Archive for May 11th, 2010

Missing teenage girl found safe

| 11/05/2010 | 3 Comments

(CNS): Police say 15-year-old Shandi Sandoval has been found safe and well. Following a series of police operations in the Prospect and Bodden Town areas yesterday, Monday 10 May, the missing teenager was traced and a 19-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of misleading the police. The man is currently in police custody and police enquiries are ongoing. Shandi is currently in a place of safety, police say. On Tuesday 4 May, the 20-year-old man suspected of assisting Shandi by providing food and shelter was arrested.

He was released on police bail and police confirmed today that enquiries continue into this matter

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Cameron new prime minister

| 11/05/2010 | 41 Comments

(CNS): Update 2:45 pm — Leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, has arrived at 10 Downing Street from Buckingham Palace, where Queen Elizabeth asked him to form the next British government. This followed talks with the third party Liberal Democrats to form some sort of coalition government. Gordon Brown has resigned as Leader of the Labour Party, which will now chose a new leader. In a speech made outside his new home, Cameron gave no indication of the deal made by the Lib Dems and the Tories. Nevertheless, a Tory in Number 10 will please the Cayman government, which appears to believe that the Conservatives will be more sympathetic to their opposition to introduce taxes to the islands.

However, given the size of the UK’s own deficit, it is unlikely that the new overseas minister is going to look more favourably on the CIG entering into further borrowing without some form of new revenue measures.

While the premier may have hinted that he would prefer a Conservative government, the reality is that the Tories would be far more likely to advise the CIG to push for even more public service cuts as well as some form of taxation. The Tories may be the party of a little bit less tax; they are by no means the party of no tax. In  the end, although Cayman may bid farewell to Chris Bryant, the CIG won’t be saying goodbye to the UK policy when it comes to the impact of contingent liabilities.

Following talks with the Conservatives immediately following the elections, which resulted in a hung parliament, the Lib Dems opened up talks with Labour Monday morning but with many Labour MPs opposed to forming an alliance with the Liberal Democrats, those talks appear to have broken down irrevocably and the Libs returned to the Tory camp.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg  is said to be looking for a coalition government, with members of his party given Cabinet positions. However, Cameron may baulk at that and the parties may be working towards a looser arrangement in which the Liberal Democrats agree not to vote down a Tory budget or trigger an election by joining the Labour party in a no confidence vote, but to vote on all other issues on a case-by-case basis.

A key issue for the Liberal Democrats is a reform of the electoral process.

As the UK’s turmoil drags on, who will make the decision to settle Cayman’s own financial turmoil remains a mystery.

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UCCI case ‘too slow’, says AG

| 11/05/2010 | 16 Comments

(CNS): What was a relatively straight forward fraud has taken too long to be resolved, the auditor general said on his last day in post as he talked with CNS about unfinished business. Dan Duguay explained that while the audit office had for its part finished its audit into what had happened to public funds at the University College of the Cayman Islands and the apparent fraud by the former president, exactly one year on since Duguay handed over the information to police they had still not concluded their criminal investigations. He said he still hoped it would come to some fruition as he felt the people of the Cayman Islands deserved some answers.

“This has gone too slowly in my opinion and I have told every commissioner that has come here, including the interim ones, that it was a relatively straight forward fraud,” said Duguay. “We gave the police most of the information, though to be fair they did find other things we had not found, but by now that should have come to some fruition and it has not.”
He said the office had raised its concerns with the police that there had been no conclusions or public disclosure on what had happened. He said it was a substantial amount of public money that was lost and that there should be some explanation.
Duguay warned that the perceptions people would have as a result of the lack of closure were ones of suspicion. “As weeks and weeks go by with the police saying they have nothing to report, people get suspicious,” he added, saying that rightly or wrongly the public would perceive somebody must be covering something up.
After six years in office Duguay departed on Friday, 7 May, after what he said was a particularly busy time with three important reports being published and circulated publicly in the last few months. However, the office was continuing on with a number of other important audits, he said.
One area that his office had been examining and would continue to do was the schools projects. “The AG’s office has been talking to government for many months regarding the schools,” Duguay said, explaining that the current government had asked for advice on a number of issues relating to the projects in the wake of problems with the original contractor and how best to find a construction manager to pick up the pieces. Duguay said it was not necessarily a bad thing but given the size of the project the audit should take a look at the tendering process, for both the original and what will now be new contracts, as well as the project itself.
The exiting AG said the Government Office Accommodation Building was also on the audit office’s radar but so far it appeared to be both on time and under budget. Duguay said that it had been set to be a good news audit except for recent concerns that had been brought to his office’s attention about some changes to the original furnishingcontract, which the audit office was now examining.
“If the contract has been changed then the office would want to look at that,” Duguay said, adding that it does not automatically mean it’s a bad thing, but if a contract is changed after its awarded and it appears to have gone to a more expensive bid, this is the kind of question that an auditor general should be asking, Duguay pointed out. “It’s not necessarily wrong but when you hear things like that this it makes you want to investigate them. If there was any kind of change the office would want to see those changes had been made properly.”
Another unfinished project for Duguay that his team is now working on is an examination of how custom duty waivers are introduced and managed for specific developers. Duguay said there were a number of questions to be asked, such as what research are such decisions based on and how much does it actually cost or benefit government to implement them.
“The question of how government manages customs duty waiver programmes has been something that the office has had concerns about for some time, going back to the waivers given to the Ritz-Carlton when that was under development,” Duguay stated. “How does the information get to people, how much is it going to cost?” Duguay asked, adding that government has the right to give waivers but it should be called on to account for what revenue is lost as a result of such decisions and in face of what gains if any.
Duguay noted that while there were many other projects under consideration by the office the arrival of a new auditor meant his team would now have to wait and give consideration to what the new man may consider to be a priority. While there was plenty of unfinished business for the team he leaves behind, Duguay said his successor would now be the one to assess what would be the next report from the AG’s office.
Duguay leaves Garnett Harrison as Acting Auditor until the arrival of Alistair Swarbrick from Scotland, who has been given the contract to serve as the office’s next auditor general. CNS has contacted Swarbrick for comment on his new post and the various issues surrounding the government accountability and transparency, among other controversies. However, the new AG refused to comment, save to say he was “delighted to have been appointed as the Auditor General of the Cayman Islands” and that he was “looking forward to working with the Cayman Islands Audit Office team in the interests of the people.”
The last and most controversial of Duguay’s reports, the State of Financial Accountability, will be the subject of the PAC’s examination of witnesses on Tuesday.
Since taking office Duguay has proved to be an advocate of transparency and openness. However, many, including himself, believe that his decision to discuss his findings openly have also played a part in the controversy that has surrounded his reports. Check back to CNS this week for much more on Duguay’s review of his time shining a light on the Cayman Islands Government books.

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FOI being denied, warns ICO

| 11/05/2010 | 34 Comments

Cayman Islands News, Grand Cayman Island headline news, Cayman Islands Freedom of Information(CNS): The information commissioner has raised concerns that government departments are merely paying lip-service to the idea of freedom of information but have not embraced the culture. Feedback to the office suggests the public is been denied access to records requested under the law and Jennifer Dilbert says there are genuine concerns that the public is being misinformed by public officials who are not following the proper procedures. Requests for people’s identity, incidents of intimidation and unfounded refusals have all been reported to her office.

As a result Dilbert is making an appeal to people to report their experiences to her office so that the ICO team can address the problems.

Despite some encouraging statistics and improvements, Commissioner Dilbert said she is still concerned with the negative feedback the office has received from members of the public where the doors to information have essentially been closed. The ICO said she has identified weaknesses in the FOI process. “What is concerning are the number of people who share with us their negative experiences,” Dilbert said.  “People are being told that the records they seek are not covered by FOI, or they are simply being informed that the information does not exist.”
 
As a result Dilbert says she is keen to press upon the public that her office can help and is asking people to bring their concerns to the office to improve their FOI experience. She explained that there are set procedures by which requests must be dealt with, which include logging the request and sending the applicant a formal response letter, people cannot be denied an FOI request over the phone and should be sent a formal letter setting out why  the request has been denied under the law.
 
“The public needs to know that if they are not satisfied with the response they receive to their request, they can contact my office,” the IC added, stating that her staff was there to help not just in the most complex legal cases but where people had been treated unfairly or intimidated.
 
The IC said government officials should not be asking applicants for their real names if FOI requesters don’t wish to give them as they are entitled to make requests under a pseudonym. Nor should they be asking people why they are making a request or what they will use the information for.
 
Dilbert stated that if people had experienced this and had not informed her officer already she would like to hear from applicants. While there are some genuine reasons why a request can be refused, all applicants have the right to appeal and in some cases the office can mediate the appeal without starting a formal hearing.
 
Dilbert said shehad concerns that people who are not appealing decisions may not be aware of their right to do so.  “I am always open to feedback from the public, but if they do not follow through with their request, they are not able to benefit from the rights afforded to them under the law.” 
 
Ironically, the information commissioner herself says her office is alsoencountering resistance from some public authorities to provide her office with copies of the information it needs concerning records in dispute, and under appeal. The ICO has adopted a policy, which is used worldwide by other information commissioners, in which they first attempt to resolve the situation through a mediation process.
 
“This process allows the ICO to investigate the issues, review the request, and work to settle the matter amicably with all parties” says Cory Martinson, Appeals & Policy Analyst at the ICO. “During this phase we normally require that copies of the records in question be forwarded to us so that we can determine if exemptions have been correctly applied in accordance with the law”. 
 
The FOI Law states that the Information Commissioner may examine any record to which the law applies, but this point has already been contested and challenged by two public authorities.
 
In February 2010, the commissioner made her first formal order for the production of a record from the Cabinet Office, which was then complied with and the records were produced. More recently, however, the commissioner faced resistance from an agency who did not feel that they needed to provide the ICO with the records at issue.
 
The commissioner revealed that the agency sought the guidance of a private lawyer, at what must be a considerable expense, to represent them in an appeal that is only in the earliest stages of mediation.
 
“The role of the ICO is to work with all parties,” Dilbert said “We do not look at the situation in an adversarial way against the government, but in order to do our job my team must be able to see the record and know what we are dealing with.”
 
Parties to mediation are assured that records collected during the process will not be released by the ICO and will be kept in a confidential and secure manner. The solutions suggested in mediation do not set precedence, and details are not shared with the information commissioner, so that there is no suggestion of bias before a potential hearing.  Any party may opt to discontinue mediation at any time and proceed to a formal hearing before the commissioner, a process which is set out in a user-friendly way. However, as mediation can often resolve appeals quickly, effectively and with less cost, the ICO encourages all parties to participate.
 
Freedom of information legislation is intended to promote transparency and government accountability. Since the FOI Law was enacted in the Cayman Islands in January 2009, over 1000 requests have been received from applicants seeking access to records but less than half have been granted.
 
The main role of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is to hear appeals when access to information has been denied and monitoring government’s overallcompliance with the law in order to do the latter Dilbert says she needs to hear from the public exactly what their FOI experiences have been. For more information on the ICO or to ask for assistance regarding a refused or delayed request call 747-5405 or visit www.INFOCOMM.ky

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