Archive for May 5th, 2011

PAs still not toeing FOI line

| 05/05/2011 | 11 Comments

(CNS):The information commissioner said public authorities are still not following the proper processes in connection with the Freedom of Information law and still trying to keep information under wraps. In her eleventh decision, as she ordered the partial release of a report by the Ministry of Finance, Jennifer Dilbert pointed to delays, procedural errors and an inclination by the ministry to do what it could not to release the documents. The details of the hearing, released this week, related to a report on the Fire Service in connection with a sexual assault complaint by a female officer about a male colleague, who was eventually jailed for the offence. The ministry had refused to release the report following an FOI application made almost one year ago.

Despite ultimately finding that there were legitimate exemptions in connection with the report under the law, the information commissioner said the public authority had not relied on them until the last minute when a hearing had already started.

Dilbert noted that this indicated a desire on the part of the public authority to find any reason to withhold the document as opposed to presenting a genuine reason not to disclose. The information commissioner explained that even where there may be a genuine reason not to release everything, there are ways that government entities can still release some of the information requested by an applicant.

“It should be noted that it is possible to release a record while still protecting some of the information it contains, such as personal information, by redacting the record as per section 12 of the Law,” Dilbert said in her report. “I am still finding that many public authorities have a predisposition towards withholding records carte blanche, rather than trying to promote transparency and accountability within Government, as intended by the FOI Law, even if some parts of a record need to be legitimately withheld.”

Dilbert overturned the public authority’s initial decision to exempt the report, entitled “Work Environment Review of the CI Fire Service Department”, from release on the grounds that it would be privileged from production in legal proceedings on the ground of legal professional privilege (LPP).

She said she did not find that legal privilege attached to the report and instead ordered the document released with a number of redactions.

While the commissioner examined the arguments put forth by the ministry for why they believed that LPP applied, they were rejected as the report itself did not reference any legal matters and instead spoke to a number of general human resources issues. Although there is currently a civil suit against government in connection with the case, Dilbert said there was no compelling evidence that the purpose of the report was for legal advice. The FOI law allows the information commissioner to review the use of the LPP exemption, which is often seen as a sacred privilege by legal professionals.

However, Dilbert did say other exemptions were relevant in this case regarding the issue of “effective conduct of public affairs” and “unreasonable disclosure of personal information”.

The FOI Law permits the information commissioner to make a decision based on exemptions which could have been made on the original application even if they were not. Using this provision for the first time, Dilbert explained that the ministry in this case did not rely on the section 23exemption but parts of the report contain personal information which she said were not in the public interest to disclose and there were also issues relating to the effective conduct of public affairs. Although FOI always favours disclosure, the law provides exemptions when there is a legitimate need.

“The law recognizes that there are instances where a public authority must be able to conduct sensitive investigations, or seek testimony from employees in the secure knowledge that the specifics will remain confidential. Failing this, individuals may refuse to participate,” she added, noting that in those circumstances information can be released with redactions as she reminded public authorities to review records before refusing access and to release as much information as possible.

During the hearing Dilbert said she again encountered a number of procedural errors as well as long delays. The failure of the ministry to respond within the timeframes set out in the law was dealt with in a previous investigation but the commissioner pointed to further attempts by the public authority to delay the issue by waiting until the hearing started before seeking advice from the legal department. “The request for a delay was denied by the ICO for several reasons including the fact that the public authority had had ample time prior to the commencement of the hearing to retain legal counsel,” Dilbert said in her report.

She also noted that the ministry had initially refused to release the report to the applicant on the basis of legal privilege alone but once the hearing began the public authority started citing other possible exemptions. The information chief refused to allow the belated exemptions, although she did in the end go on to consider them herself when she made her final decision.

Dilbert explained that a fundamental premise of the FOI law is that it provides a right to access government records. “The focus of a PA response should never be to seek out reasons to deny access per se. This right is balanced against the legitimate need for government, in specific and narrow circumstances, to exempt certain records from release,” she said.

The report in this case deals with sensitive matters but ones which the FOI applicant, a journalist with The Caymanian Compass, had pointed out were in the public interest. The report was commissioned on 5 March 2009 by the Portfolio of Internal & External Affairs following the conviction and imprisonment of Dorian Hunter, a fire officer on Cayman Brac, for a sexual assault on a female colleague that took place in 2006.

The report is in two parts: the first continued and concluded the original internal investigation into allegations of inappropriate behaviour in the Fire Service which was started by a senior officer in the wake of the female officer’s complaints made in 2007, and the second part is a workplace review of the Fire Service.

The ministry must now release the report to the applicant with appropriate redactions as ordered by the commissioner or seek judicial review before 17 June.

See full report below. 

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CUC squeezes profit despite mechanical problems

| 05/05/2011 | 16 Comments

(CNS): Grand Cayman’s power provider still managed to make a profit in the first quarter of 2011 despite the numerous challenges the company faced with explosions and multiple generator failures. During the three months ending 31 March the Caribbean Utilities Company (CUC) had a marginal growth in sales, earnings and total customers. Net earnings for the First Quarter 2011 increased by $0.6 million to $3.1 million in comparison to $2.5 million for the first quarter 2010. The total number of customers as at the end of the first quarter 2011 was up by 2% at 26,261 compared to 25,676 during the same three months of 2010.

President and CEO Richard Hew said the power company was focused on containing expenditure while continuing to invest in existing and new assets but acknowledged there had been equipment problems.

“The first quarter was a challenging one operationally with generation plant failures that unfortunately caused injuries to two of our employees and led to customer outages,” he said. “However we have responded positively and are confident that our operations will be returned to normal by midyear.”

During the first quarter 2011, the Electricity Regulatory Authority approved the company’s proposed 2011-2015 capital investment in the amount of $134 million, excluding generation expansions which are subject to a competitive bid process.

Earnings on Class A Ordinary Shares for the first quarter 2011, after adjustment for dividends on the Class B Preference Shares were $3.0 million, or $0.11 per Class A Ordinary Share, compared to $2.3 million, or $0.08 per Class A Ordinary Share for the first quarter 2010.

During the first quarter the average price per gallon of fuel was $4.26, an increase of 35% when compared to $3.15 for the same period in 2010. As a result the firm said, in its report that the cost of fuel and its impact on customers and the economy continues to be a concern. The company, with the approval of the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA), has recently entered into hedging transactions to effectively cap the price on a portion of its fuel purchases.
 

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Crime figures come down

| 05/05/2011 | 22 Comments

(CNS):The latest statistics released by police reveal that the number of serious crimes has fallen by 113 in the first four months of the year when compared to 2010. The RCIPS said the figure translates to almost a 36percent reduction in serious offences although robberies have still increased by 125 percent. The increase in police operations where weapons have been seized also contributed to a 33 percent rise in cases of possession of unlicensed firearms. However, with no murders so far in 2011, a 90 percent reduction in attempted murder and significant falls in aggravated burglary and burglary, the country’s top cop said Cayman remained one of safest places in the region to live and work.

Overall crime, which includes volume crimes as well as serious crime fell just over 27 pecent resulting in 334 fewer crimes in the first four months of 2011, compared to the same period last year.

“In this four month period there have been hundreds fewer victims of crime than in the same period last year,” Police Commissioner David Baines. “A number of firearms have been seized in targeted operations during the past four months – that’s good news for our communities as it quite simply means that there are fewer guns available for criminal use.”

The commissioner also revealed that the reduction by more thanhalf in drugs arrests since the start of the year was a direct result of a change in tactics for the local police service which has switched from targeting users to targeting dealers. He explained that in an age where every government organisation has to work smarter and make best use of resources, the focus of the RCIPS had moved to those who ply their drugs on the streets instead of those who are consuming drugs, a change which the senior officer said had already shown results.

“Only yesterday and man and woman were arrested in the Bodden Town area as part of a targeted operation, “confirmed Baines. “ Officers seized a large quantity of cash, over 5lbs of Ganja and several items of drugs paraphernalia from their home.”

Baines acknowledged however, that while crime was falling in general, robberies were still on the rise and he raised concerns that victims were not always forthcoming as police believe some of the recent street robberies are connected to illegal gambling.

“In a handful of the street robberies reported the victims are being less than helpful, refusing to provide information or descriptions. We suspect that some of the crimes may be linked to ‘numbers’ and that’s why those involved may not want to assist us. When we have no witnesses and uncooperative victims it makes investigating and solving the crime extremely difficult,” Baines explained.

“However, in some cases witnesses are more than helpful; their bravery and tenacity is remarkable. The most recent example is that of the men who disarmed and detained two suspects following an attempted robbery at Grand Harbour earlier this week. Despite being threatened with a shotgun and pepper sprayed they were absolutely determined that they would hold onto the suspects for those few vital minutes until the police arrived.”

He added that the men were outstanding and he intended to formally recognise their actions.
With robberies still increasing the police continue to carry out targeted robbery patrols and operations and several arrests have been made since the beginning of the year with suspects already in court.
Baines also said that officers continue to work with business owners to make sure that they have the best crime prevention advice possible and that their security measures and cash handling procedures are sound.
 

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The Quadruple Whammy of Fuel Taxes

| 05/05/2011 | 33 Comments

The “pain at the pump” is being felt Island wide by all who live and visit here. This is the first “whammy” and the most obvious. To most of us, the excessively high cost of gasoline is a direct hit on our wallets. Mr Elio Solomon has recently said that he “feels” that the majority of people in Cayman accept the higher gas prices in order to support their country.

What Elio is missing is the fact that his way of thinking in economic terms will eventually destroy this country to the point where there is no country left to worry about. Here are three more ways that high gas prices hurt each of us and the country as a whole that Elio has overlooked.

The second “whammy” to our wallets comes in the form of opportunity losses to the economy. This means, the extra money spent on gas will not be spent elsewhere to help boost the economy. The third “whammy” comes in the form of higher prices at the local stores due to retailers having to pass their higher costs on to us.

So now we have less money to buy products that costs more than ever. The fourth “whammy” is to the country as a whole. We depend on the outside world, specifically visitors and investors, for our source of operating funds. If the costs here are too high due to government taxing necessities, then this discourages investment and motivation for people to come here and support our economy. Taxes are a blockage to productivity and growth. Taxes are the instruments of uneducated leaders who think taxing the working man will make things better. What matters here are percentages. A few cents more per gallon at the pump represents a much greater percentage of the low wage earner’s income than that of wealthier persons and businesses.

The impact to the small guy is tremendous. It is the spending power of the working class that drives the economy. It is obvious that our current elected officials believe wealth trickles down. If this is the case then they are taxing the wealth at the wrong end, after it trickles down. The time to tax it is at the source before the trickling occurs. By keeping the cost of living down to the little guy the money will trickle back up to the top as goods and services are purchased.

Making Cayman more affordable for residents and visitors is how to help and support this country. If Elio is suggesting that taxation is the only measure we have to increase the needed revenue for government to operate, then he is overlooking the expense side of the equation. Revenues should be increased first by cost cutting. I assure you that tourists and residents would gladly suffer a few potholes or less roundabouts on our roads than to have taxes placed on fuel that increase the overall cost of living here. Cut the fat from government and only then consider taxes that harm the spending power of our people.

Elio is also suggesting that people be allowed early access to their pensionmoney in order to purchase housing. If they can’t afford a house without ruining their pensions then they won’t be able to afford the maintenance of home ownership and will end up penniless when retirement comes, thus adding a greater burden to society down the road. By allowing people to spend their pensions, he is borrowing from the future at our expense in order to try to bail out the present mess caused by high taxes and fees.

Tourism and investment in Cayman is the goose that lays our golden eggs. Our government is spending money at a faster rate than the goose can lay these eggs. There is only one poison that can kill the goose and the poison is taxes. Less tax means more geese. Get it?

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Scammers dupe at least one local law firm

| 05/05/2011 | 20 Comments

(CNS):Not usually the most likely targets for internet fraudsters, police have revealed that scammers have already conned one local law firm and are targeting others in the Cayman Islands in an attempt to obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars illegally. Detective Chief Inspector Claudia Brady is warning people, and in particular those in involved in the law profession, to be on the lookout for suspicious communication from people posing as overseas clients. “So far one law firm has fallen victim to the scam,” she said. “But we are aware that other firms are being targeted. That’s why people need to be extra vigilant.”

The financial cop explained that the fraudsters pose as potential overseas clients seeking the services of the Cayman based legal firms. “They say that they want the law firm to act on their behalf to collect a debt from someone living on island,” Brady revealed. “A short time after the law firm accepts the work the ‘debtor’ pays up – sending the law firm a high value US dollar check. It’s at that point the ‘client’ asks for the money to be transferred to their overseas account. When the ‘debtor’s’ check reaches the clearing bank it is found to be fraudulent and the law firm is hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket.”

Anyone who believes that they have been contacted by these scammers, or who has fallen victim to this crime, should contact the Financial Crime Unit on 9498797.

 

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Kids wrestle with question of armed cops

| 05/05/2011 | 2 Comments

(CNS): Students from Cayman Prep and Cayman Brac high schools went into verbal battle recently to fight for the title of the 20th Annual Fred Speirs Inter-School Debates Championship. The two teams argued over the moot: “Unarmed police officers are poorly equipped to deal with today’s escalating violent crime" moved by the team from Cayman Prep. Cayman Brac, who opposed it, eventually won the day. The judges complemented both teams for their efforts in what was described as a lively debate.

The judging criteria included consideration for depth of thought, proof of research, fluency and tone, body language, eye contact, persuasion, confidence, and enthusiasm. Rotary Sunrise Past President Woody Foster said, " The debate was very lively and well fought by both teams. The judges were very complimentary of the teams and were positive on the level of research and delivery from both schools."

This verbal finale took place at 6:30pm on 14 April in the Courts Office, sponsored by British Caymanian Insurance and co-hosted by the Rotary Clubs of Grand Cayman Central and Sunrise. The judges were Franz Manderson (Honorary Rotarian and Chief Officer for the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs), Annie Briggs (Literacy Coordinator from Ministry of Education), and by Graeme Halkerston (Partner in Litigation and Insolvency at Appleby’s).

The Inter-School Debates have been named for the late Frederick John Speirs, Past President of the Rotary Club of Grand Cayman Central, who first organized the competition and who spent 30 years educating the youth of the Cayman Islands.

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Cataract: What you should know

| 05/05/2011 | 0 Comments

(LIONS):You may have heard of cataracts. They are the commonest cause of treatable blindness in the world. The word literally means ‘waterfall’ as in ‘the cataracts of the Nile’ but now is used to describe any cloudiness of the natural lens of the eye. The natural lens is about the size and shape of a shirt button and it is inside the eyeball, behind the coloured iris, just past the pupil, held insidea clear envelope or capsule. In children and young adults the natural lens is normally clear, transparent and liquid. It has the highest protein content of any tissue in the human body. It is designed to transmit and focus light to the back of the eye, at the fovea of the retina, much as a camera lens focuses light on to the film at the back of the camera.

The lens can become cloudy for many different reasons, for example, infections during development in the uterus, so that babies may even be born with cataract. Any trauma to the eye, such as a blow or punch, can lead to cataract formation. Sometimes a chronic inflammation of the eye, often seen as part of a generalised disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, can lead to cataract formation.

Most cataracts occur in older people, usually with symptoms of blurred vision and debilitating glare (especially at night). People with diabetes tend to develop cataracts about 10 years earlier than non-diabetics. Interestingly, some people with cataracts regain their near vision and take pride in being able to thread a needle or read without glasses but they are often not be able to recognise someone’s face across the road.

There is not much we can do to prevent cataract formation except to give up smoking. Cigarette smoke has been shown to cause cataracts. Surgical treatment for cataracts is available here in the Cayman Islands. Surgery to remove the old cloudy lens and replace it with a new plastic lens allows the vast majority of people to enjoy good vision again. Naturally there are risks, as with any surgery. But the benefits to be enjoyed are often worth it. Ask around and you might be surprised how many people have had this surgery and they will tell you how much it has improved their quality of life.

This article is one of a series regarding eye health in order to mark the Lions white Cane Week
 

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Tracked tigershark zig-zags across Caribbean

| 05/05/2011 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Tina the Tiger shark who left Grand Cayman in January carrying a special tag is currently swimming around the western Caribbean according to the tracking satellite. Tina is part of a scientific project aimed at addressing the seriously decreasing numbers of sharks globally as a result of their key role in healthy marine ecosystems. A collaborative project between the Department of Environment (DoE), Marine Conservation International (MCI), the Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) at Nova Southeastern University and the Save Our Seas Foundation the team is working to better understand sharks in the Cayman Islands region with the goal of improving conservation management .

Tina is helping us to understand how sharks behave and her latest movements have been very interesting, officials revealed this week. Having been tagged in mid December off Grand Cayman, she left for southern Cuba in February and then in late March headed for Honduras, arriving in early April. She didn’t remain there long before she headed north and east, passing Grand Cayman for Jamaica and on south and then began to move north again.

“Tina has made a significant contribution to our understanding of large shark behaviour and their relationship with our seas,” Tim Austin, Deputy Director of the DoE, said.

Tina is not alone in the project as the team are also tracking Luiza, a second tiger shark who remains close to home off Grand Cayman. Dr. Mauvis Gore Luiza said the contrast between the two is very interesting.

The team is working with fishermen and divers whose expertise and observations are important to the project. Any sightings of shark, whale or dolphin helps and can be reported to the DoE at DOE@GOV.KY or on 949-8469.

 

 

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Officials hold dummy run for hurricane season

| 05/05/2011 | 3 Comments

(CNS): Government officials are in the midst of a hurricane today as a number of agencies practice preparations for the season which starts in less than four weeks. It’s 5 June and Hurricane Stretch is supposedly about 460 miles south east of Grand Cayman and heading for us at around 6 mph with maximum sustain winds of 109 mph making it a strong Category 2 hurricane. A Hurricane Watch is in effect for the Cayman Islands andthe officials as expecting further strengthening. Hurricane flags have been hoisted at government buildings and police stations for the purposes of the national hurricane exercise.

The most recent forecasts for the 2011 season point to more hurricanes in the Caribbean area compared to last season when most of the storms remained in the Atlantic. Currently experts say there is likely to be at least five hurricanes in our region three of which will be intense. The overall prediction for the six month season is for around fifteen named storms, eight of which will be hurricanes.
 

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More unemployed youngsters pass through training

| 05/05/2011 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Another group of young people have passed through the government’s employment programme Passport2Success. Twenty one students recently graduated from the third session which government hopes will make young people more employable. The programme is not a job creation scheme but a course designed to teach high school leavers how to get and then keep a job by teaching resume writing, interview skills, conflict avoidance, as well as how to dress and act in a work environment. Education Minister, Rolston Anglin, said the key objective of the programme is to provide a “seamless bridgesto success,” as he delivered an address at the commencement ceremony.

“Young people need to be prepared not only to take advantage of opportunities when they arise, but also to make positive contributions to any organisation they join,” he added. Reminded participants that skills had to be accompanied by the right approach, he added:. “You have greater potential for long-term success if you mix the skills you’ve just gained with the right attitude. The one thing you have 100 percent control over is yourself… your outlook, your attitude, and the way you interact with others. This will have the greatest impact on whether or not you succeed.”

Participant Cindy Hydes said that the programme was a great experience. “Some folks don’t know how to write a résumé, speak in public or work in groups and this programme teaches you all of that,” she explained. “When I started I was really shy and reserved and had no idea what I was doing. But the programme gave me confidence and made me step out of my comfort zone. I also learned patience and how to keep my cool. It taught me how to improve myself in lots of ways.”
Andy Vernon, who believes he’s now better equipped to present himself to others, said he definitely encourages his peers to try the programme. He said young Caymanians needed to step up make use of the opportunity provided by government and stop complaining. “We’re now on a global platform, competing against persons from near and far and we need to be ready for that.”

Eight participants were specially recognised for their growth and dedication throughout the 12-week programme. Denry Howell was judged the most outstanding participant, while Cindy Hydes and Darin Conolly took Leader in the Making awards.

Alejandro Calidonio and Geanna Bodden received Commitment to Growth awards, while Kizzie Codlyn was deemed the Most Improved Participant, and Alexander Smiley and Tatiana Hodgson earned Rising Star awards.

A free public-private-funded initiative, Passport2Success targets young Caymanians aged 17 – 20 years, who are recent high school graduates and who have not yet found suitable employment. It is co-sponsored by the Ministry of Education, Training & Employment; the Butterfield Group; CML Offshore Recruitment and LIME.

The fourth programme in the series started on 2 May. For more details, visit www.Passport2Success.ky, email The Wellness Centre on info@wellnesscentre.ky or call Shannon Seymour on 949-9355.

 

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