Archive for March 22nd, 2010

Health care overhaul bill heads to Obama’s desk

| 22/03/2010 | 0 Comments

(CNN): President Obama will sign a landmark $875 billion health care reform bill into law at the White House on Tuesday, according to two Democratic officials familiar with the planning. The bill passed the House of Representatives late Sunday night. It was approved by the Senate in December. A separate package of changes passed by the House on Sunday still needs to be approved by the Senate. The officials noted that the Senate cannot begin debate on the package before Obama signs the underlying bill into law. The bill passed in a 219-212 vote after more than a year of bitter partisan debate. All 178 Republicans opposed it, along with 34 Democrats.

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Immigration challenges

| 22/03/2010 | 25 Comments

Cayman’s stickiest and most controversial topic is likely to get even stickier in the coming months as the fallout from civil service cuts leads to more Caymanians looking for work in the private sector. If ever there was a need for the system to meet the balance between the needs of local workers and employers it’s now, making it imperative that the Immigration Review Team (IRT) gets it right.

Government has said it has no plans to cut jobs just yet and will reduce through divestment, but whatever the political rhetoric, unless the government does a u-turn on tax policy the job cuts are coming, and hence new pressure on the immigration problem.

It’s fair to say that there is probably no one who better understands the issues surrounding the jurisdiction’s immigration challenges and the sensitivities that go with it than Sherri Bodden Cowan, considering how much she has wrestled with the issue over the last decade. So, when she spoke recently about the need to police and enforce the new accreditation system when it’s implemented, government needs to listen.

As she pointed out, to gain support for any new method of managing immigration and its direct connection to our economic well-being, this system must be seen to be working properly, which means ensuring that not only does it have the potential to work when implemented but that people follow the rules.

One of the major problems with the existing immigration system is not necessarily that the concept behind the system was fundamentally flawed, but that the system did not work and, more importantly, even where it might have worked it was perceived not to do so.

When the economy is booming and there are jobs for all in every possible category, the problem was less apparent. However, the recession changed all that. With already rising unemployment in the private sector set to get worse with the pressure to reduce the civil service, if locals see expats continuing to take the jobs that they feel should be theirs, rightly or wrongly, the divisions that are becoming increasingly apparent will get worse.

While many people seem to want to blame the commenter’s on Cayman News Service for every conceivable ill in the community, including this growing divide,  the bloggers, commenter’s or callers to talks shows are not the problem. They are merely expressing what people have believed for some time but have had few avenues in which to state it, which is that many see the immigration system as being manipulated.

Employees believe that employers dodge their obligations or, as was noted at the recent YUDP meeting, ‘fudge’ their business staffing plans and work permit applications to avoid compliance with the rules.

Many young Caymanians perceive that they are not being offered a fair crack and that training programmes in their organisations are nothing more than lip service, if they exist at all. But many say their employers simply lie about their in-house training programmes.

People still believe the Work Permit Board and the Business Staffing Plan Board are manipulated and that, despite the law, decisions are made arbitrarily and not in accordance with the rules of the current immigration law and regulations. The bottom line is that immigration needs to be transparent and, as Bodden Cowan has said, both fair and accountable.

Good employers should not be prevented from recruiting who they want, provided that they are employing and training local workers and supporting good causes. But when they are not it needs to be exposed and there has to be consequences.

Everyone in Cayman who has been here for more than a few months can probably attest to employers that they know are breaking the rules and getting away with it as it is incredibly common. So long as work permit decisions are made in secrecy this will continue to happen. A points system should enable not just the employer and employees involved to see how decisions are made but the wider community as well.

In order for the private sector to function the system has to be efficient, but the community as a whole also needs to have faith that the country’s immigration policy actually works and gives the local workforce a fair chance at a decent job with a living wage.

The tough decisions that are expected to be made by government over the next few years will see an increase in Caymanian unemployment and the pressure to hire local staff will be placed on the private sector. While there may be very legitimate reasons for not hiring every out of work Caymanian that comes for an interview, the system must appear to be fair, otherwise the perception of discrimination will widen the existing divide and lead to serious unrest in the community. People must know why a company has been given permits when there are Caymanians available. Once the reason are known, whether it is a real case of skill gaps or lack of experience or is, in fact, prejudice, then the problem can be addressed.

With no full benefit system in place, when Cayman loses its safety net of government social employment, private sector employers will be required to step up to the plate and take on those locals who have become casualties of the changes, but many will be reluctant to do so. Those at the top of the private sector pile have become accustomed to being able to select exactly who they want, rarely allowing nationality to influence their decision and without obligation to even try and find a Caymanian. Thoseat the bottom have also become used to exploiting foreign workers and keeping their wage and benefits bill to a minimum.

The key, therefore, will be, as Bodden Cowan observes, enforcement and transparency. If not then Cayman’s perennial immigration headache is about to become a serious migraine.

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Cayman model enjoys first win on TV reality show

| 22/03/2010 | 48 Comments

Cayman Islands News, Cayman local news, Celebrity Apprentice, Selita Ebanks(CNS): In the second episode of this season’s Celebrity Apprentice, Selita Ebanks, Cayman’s own supermodel, basked in the glory of victory with her celebrity team mates when the women defeated the men in a Kodak Moments challenge. Led by Maria Kanellis, the former WWE Diva who took this episode’s project manager role, the ladies in team Tenacity impressed the Kodak Executives the most with their shop fronted campaign for the well known photographic firm. The win secures Cayman’s biggest celebrity at the very least another week on the show.

The third season of the hit show started last week when the women, under the stewardship of Cyndi Lauper, narrowly lost the challenge of running a diner. Carol Leifer was fired because she failed to win the respect of her team mates. In this week’s episode stand-up comedian Sinbad became the second comic to be given their marching orders by Donald Trump. Sinbad, who was project manager for Rock Solid, the men’s team, was sacked for being disorganised and not managing his team.

Though the women may have risen to the top on this episode, it was not without its challenges, not least the antics of Lauper, who was clearly increasingly annoying her cast members, including Ebanks.

Although currently ranked as an outsider to win the game, many TV and celebrity critics are warning that the other players could be underestimating Ebanks’ many talents. A former Columbia student and a survivor of one of the toughest industries, some say she is a lot more than a pretty face.

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Miller defends report

| 22/03/2010 | 21 Comments

Cayman Islands News, Grand Cayman headline news, James MillerCayman Islands News, Grand Cayman headline news(CNS): Although James Miller (left) says that he and  David Shaw rejected the idea of direct taxation or other revenue raising measures for Cayman, it does not mean they didn’t examine possible revenue sources closely. Despite comments made by the FCO about the report, Miller told CNS that the idea of tax was rejected because it would not work for Cayman and that overseas territories historically had been allowed autonomy in determining fiscal policy.  He reiterated the report’s findings that the problem was down to spending not revenue.

The man who led the commission said that he and Shaw had looked very carefully at a wide variety of tax measures. “We evaluated each one in terms of revenue raised and the impact on the economy.  In the end, we decided to recommend against new revenue measures,” Miller explained, adding that such measures would not likely raise much money, would harm the Cayman economy, and that it was apparent that the sustainability problem was caused by overspending, not a lack of revenue. 

Miller said that the UK had not advocated a specific new tax or additionalrevenue source and the commission covered all realistic proposals for new revenue, including all that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) might have advocated, had they done so.  “It is wrong to assume that simply because we rejected an option we didn’t consider it,” he added.

Although Miller has received considerable support in Cayman from the private sector, the UK has expressed its concerns that the commission rejected new sources of revenue, in particular some form of direct taxation.

In his letter to the premier earlier this month following the talks in London with the Cayman Islands government and the FCO, Colin Roberts (above right), the overseas territories director, indicated that the UK was still expecting some new form of sustainable revenue raising measures. He said the UK Minister with responsibility for BOTs would “be surprised if new measures are not brought forward” to raise revenue as part of the three-year plan to improve the government’s fiscal situation.

“It is disappointing that the Miller commission did not provide a robust, quantified assessment of such measures,” Roberts wrote to McKeeva Bush. While the UK says it agrees that spending needs to be reduced, the FCO seems not to see this as an ‘either or solution’ but has asked to see the CIG address both sides of the budget.

Miller is, however, insistent in his report that the problems is entirely down to overspending, hence the need for the CIG to take drastic measures. Aware of the social implications of reducing the civil services, Miller explained to CNS that he believes the civil service is an "employer of last resort", and with improvements to the economy more jobs could be created in the private sector.

“By getting back on track and enabling certain private-sector initiatives, government could enhance economic growth and create substantial employment opportunities for Caymanians,” Miller added. “Governments that over-employ are behaving unfairly to those who do not have government jobs and who, one way or another, pay the bills.  Also, a government that over-employs crowds out the private sector by bidding up the price of labour unnecessarily.  It is difficult to start a new business when you are competing for staff with your own government.”

He urged Caymanians to recognize that there are “no free lunches and unnecessary expenditure” in the public arena and it has a price of lost opportunity and work in the private sector.  

Miller said he believed civil servants could transition to the private sector during the process of divestment and privatization of services. He acknowledged that once in private hands there would be a greater demand for labour force productivity and better sales, and while the first would reduce the need for employees, second would increase the demand.

Confronting the fears raised that reducing civil service pay and the numbers employed would have a direct impact on the economy because of their buying power, he said any problem in this regard would be short lived. “In the longer term the private sector should grow again, and civil servants should benefit from any increases in government revenues, while all Caymanians would benefit from increased fiscal sustainability," Miller suggested. “The Cayman Government’s fiscal problems are the result of a rate of growth in spending that vastly exceeds the rate of growth in the private sector.”

Responding to the Civil Service Association’s suggestion that public servants take time off in lieu of a pay cut, Miller said this proved his point. “This suggestion seems to confirm that there is substantial over-employment and that all the activities of government could be carried out with fewer people.  If we understand the proposal correctly, it would mean higher incomes for those retiring civil servants on defined-benefit plans.  It is important for those civil servants to focus on the unfunded liabilities of their retirement plans and recognize that these income ‘promises’ are unsustainable as well,” he warned.

Reviewing the commission’s work, Miller said he and Shaw were appointed because of concerns about the jurisdiction’s fiscal sustainability, and he said they found those concerns were justified.

“The Cayman Islands Government has an opportunity to put its business in order and enhance economic growth, thus improving the standard of living of all Caymanians.  If it fails to seize this opportunity generations to come will pay the price,” Miller stated.

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IRT boss vows better system

| 22/03/2010 | 68 Comments

Cayman Islands Grand Cayman immigration sherri Bodden Cowan(CNS): The chair of the Immigration Review Team (IRT) has said that the planned changes to how work permits are granted will improve for both Caymanians and employers when they are implemented. Sherri Bodden Cowan told a recent meeting of the YUDP that the new accreditation system would not only offer employers a more efficient way of getting the people they needed but it would offer better protection to local workers as well. The chair of the IRT explained that because the system was more transparent and precise, the Immigration Department and relevant boards would have better information about the compliance of employers when granting permits and key employee status.

Facing a number of questions and concerns from people at the Young United Democratic Party meeting last Thursday that employers were not always honest about the training they offered or the efforts they made to promote Caymanians, Bodden Cowan noted that this system would make employers more accountable.

With a number of people at the meeting pointing out that employers had a tendency to ‘fudge’ or ‘dodge’ their obligations to train Caymanians into posts held by work permit holders, they asked what safeguards would be in place to protect them before these employers were given permits and key status.

“The accreditation system will allow immigration to gather more information. I support this system as it asks more precise questions of employers,” the IRT chair told the meeting.

She explained that the goal was to create an on-line tool where employers will be able to feed in the information about their firm so it is there permanently and available for assessment. Employers would be reviewed and checked to make sure the information they give is truthful and enable Immigration to cross check, eliminating some of the weaknesses with the current Business Staffing Plan, which she admitted had not worked how it was intended.

Bodden Cowan denied that the new system was about offering key employee status on mass. She said the allocation of key status under the system would be more rigid as employers would only get the status if they demonstrated they were good corporate citizens. Right now, she said, any employer, good or bad, could get key status from foreign staff.

Warning that the key to the system’s success would be enforcing the rules and verifying facts, Bodden Cowan said in the first instance the accreditation system, which was a by-partisan plan that came from an assessment of the Immigration Department started by the former CIO Franz Manderson (now Chief Officer of the Portfolio of Internal & External Affairs) would be rolled out in phases. She said the pilot phase would begin with the financial services industry and if it worked it would spread to other sectors.

“Each industry has different things that they contribute to the community and the economy, so we will need different assessments,” she said. “Some people say it’s not going to work, that it’s just another way of asking another bunch of questions and it won’t make a difference. We need to prove this system can work.”

Bodden Cowan said the points system would allow the government to reward employers that were dealing with society’s needs so those who employed more young people, contributed to youth programmes or dealt with more challenging things like employing ex-offenders would benefit. “We can adjust the points system to encourage companies to invest in the areas that we as a society feel are in need at any given time,” she added.

Criticizing the opposition party for the misinformation she said they were spreading about the government’s  plans for immigration, the IRT chair said there were absolutely no plansfor mass status grants and pointed out that the law simply does not allow that to happen. “The UDP has been accused of looking to do another major status grant but there is no question of that as the law does not allow for it. The status grants have to be done by the Legislative Assembly and the law says there can only be four per year. The law would have to be changed before any more could happen, so it would be debated and the public would know.”

She said, however, the PPM continues to repeat it in order to scare people, but she said Cayman could no longer remain a small village and enjoy economic success.  “We can’t expect to remain a small village and be a successful financial centre as well. With that success comes need for ex-pat workers,” she added. “Who is going to start a business if there is no one here to buythe services? Success won’t come without people from overseas. We need to protect and promote Caymanians but we need foreign investment and expertise, so we have to find the balance.”

The IRT chair said the first legislative changes to immigration would come to the Legislative Assembly in the next few months and there would be time for people to offer input as well as discuss and debate the changes.

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Take a 13% pay cut

| 22/03/2010 | 16 Comments

(Times Online): Good morning. Here is the news. Because of the budget deficit, shrinking economy and untenable level of national debt, all public service salaries will be cut by an average of 13.5 per cent, withimmediate effect. The charges will appear on your payslip as “government levy”, and will apply to frontline public workers in health, education, transport and local services and also to MPs, Ministers of State and the Attorney-General.

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