently returned from Jamaica where they competed in the prestigious ‘Caribbean Netball Association Jean Pierre Tournament’. In addition to the training and hard work that earned then an invitation to compete at the event, the team and members of the Netball Association had to make a concerted effort to raise the money to pay for their trip. Impressed by the team’s great effort to raise the necessary funding, Maples and Calder assisted with making up the shortfall, a release from the local law firm said.

Twelve players travelled to the event accompanied by three coaching staff. Although they did not return home with the winner’s trophy, the team did capture two honours. Liana Benjamin was named ‘Most Accurate Shooter’ of the tournament, and Rosemarie Wilson was named to the ‘Top 16’ list of players from a total of 84 competitors. The team and their coaches were very pleased with their overall performance and said that the players learnt a great deal and had a very memorable experience.

Maples and Calder partner Dale Crowley, speaking on the firm’s behalf, was "very pleased with the team’s efforts at the tournament, and was happy to have assisted them."

Photo: Maples and Calder partner, Dale Crowley and Secretary of the Executive Committee of CI Netball Association, Norma Ferryman.

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Tax haven progress report

| 23/06/2009 | 0 Comments

(Guardian): OECD chief Angel Gurria expects to report progress by states singled out as needing to improve their tax cooperation standards before a meeting on the issue today, (Tuesday 23 June). A statement to be released after the meeting will state whether countries on the "grey list" drawn up by theOrganisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have made progress since last year on signing bilateral tax treaties and combating bank secrecy. (ie country’s on the grey list).


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Atlantic’s first storm could be Pacific’s first hurricane

| 23/06/2009 | 1 Comment

(CNS): According to weather predictors Andres the first tropical storm of the Atlantic season which formed off the Sothern coast of Mexico on Sunday evening is now expected to grow into the Pacific season’s first hurricane today. Mexico issued a hurricane warning for the strip of coast from just south of Manzanillo to near Puerto Vallarta. To the south, the storm dumped heavy rains on Acapulco, knocking down trees, flooding houses and forcing a few people to evacuate their homes yesterday (Monday 23 June)

Forecasters said Andres was likely to brush the coast at hurricane strength around the port city of Manzanillo with forecast models showing its centre moving up the coast near towns such as Barra de Navidad. Surfers are also being warned to take note as Andres could work its way to the resort town of Cabo San Lucas the tip of Mexico’s Baja California later in the week.

The U.S. National Hurricane Centre said Andres could bring coastal storm surge as much as 3 feet (nearly 1 meter) above normal while dumping as much as 12 inches of rain in a few spots.

Andres has already made history according to the Hurricane Centre which said it has been 40 years since it took so long for a named storm to develop in the eastern Pacific.


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Architect revives concerns

| 23/06/2009 | 31 Comments

(CNS): Local architects are not able to compete on a level playing field in their own country, according to a member of the profession who has said that the Planning Department is not stopping developers and builders from using overseas architects who don’t have licences or work permits and don’t know the local law. Eddie Thompson said that locals in the industry are getting a raw deal, as anyone from anywhere is allowed to draw plans and designs for buildings to be erected in Cayman, despite not knowing the local physical, legal or social geography of the islands.

“We have a situation with the electronic age where a developer can simply e-mail an architect who is on-line and order plans,” said Thompson. “That architect may come for a quick visit but he is free to do the work and supply the designs which planning will accept, despite that they have been drawn up by someone with no knowledge of our regulations or geography.”

Thompson who has been in the business for several years here and who also recently ran for a seat in the Legislative Assembly in the 20 May elections, noted that in all other professions those coming from outside have to meet certain standards to practice here and that throughout the US architects are not even allowed to practice from state to state without meeting certain criteria.

“An architect working out of California can’t just pick up and go practice in Florida because of the obvious geographical and environmental differences they would have to make an application to change their practice region and demonstrate their capabilities,” he explained.

Thompson said, however, that Kenneth Ebanks the Director of Planning is accepting plans drawn up by designers who may never have even been here which often results in major problems and the whole project being started over, because the plans may get past the first stage of planning but won’t pass building control.

“It is very disappointing that the director says he is not able to prevent this when he could,” said Thompson, adding that it was very disappointing that Cayman’s own Planning Department won’t protect local professionals and consumers from the problems arising when people are using overseas architects that are simply not qualified to work here.

Thompson said that on occasion firms based in Cayman looking at designing new officers, for example, have imported and employed temporary architects to work here when they have a trade and business license for an entirely different industry. He lamented the fact that Cayman was simply not protecting its own people who are forced to meet the local business criteria but if they are going to have to continue competing with architects that are not having to meet local overheads the professional will not be ale to flourish and develop young talent.

Moreover, consumers will continue to be lulled down the cheap plans route only to have to pay again when everything goes wrong, he said. Thompson said that when former leader of government business was elected in 2005 he had promised to address this and other issues that have concerned the profession for many years, but nothing happened.

“Kurt Tibbetts promised when he came in office last to address this but nothing has happened,” he said. “Consultants came and produced the Zucker Report, most of which planning has still not implemented. The rest of Builders Law is almost dead in the water and our profession still has no register of professional architects or formal standards.”

Thompson said he and others in the profession believe that it is time to address the situation to create a level playing field for the profession and improve standards.

“At the moment it is like taxation without representation,” said Thompson. “We all meet the local business criteria and pay our license. We are expected to train the next generation of architects and we are knowledgeable about the regulations and needs of the local landscape. Yet our own government is not protecting us from overseas competitors that have no licences and an unfair advantage.”

Thompson said he was happy to see overseas professionals working here, especially for the larger developments, but he said it would be beneficial to all parties if they were expected to partner with local firms if they are to practice here. He said that often occurs with major projects but he lamented the circumstances where foreign made plans that do not adhere to local regulations are slipping through the net and seriously undermining the local profession.

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