Archive for April 21st, 2011

Mac defends port decision

| 21/04/2011 | 71 Comments

(CNS): The cancellation of the exclusivity agreement between the government and GLF Construction over the development of cruise berthing facilities in George Town was in the best interest of the country, the premier said Thursday. In a short statement released by his office, McKeeva Bush said the agreement had been ended to “ensure that this project moves ahead successfully in a much more timely manner,” despite the fact that GLF had said in its correspondence that it could be ready to mobilize in less than six weeks. The premier has not yet revealed what other options government is now considering but said that when a decision was made he would explain to the country.

“The cruise ship berthing facility is vital to the future of our tourism industry. We must therefore move forward with high confidence that this project will get underway with the least delay possible,” he stated. “When a decision is made on the awarding of a contract for the port expansion I will make a make statement giving a full explanation to the country.”

The breakdown of the latest port talks between the Cayman Islands government and the developers was revealed on CNS on Wednesday via correspondence between the premier and the CEO of GLF, Francesco Senis, which was posted on the site.

In his statement on Thursday evening Bush said it was in the best interest of the country “that we give ourselves other options by ending the exclusivity clause with GLF.”

The exclusivity clause was part of a Framework Agreement between CIG, the Port Authority and GLF, signed on the 14 December 2010, which ended last week.

“The Framework Agreement between GLF and the Cayman Islands Government and the Port Authority of the Cayman Islands entitled us to invoke the nonexclusive clause within the Framework Agreement,” Bush said. “This route was taken in the best interest of the country to ensure that this project moves ahead successfully in a much more timely manner.”

Only recently both the Port Authority chair, Stefan Baraud, and Cline Glidden, the West Bay backbench MLA who has been leading the port development talks, had said that negotiations with GLF were progressing very well and construction was expected to start in only a matter of weeks.

In its correspondence with government GLF had listed the various elements that had been accomplished and that it was ready to move ahead once the master agreement had been signed.

The local representatives, Royal Construction, have also said that they cannot understand why government is not happy as they have fulfilled their part of the framework agreement and remain ready to go ahead. Although the correspondence seems to indicate that GLF could still continue talking with government, the decision by the premier to look at other options points to the presence of another possible developer or investor which has not yet been revealed.

Speculation is rife, however, that it is a group of Chinese investors who have also expressed an interest in developing a proposed channel in the North Sound and a new resort built on synthetic islands created there. Speaking at the CBO conference in January, Bush had said these investors had also shown interest in the cruise port.

GLF, which was paired with local construction company Royal in their bid for the port was the second choice to build and finance the facilities. Prior to GLF the government and the Port Authority were in negotiations with DECCO, Dart’s construction firm. However, government could not come to an agreement with Dart over how long it could lease the port land from government in order to recoup its investment..

Only a few weeks before negotiations broke down with Dart in December last year, both Baraud and Glidden had said that the talks were going well and the developer was making progress.

Speaking to CNS on Tuesday afternoon, Glidden said that he had been off island last week and he was unaware what had happened in connection with the cruise port negotiations.

So far CNS has been unable to reach the port chairman for comment.

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Martinez guilty of murder

| 21/04/2011 | 10 Comments

(CNS): William McLaughlin-Martinez has been found guilty — again — of the murder of Brian Rankine-Carter. The jury of ten women and two men took just short of two and a half hours to decide their unanimous guilty verdict on Thursday afternoon following a re-trial which lasted less than two weeks. Martinez hung his head as the verdict was relayed to him and remained impassive as the judge handed down the mandatory life sentence. This is the second time Martinez has been found guilty of the killing, which took place in May 2008. The 34-year-old man was tried and convicted in July 2009, but the verdict was overturned by the Court of Appeal last year as a result of a misdirection from the trial judge in response to a jury query.

The crown almost missed securing this second conviction, however, as thetrial was postponed twice as a result of the prosecution’s difficulty in locating the principal witness in the case. Jason Hinds, who was Martinez’ co worker at Fisher Plumbing, is a Jamaican national who was deported back to that country, having been released early from a three year prison sentence after he had pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact of murder.

Hinds was with Martinez on the night Rankine was killed and admitted to assisting in the disposal of the evidence. The crown relied on Hinds’ account to build its case against Martinez in conjunction with forensic and circumstantial evidence, which they said supported his narrative of the night’s events. The key witness eventually gave evidence via video link

The case was marred by a number of what were described by the senior investigating officer on the case as "cock-ups" in the investigation and with the chain of evidence. As well as losing video tape evidence, police failed to send a machete that was found at the home of Jason Hinds, which he said he had used to bury his bloody clothes, for testing until the first trial almost a year after the murder had taken place.

Rankine was killed, according to the expert forensic witness, with a weapon akin to a machete or an axe.

His naked body was discovered in a car park in McField Lane, George Town. The killing, in which he had suffered almost 50 wounds inflicted mostly by a machete, was clearly a frenzied attack and expert witnesses said that the victim’s head had been almost severed from the body.

The motive for the murder, the prosecution said during the trial, was that a drug deal between Martinez and Rankine had gone wrong. Although Caymanian and living in East End at the time of hisarrest, McLaughlin-Martinez, who is married with three children, was born in Honduras and came to Cayman when he was around six years old, the court heard during the trial.

During the trial the jury was told that the case rested heavily on the veracity of Hinds’ account and whether or not they believed his narrative of the night’s events.

In the wake of the conviction the defence team representing Martinez, having had one successful appeal, said they would be reviewing the case and assessing the grounds for another appeal on behalf of their client.

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Fire crews struggle to fight dump blaze

| 21/04/2011 | 13 Comments

(CNS):(Updated Monday)-Firefighters finally managed to contain a fierce blaze at the George Town landfill to the northwest corner on Thursday evening after a long battle. Fire Service officials said it had started in the very early hours of the morning (21 April) around 3:30am, and 25 crew members were still struggling to keep in under control in the area where household rubbish is kept. Hoping to have it doused by Friday Chief Fire Officer Dennom Bodden said it was deep-seated. He explained that putting out the blaze required excavators to lift up underlying burning rubbish and fire tankers to douse and dampen the flames. "This is a long process. There is still considerable smoke, but we expect to have it extinguished by this evening,” he said on the eve of the Easter break. (Photo Bina Mani)

Some 25 firefighters from Fire Services and DEH were staffing three fire tankers and a trailer pump, plus two excavators, to keep the fire contained.

Although fires are frequent at landfills they are difficult to fight and potentially very dangerous as a result of the methane and other gasses present. The fire comes at a time when government has gone silent regarding the long term plans to tackle Mount Trashmore, as the dump is known.

 

Just before Christmas the Central Tenders Committee awarded the contract to clean up and manage the dump to international waste-to-energy experts Wheelabrator Technologies Inc. Following that the premier made an announcement that the dump would be moved and the current site given to Dart.

Over the last few weeks CNS has contacted a number of government officials involved in the current negotiations but despite repeated efforts has received no information. It is understood, however, that Dart, which reportedly came seventh in the technical team’s evaluation of the bids, is currently negotiating with the contract bid winners over the plans to move the landfill, possibly to Bodden Town, and how they will work with Wheelabrator moving forward.

As a waste to energy firm, Wheelabrator had bid on the contract expecting to mine the existing dump and use the contents to burn for energy, which would be sold to CUC where. With Dart’s plan to cap and remediate the existing dump, Wheelabrator will under these circumstances lose access to a large part of what would have been its potential revenue.

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Bahamas told to amend US tax deal

| 21/04/2011 | 0 Comments

(Tax News): A report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has recommended that the Bahamas amend its tax information exchange treaty with the US to ensure greater power to access requested information. The OECD’s Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes published Phase One of its Peer Review Report on the Bahamas on April 14. The Forum is charged with in-depth monitoring and peer review of the implementation of the standards of transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes. The Bahamas has 24 TIEAs and the US was the first to come into force, in 2004 and does not comply.

The report states that, by the TIEA’s existing stipulations, the Bahamas lacks the power to obtain and provide information held outside the Bahamas, even in a case where the information is held by a person within its territorial jurisdiction.


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Captain Bryan spreads net

| 21/04/2011 | 24 Comments

(CNS):The man spearheading the campaign to Save Cayman and in particular the North Sound has called on the help of a number of international environmental groups. Captain Bryan Ebanks, who has thrown himself into the cause of protecting the area from potential dredging proposed by government, says that he has made contact with three different non-governmental organisations in Australia, USA and UK in order to draw attention to the potential threat to Grand Cayman’s reef. The reef surrounding Cayman is one of the few remaining unbroken reefs in the region and the sea captain come environmental activist says that he believes these organisations will be able to help raise support on the world stage.(PhotoDennie WarrenJr)

Speaking at a meeting of the Concerned Citizens Group in West Bay on Tuesday evening, Ebanks explained that he was trying to engage international groups that have an interest in marine conservation to take up the cause. Answering questions raised by former political candidate in the district, Woody Da Costa, who said the quality of the reef would certainly warrant attention from global organisations, Ebanks confirmed that the campaigners were hoping to enlist interest from such groups.

Around the world there are many non-government organisations, charities, pressure and research groups that are focused on trying to protect and preserve reefs. Many of these NGOs have become political movements, campaigning for environmental laws and rights as well as actively opposing the destruction of the earth’s natural resources, with chapters and branches in many countries.

There are currently no real environmental groups in the Cayman Islands that are pursuing a green agenda, with the exception of the National Trust, which because of its funding from government remains relatively low key. There are growing numbers of concerned residents, however, that believe Cayman is in desperate need to form an environmental group which could eventually field a candidate for election to give what is currently an uncoordinated but growing green movement a voice on the islands’ political stage and keep up the pressure on government to consider the green agenda.

Since the significant organised opposition in May 2008 to the PPM government’s proposal to put a road through the ironwood forest in George Town, to which the then minister, MLA Arden McLean took heed and cancelled the plan, the people willing to rally around a cause to protect the environment has continued to grow. As yet, however, no green or environmental NGO has been formed as a focal point that can also be vociferous in its opposition to environmental degradation without fear of financial repercussions.

During the meeting on Tuesday, as Ebanks set out the need to protect the Sound, the captain said he needed help and support from the community to keep the Save Cayman campaign going.

Although the national conservation bill remains in limbo, despite the minister saying he would bring it to the Legislative Assembly last year, there are more protections in Cayman for marine environments. However, there are no specific laws preventing the government from cutting through the reef, which is what it proposes to do with regards to the channel in the North Sound and the commercial seaport in East End.

Despite claims by the premier to the contrary, there is a large body of literature from the scientific community about the detrimental impact of dredging on reefs and the marine environment in general.

Since his campaign started, Captain Bryan has pointed out that in the case of the Cayman Islands the damage will not just be to the reef and the water quality but it could also threaten what he calls the country’s national treasure – the Sandbar and Stingray City. 

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Premier reassures nervous US taxpayers

| 21/04/2011 | 87 Comments

(CNS):The premier has pledged continued government support to the many US passport and green card holders living in the Cayman Islands who are due to be hard hit by upcoming changes to the US tax law. Under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which will take effect 1 January 2013, all US citizens, whether living in the US or abroad, will have to meet more stringent reporting obligations to satisfy Internal Revenue Service requirements. At a special US tax seminar on Tuesday, McKeeva Bush assured the hundreds of people who packed the ballroom at the Marriott Beach Resort that “we will continue to do whatever else we can as a government to assist…We trust you will be better informed as a result of today’s proceedings.”

FATCA will require foreign banks to send the IRS information on US account holders, which will enable the tax authority to identify and heavily penalize individuals who fail to disclose any overseas bank accounts or financial interests exceeding US$10,000 in total.

Bush sought to reassure the standing room only audience, who were obviously concerned by the planned changes to the tax law and how these would affect their income and bank accounts, both of which are liable to US tax.

Commenting that people have approached him about what the government was doing tohelp and asking, ‘Why can’t you fight this?’ he added, “we have done our best on many fronts in dealing with the United States and other jurisdictions in regards to tax matters.

“Sometimes we can fight; other times fighting gets us nowhere. We have to sit down, be reasonable and slowly take your hand out of the lion’s mouth.”

The premier spoke about government trips to Washington, DC to speak with IRS and Treasury officials. “The last (visit) was very important and, I think, successful and we will have to continue having dialogue with them.”

With the US elections coming up next year, Bush stressed these meetings take on added importance “as more and more officeholders and potential officeholders get on the bandwagon and try to use Cayman as a scapegoat for their own failures.”

Calling the tax issues “very complex matters” Bush said he would see what more could be accomplished in Washington by possible additional talks with the IRS and US Treasury. “We recognise your concerns,” he told the crowded room, “and we want as government to do what we can to help you.”

 

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Bush rejects port developers

| 21/04/2011 | 73 Comments

(CNS): Cayman’s premier has terminated a framework agreement between government and GLF Construction regarding the development of the George Town Cruise berthing facilities because he said the developer had not proved that it had access to the money to build it. According to correspondence given to CNS which was sent by the premier to the company’s CEO, Francesco Senis, GLF will no longer have exclusivity on the cruise port project, and if another firm steps in with designs and financing, the government will work with them. Revelations made by CNS on Wednesday morning that the deal with the second set of developers appeared to be off have been confirmed. 

McKeeva Bush wrote to Senis on 14 April in response to his request for a meeting to move to a master agreement.

On 12 April Senis wrote to the premier stating that the company had completed a master plan which had been fully tested at the simulation centre in Florida, that it had prepared a cost estimate and had a commitment for project financing in place from Citibank, as well as having received verbal commitments from the cruise associations on minimum passenger numbers. The developer said that once the final agreement with government was signed it would be ready to mobilize six weeks later and had requested a meeting for the end of last week.

However, in his response on 14 April the premier said that up to and including the date of the letter, “GLF has not demonstrated any positive proof that it is able to finance the port expansion project,” he wrote, adding that the Cayman Islands Government did not consider the commitment it had as proof of the necessary financing to warrant the signing of the definitive or (master) agreement.

As a result, he said, government, in agreement with the Port Authority chairman, was terminating the framework agreement which had been signed on December 2010.

The framework deal referred to by Bush has not been made public and it is unclear what the details of the contract were between the three parties but is believed to have been for a period of four months.

In his letter Bush revealed that government would now be giving consideration to alternative proposals, but if it wanted to GLF could still participate. However, the developer would no longer have an exclusive deal with the Cayman government and Port Authority.

When CNS approached the premier on Tuesday about the speculation that government had ended the talks with GLF, he said he planned to make a statement about the future of the cruise berthing facilities shortly. So far, however, government has made no comment about the change in plans or which developer it is now aiming to work with.

At the beginning of the year, speaking at the Cayman Business Outlook conference, Bush had said that Chinese investors had expressed an interest in building the port and he had said that if things did not move ahead quickly with GLF he would be considering their proposals.

Ezzard Miller, the political representative for North Side who has also seen the correspondence, said he was very concerned about the premier’s actions as it appeared on the surface that GLF had met the terms of the deal.

“It appears GLF was on track to deliver in accordance with the agreement,” Miller stated. “The premier and MLA Cline Glidden have both recently said that tremendous progress was being made and the developer was ready to start construction in a few weeks. So what has changed?” he asked.

The independent MLA said the concern was that the premier had acted unilaterally. He questioned the legal implications for the country if the premier was unable to produce the minutes of the meetings with the port board where the matters were discussed, or the warning correspondence sent to the developer.

“If he can’t produce this he should resign as premier, having exposed the country to potentially serious legal ramifications with an international corporation such as GLF,” Miller said, adding that one wonders how the premier expects legitimate companies to do business with the Cayman Islands given such actions.

Miller encouraged the local arm of GLF and its partners Royal Construction to pursue all legal avenues in an effort to restore sanity to this contract. “They have an obligation to the Cayman people to pursue the legal options in order to ensure that such important decisions are not made with a banana republic mentality,” he said.

Speaking to CNS on Tuesday, a local spokesperson had said that as far as GLF was concerned the deal was still on track and he failed to see how government could not be happy with what the developers were doing. He also pointed out that the company had already spent around $1 million on the project.

GLF, in partnership with local construction firm Royal, were the second group of developers to begin negotiations with the government and the Port Authority as a result of the negotiations with the first choice developer, DECCO (the Dart Group’s construction firm), breaking down, reportedly over the length of the port lease.

See the correspondence between the premier and GLF below. 

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