Archive for April 27th, 2011

Alden makes bid to oust Mac

| 27/04/2011 | 191 Comments

(CNS): Full story –The opposition leader filed a no confidence motion against the UDP government in the country’s parliament Wednesday based on a list of two dozen points which, Alden McLaughlin said, could easily have been more. In anticipation of the Legislative Assembly returning next month, the PPM chief submitted the motion, which cites a lack of confidence in the current administration’s actions and he has called on “right minded” members of the government benches to support the move. McLaughlin said that the people of the Cayman Islands have no confidence in the government, adding that from “the man in the street to the corporate director there is increasing alarm” about the premier’s actions. (Photo Dennie Warren Jr)

The private member’s motion, seconded by East End member Arden McLean, has the backing of the PPM’s parliamentary team as well as the independent member for North Side, but will require four more MLAs for it to succeed. The opposition leader said he hoped that some UDP members of the LA would support the motion in the interest of the country and the people’s persistent calls for new leadership.

The motion sets out an extensive list of twenty-four points on which the opposition says government is failing the people. McLaughlin explained the final impetus to trigger the no confidence vote was the announcement that government had rejected the most recent arrangements to begin the cruise port facilities. The leader of the opposition said that this was a widely supported, critical project but two years after taking office the government is further away than ever from getting it off the ground.

“It appears to be a case of one failed initiative after another, along with a general disregard for the rules by which the government is supposed to operate,” the opposition leader stated. “There is very little that anyone can point to that amounts to any form of success in the last two years. In fact it is becoming increasingly alarming.”

With growing numbers of the public, from the man in the street to the boardroom director, approaching him and his political colleagues, McLaughlin said the opposition had to act.

The motion lists what the opposition feels is the most alarming of the various actions and conduct of government since the UDP was elected to office in May 2009 with McKeeva Bush at the helm.

Starting with the premier’s handling of the published operational deficit of the government for the 2008/2009 financial year and his suggestion that the country was bankrupt, the motion goes on to criticise the unrealistic budget projections for the 2009/2010 instead of adopting a 3 year plan to eliminate the operational deficit, the failure to address the issues raised in the Miller/Shaw Report, the failure to hold regular meetings of the standing Finance Committee, the damaging fees increases during the worst recession in 80 years and the decision to impose 25 cents duty on fuel.

It raises irregularities by government, such as the decision to override the Central Tenders Committee decision and “awarding to Cohen and Company LLC a contract for government financing in the sum of US$185 million, then subsequently having to terminate that contract because Cohen was unable to meet its terms regarding a rate-cap on interest,” and the premier’s declaration that Dart would be remediating the landfill and creating a new one in Bodden Town, again overriding the announcement by the Central Tenders Committee only one week after the contract had been awarded to Wheelabrator.

The opposition points to government “persisting in the announcement of major projects without a reliable assessment of feasibility, costs, benefits or economic or environmental impact,” as well as its decision not to adopt an electoral system based on one person, one vote, despite popular support.

The list also includes the “premier’s attitude to the Freedom of Information Law and his threats to impose fees and fines on certain sectors of the media,” as well as the “extent and cost of official travel.”

If the motion is not rejected (although, with a clear majority, if the premier retains the support of his party members he can easily reject the motion) a debate will ensue and the opposition will need ten members to support the proposal before the government can be overturned.

In the event that the opposition was able to recruit four MLAs from the government benches to the cause during the debate and managed to get ten votes in favour, a new government could be formed from existing members in a new coalition under a new premier. The other option is that new elections would be called giving the people a chance to decide, two years earlier than expected, who they would like to see filling the islands’ legislative chamber.

See draft motion below. 

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Do you support the leader of the opposition’s no confidence motion against the government?

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Police arrest George Town burglar caught in act

| 27/04/2011 | 0 Comments

(CNS): A man who broke into a residence in South Sound in George Town was arrested on Tuesday evening when law enforcement officials caught him on the scene. The RCIPS said that police received a report of a burglary in progress at the South Sound home at around 5:15pm on 26 April. The caller stated that the burglar was still in the building when the report was made. Police units comprising of Uniform Officers, the Uniform Support Group and the Air Support Unit immediately attended the scene and a 35 year old male was arrested on suspicion of burglary. Police said Wednesday that the man is currently in police custody as police inquiries continue. (Photo Dennie Warren Jr)

Anyone with information regarding the crime is asked to contact the George Town Police Station 949-4222 or the confidential Crime Stoppers number 800-8477 (TIPS).

 

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Visitor arrivals still growing

| 27/04/2011 | 11 Comments

(CNS): Despite fears that this summer could see a serious decline in tourism arrivals from cruise ships and complaints that the industry is suffering from low-visitor numbers, statistics compiled by the Department of Tourism tell a different story. The latest figures show that the number of passengers visiting the Cayman Islands continues to increase. Compared to last year and the year before, more people came to the islands via ship and air in the first three months of 2011 than in both previous years. March statistics released by DoT this week continue the steady upward trend. 37,466 people arrived by air and ships carrying 190,733 passengers docked in George Town harbour, a substantial increase on Mach 2010 when 35,642 people flew in and 177,664 cruised in to Grand Cayman.

The first quarter of 2011 is showing an 8.2% increase in cruise arrivals and a 6.8% in air passenger arrivals compared to the first three months of 2010.

Although many people dependant on the tourism business still have concerns that visitors are not spending when they arrive, the numbers of people visiting Cayman continues to climb.

So far 93,822 people have flown into Cayman, an increase of 5,981 this year for all over the world. The majority of visitors still come from the United States with some 73,383 passengers boarding flights there, according to survey results.

However, the biggest growth area continues to be from Canada, with an increase of 35.9% in the numbers of people flying in from that country. The biggest decline in air travellers, however, continues to be from the United Kingdom and Ireland, where figures have fallen again, this time by 2.3%.

Meanwhile, at the harbour front in George Town ships have docked carrying well over half a million passengers so far this year compared to around 472,000 for the first three months in 2010.

There are still concerns, however, that the new mega class of ships which will be sailing the Caribbean this summer will have a significant impact on cruise statistics and this may be the last quarter where the tourism sector enjoys an increase in passengers.

Royal Caribbean has stated that it will not tender its Oasis and Allure of the Seas ships and therefore without docking facilities the cruise liner will not include Cayman on the ports of call for those ships.

The recent decision by government to terminate its agreement with GLF to develop the much anticipated cruise berth facilities has raised further concern that the recent upward trend in cruise arrivals will soon turn into a serious decline for the long term. With no plans in place now for the pier project it could still be more than two years before the country could see the larger ships dock in Cayman. 

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Scottish garden party ‘antidote’ to wedding hype

| 27/04/2011 | 0 Comments

(The Courier):Thousands of street parties may be taking place across the UK for the royal wedding Friday — but the only public event taking place in Dundee will call for the abolition of the monarchy. Organisers hosting the Anti-Royal Wedding Garden Party, say they hope the event will provide a "much-needed antidote" to the hype surrounding the royal wedding. "The monarchy is an outdated institution which only serves to highlight the class privilege, hierarchical systems, and wealth inequality which blight our country,” a spokesperson said. “At a time of severe cuts in public services, it is also worth remembering that the main cause of poverty both here and internationally is the use of tax havens by large corporations and wealthy individuals.

"Many of these tax havens are Crown dependencies such as Jersey and Guernsey,or British Overseas Territories with governors appointed by the Queen. The monarchy is not neutral in these activities; rather it is complicit in this theft of the wealth created by ordinary working people."
 

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Jellyfish invade Sand Bar

| 27/04/2011 | 9 Comments

(CNS): Eight people were taken to the George Town hospital Wednesday after being stung by the dangerous box jellyfish, also known as sea wasps. In total at least 25 visitors to the Sand Bar were stung by the sea creatures before the North Sound attraction was closed to guests. The others were reportedly treated at the location on the vessels which had taken the trips out to the Cayman Islands’ most popular attraction. The wildlife interactive zone  re-opened however, on Thursday morning after officials from the department of environment surveyed the area and found the jelly fish had moved away.

It is understood the jellyfish may have arrived en mass as a result of deep sea currents. Although the Caribbean version of the box jellyfish is not nearly as deadly as its Pacific cousin, it can still be dangerous. The regional sea wasp has a small, four-sided, bell-shaped body up to around two inches by 3 inches, and its four tentacles average about 12 inches long, one attached to each bottom corner of the body.

Although experts advise household vinegar as a treatment for undischarged nematocysts, which can then be removed followed by ice packs, anyone who appears to have a severe reaction should head immediately for an emergency room

For more information people are asked to contact the Department of Tourism on 244-0623. Updates will be circulated as soon as the zone is opened again.
 

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TCI restructures public debt with bond sale

| 27/04/2011 | 20 Comments

(Bloomberg): The Turks and Caicos Islands completed a roughly $280 million bond sale Tuesday that officials say aims to help the British dependency tackle a fiscal crisis. The Caribbean islands’ London-appointed governor said the sale "buys us the time we need to tackle the dire fiscal legacy" inherited by his interim administration. Britain imposed direct rule on Turks and Caicos in August 2009 after a probe into allegations that local leaders misused public money and profited from the sale of government-owned land. The local government and legislature were suspended. Gov. Gordon Wetherell said the bond sale was the best option to give his administration a fixed interest rate and allow some "certainty over our future debt service."

The bonds, with a fixed interest rate of 3.2 percent, will be fully payable on maturity in February 2016.
 

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Sister Islands’ iguanas face serious decline

| 27/04/2011 | 2 Comments

(CNS): The local branch of the National Trust is beginning a campaign to try and reverse the decline in the numbers of the unique subspecies of the Cuban Iguana which lives only on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. According to officials, a survey has revealed there are now less than two thousand rock iguanas left on Little Cayman and there are no figures for Cayman Brac. It is believed that road deaths and feral pets along with the loss of habitat are the main causes of the worrying decline. As a result, the Trust is encouraging drivers to slow down and for pet owners to keep animals leashed as it seeks ways to protect the iguanas’ habitat on both islands.

Officials, stakeholders and members of the NGO met with the Department of Environment on 16 April to discuss the pressures faced by the Sister Islands Rock Iguana.

Cyclura nubila caymanensis is a genetically distinct subspecies of the Cuban Iguana that exists only on the islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. Recent surveys have revealed low iguana densities on Little Cayman, where the population is estimated to be between one thousand and two thousand, indicating a serious decline.

Experts believe the fall in numbers is due to increased development as well as road traffic and pets. One hundred rock iguanas are killed by vehicles on Little Cayman each year, which amounts to 8% of the population, or the equivalent of 4,000 people being killed in traffic accidents per year on Grand Cayman, the National Trust explained. “This is especially troubling in light of the fact that Little Cayman is the smallest island with the lowest posted speed limits,” officials said.

The Trust says that serious efforts are now required to prevent the further decline and facilitate a natural increase of current population levels of iguanas on an island-wide basis.

Drivers will be encouraged to reduce their speed and pet owners will be encouraged to keep their animals inside or leashed when out of doors. The National Trust will also move forward with protecting important rock iguana habitat on the Sister Islands.

So far no surveys have been performed on Cayman Brac but the low numbers of iguanas there can certainly be explained by similar threats having occurred over a longer span of time and with more intensity. A comprehensive population survey will be undertaken on the Brac to determine the number of Sister Islands rock iguanas left there, the Trust said. 

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Cruise berthing blunders

| 27/04/2011 | 21 Comments

I have watched with interest and disappointment as the UDP Government has moved from blunder to blunder on the cruise berthing project. The first blunder with this project was when the UDP abandoned the cruise berthing and cargo port project plans that I had started to implement.

The second blunder was when the UDP entered into an agreement with DECCO to establish cruise berthing facilities without a mechanism to secure formal commitments from the cruise lines and the Premier’s simultaneous announcement that there would be no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) done. The third blunder was when they abruptly terminated the agreement with DECCO after negotiations reportedly “broke down”.

The fourth blunder was Mr Cline Glidden’s immediate announcement that they had moved to the next best proposal and that they were about to enter into an agreement with GLF Construction Corporation (GLF) to build this project. Mr. Glidden said that they would be using the EIA which DECCO had apparently previously commissioned but which has to this date not been made public. This was followed by DECCO stating that they would provide the EIA to government but would have to first be compensated for it.

The fifth blunder was Premier McKeeva Bush’s announcement at the 2011 Cayman Business Outlook that the mysterious “Chinese” were prepared to do the cruise berthing facilities if GLF failed. And the sixth blunder was the recent announcement from Premier McKeeva Bush that he had terminated the agreement with GLF.

These series of blunders have denied our country the much needed cruise berthing facilities, which will have a significantnegative economic impact for our country beginning with a 25% decrease in cruise tourism in 2011.

It would be easy for me to sit back and simply say “I told you so” but as a country we need to extricate ourselves from this mess that the UDP Government has put us in and look for solutions to this problem.

I warned this UDP Government in 2009 that if they abandoned the plans and EIA which I started implementing, the country would be facing a 1 to 2 year delay with this project. Mr Cline Glidden’s response to me at the time was “no” as he said that they would be starting construction in the first quarter of 2010. Now here we are in the 2nd quarter of 2011 and not only do we have no construction started but, according to recent statements from the Premier, for the second time in less than one year we have terminated an agreement with yet another proposed developer.
So not only is there no agreement in place to establish cruise berthing facilities but there is no certainty as to who will be doing this project and when.

It defies logic that the Premier would terminate the agreement with GLF almost immediately after GLF advised the government that they could mobilize for this project within 6 weeks and simultaneously demonstrated that they have the financing in place with a reputable financial institution. It is not possible for the Premier to select yet another developer/financier, have them mobilize and on the ground in less than six weeks. Therefore it begs the question: why did Premier McKeeva Bush make this decision ? I suppose the answer to that question will become clear in due course. That decision by the Premier is suspicious at best and will ultimately need to be investigated further in due course. The decision suggests that one party isn’t getting what they expected from this agreement but we will explore that further as more information surfaces.

Having said that, I believe that politicians must seek to work together in the interests of our country, especially on projects which we agree on. This is one such project and I have publicly offered my assistance before. I also understand that it can never be in our collective best interests for any government to fail. The bottom line is that if the government succeeds, the country succeeds and we all succeed. If the government fails, we all fail. Those who are in opposition to the government who believe that we should continue to allow the government to fail as a strategy to win the next election are making a fundamental mistake and have miscalculated where we are economically at this point. They would be well advised to focus on saving our country because the next election might not matter very much if we don’t.

I can say that, based on my experience with projects of this nature, we cannot, unfortunately, move from where we are now to an agreement with yet a third proposed developer and achieve cruise berthing facilities in less than two years. This means that the initial blunder by the UDP to abandon a well thought out cruise and cargo policy and plan is going to result in a 4 year delay with this project and a continued decline of our cruise industry unless we are prepared to be creative and act now.

Is there an interim solution while we await berthing facilities? Yes, I believe there is, so here are my thoughts. The UDP Government must immediately formally invite the cruise lines back to the table and ensure their participation. This project cannot and must not be undertaken without their commitment to deliver a specific annual minimum number of passengers during the term of this agreement, which will likely be 20 years. The risk is far too great without such a commitment. This is why the agreement which I signed with Atlantic Star Limited to establish cruise berthing and cargo facilities allowed for negotiations with third parties to help finance this project and those discussions had indeed begun with the cruise lines.

The majority of the cruise lines are owned by either Carnival or Royal Caribbean although many operate under different brands. Because this is the case, Carnival and Royal Caribbean are keen to see cruise berthing facilities established in Cayman because we are still a popular destination with their passengers. Unfortunately, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class mega ships cannot be tendered and will by-pass the Cayman Islands on their western Caribbean itinerary. This problem is made worse by Royal Caribbean’s decision to redeploy to other regions some of their smaller ships that previously called on Cayman.

If the UDP government is prepared to, in good faith, invite the cruise lines back to the table as a party to the new negotiations and demonstrate some stability with moving this project forward, we may be in a position as an interim solution to convince Carnival and Royal Caribbean to prop up our cruise arrival numbers via increased port calls from their various sub-brands which still operate some of the smaller ships on the western Caribbean itinerary.

Because cruise lines plan and begin to book their itineraries 18-24 months in advance of a cruise, the UDP Government must act now if we are to have a chance of saving our 2012 cruise tourism winter season.

Finally, I believe that those who are responsible for this mess must be held accountable. Until we embrace real accountability in our country for failures such as these, not very much will change at the policy table.

In closing, I encourage all tourism service providers, including public transport operators, to begin preparations for what will unfortunately be our most challenging cruise tourism summer season to date. Examine your business practices and operations to determine where you can make adjustments in your expenditure to offset the inevitable loss of revenue that will come during the upcoming summer months.

 

Charles E. Clifford is the former tourism, environment, investment & commerce minister. He lost his Bodden Town seat in the May 2009 elections and resigned from the opposition party a year later. Clifford has, however, remained active in the political arena and has expressed a desire to create an alternative to the current political parties at the next election. 

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Cayman fund and pay cause rowdy bank AGM

| 27/04/2011 | 0 Comments

(Guardian): Barclays endured protests about its pay and dividend policies at a rowdy annual meeting as it reported a 9% fall in first-quarter profits and a further restructuring of the complex Cayman Islands fund that manages its most toxic assets. Bob Diamond had been braced for a row over his potential £27m pay deal at his first meeting as chief executive. One shareholder questioned his suitability to hold the role as he had previously run the "gambling" Barclays Capital arm. The bank’s shares fell 4% in early trading after £1.65bn of profits disappointed investors.

At the annual meeting at the Festival Hall in London, investors will vote on 24 resolutions, including three related to pay: the remuneration report, a new deal for directors that involves paying them in complex new financial instruments known as contingent capital or "cocos", and changes to the long-term incentive plan.

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Cruise tourism in jeopardy

| 27/04/2011 | 41 Comments

(CNS): The decision by the premier not to extend the deal with developers GLF over the construction of the cruise berthing facilities in George Town is putting the industry in further jeopardy, according to the former tourism minister and those working in the industry. With no agreement in place now with any team, the possibility of another developer being ready to go in six weeks, as GLF construction had said it could, is “nonsensical”, Charles Clifford told CNS. Having had the experience of negotiations with a potential developer, he said the process takes time. He said he believes that there is something behind the move that the people of the Cayman Islands are so far not privy to.

Clifford said that the decision by McKeeva Bush to end the agreement with the latest cruise berth developers GLF means that government is essentially starting over. Pointing out the complexities in the process, Clifford said it was madness to expect that any other developer could move ahead more quickly.

“It simply can’t be done in less than six weeks so I don’t know what he is hoping to achieve,” the former minister said about the premier. “Obviously there is something going on here that we are not yet privy to and I fear there will be a number of irregularities.”

He said that, given the process and the things that would need to be done if a new developer was to come on board now, there is no way the project could move forward in such a short time frame without rules being broken.

It would not be possible, Clifford explained, for a new development team to simply pick up where GLF have left off as they would have to cost out the designs themselves and ensure they were confident that they could reproduce the project, and thatalone would take several months, the previous tourism minister said. He noted that it was likely a new team would also have different ideas and a different approach, which would obviously add more time.

Clifford warned that the tourism industry was facing a summer of reduced cruise passenger arrivals as the lines changed their itenaries to accommodate the new mega ships in the region, which will not be coming to Cayman without piers.

“The industry faces a 25% decline for this summer in passenger arrivals,” he added, warning that this delay would mean there is certainly to be no relief for the industry in the summer 2012 and it’s now unlikely the facilities will be even ready for the summer of 2013.

With the mounting troubles already among operators fighting for cruise business and bottom lines being hit in George Town stores, the impact of a decline in passengers this summer will be hard.

Although none of the official associations contacted by CNS have responded to our questions about the premier’s decision, a number of local business owners have revealed their genuine concerns. Tour operators and taxi drivers as well as business owners connected to retail and restaurants have expressed their fears that the cruise facilities may never be developed as the project continues to be bogged down in what many believe to be political priorities instead of business ones.

Clifford also warned that the decision by the premier to pull out of the deal with GLF may cause delays not just because of the need to find new partners but because of possible legal troubles.

Although the framework agreement had come to an end, if GLF had fulfilled the requirements of that deal they would have a genuine expectation to either extend it or move to the master agreement as per the request made by CEO, Francesco Senis in his letter to the premier. Given the current situation and the amount of money spent by the firm so far on the project, which is understood to be in excess of $1million, the firm may seek an injunction to prevent the government from moving ahead with any other developer until any claim they make is addressed.

If government is drawn into another difficult civil courtroom battle, not only will that place the cruise tourism business in real jeopardy, it could also hit the public purse hard.

In a press statement released on Tuesday evening Clifford points to possible solutions, provided there are no legal problems, now government appears to be back at square one.

He tells government to formally invite the cruise lines back to the table and ensure their participation. With new negotiations and a demonstration of some stability with the project, he said, government may be able to convince the two main cruise lines, Carnival and Royal Caribbean, to prop up arrival numbers via increased port calls from their various sub-brands, which still operate smaller ships on the western Caribbean itinerary.

“Because cruise lines plan and begin to book their itineraries 18-24 months in advance of a cruise, the UDP Government must act now if we are to have a chance of saving our 2012 cruise tourism winter season,” he added. 

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