Archive for June 24th, 2011

“Island Watch”

| 24/06/2011 | 16 Comments

On behalf of a friend of mine I am trying to drum up some interest in an imaginative new crime-fighting idea. He believes the concept of “Neighbourhood Watch” could be extended to an Island-wide community-alert initiative that he calls “Island Watch”.

The plan is to take advantage of the fact that almost everybody in Cayman has a mobile phone of some sort, which they carry with them at all times (especially while dealing with supermarket cashiers and bank tellers, unfortunately, but never mind…) Those phones could be the means of mobilising the carriers to help deter or catch criminals – robbers and muggers in particular.

Victims or eye-witnesses of robberies and muggings can’t do much besides call 9-1-1. The people at the other end authenticate each call as best they can, and then pass the caller on to the police. End of story, pretty much. The police react as best they can, using their own resources. An “Island Watch” program would, on receipt of a similar report, immediately send a text message to every cellphone in Cayman with a description of the suspects and their getaway vehicle and the direction they took off in.

With luck, and ideally, the suspects and their car would be tracked wherever they went. Follow-up reports would keep the communications base informed, and the base would pass the news on to all the cellphones. Allowing for authentication delays, feedback would be very, very quick.

Nobody would be urged to be a hero and chase after the bad guys shouting “Not today, bo-bo!” They would let their cellphones do the chasing. The Watchers would do what the police don’t have the manpower to do. You get the picture, I hope.

There are three major problems that I can see standing between the vision and the achievement. Those are authentication, anonymity and defamation. I invite readers now to suggest how each might be dealt with.

Authentication: How could Island Watch’s communications base (HQ) quickly ensure that all reports it receives and sends (by text, not by voice) were reliable?

Defamation: How could Island Watch best protect innocent parties from defamation either deliberate or accidental? And, protect itself from lawsuits, of course!

Anonymity: All Watchers might be interested in receiving crime-alerts, but if only a couple of brave souls ever texted in reports to HQ the whole Island Watch program would be futile. Cellphones are famously easy to trace – at least according to all the TV shows. Portable computers might be more difficult, though not impossible; and anyway not everybody carries them.

The general public regularly expresses its dissatisfaction of existing crime-prevention procedures and programs; an “Island Watch” might succeed in filling a gap. I hope everyone reading this will help turn the idea into reality.

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$10m spent on nation building

| 24/06/2011 | 146 Comments

(CNS): The premier was very reluctant to give details on how $10 million which has been appropriated to his ministry over the last three budgets has been spent. The money has been allocated to a new line item termed ‘nation building’, which the country’s leader says covers a number of different things. When the opposition leader pressed for some transparency on how the public cash had been spent over the last two years and how it would be spent in the coming year, McKeeva Bush accused Alden McLaughlin of wantingto know so he could embarrass people. The premier said the money was being spent on churches, scholarships, leadership programmes and various other projects defined as nation building.

The money, Bush said, was being processed through the finance department and was all above board and it wasn’t him “that was writing out the cheques”.

The premier explained that the ‘nation building’ financial allocation was created to finance programmes that would help to promote leadership among young people, foster talent, build on the country’s moral values, help those in need, support volunteer organisations, to encourage those who may be at risk to raise themselves above difficult circumstances and many other worthwhile projects for the betterment of Cayman.

It is about enhancing positive social growth and providing a flexible response system for the government to help those in need of assistance in special circumstances when they presented a worthy case, the premier added.

Bush described the money as a grant system that was being allocated by his office on a case by case basis depending on merit. However, he refused to be drawn on exactly how the substantial sum of money had been spent, despite questions from the opposition leader.

Alden McLaughlin noted that the amount which the Finance Committee was being asked to vote on for this fiscal year was over $3 million, in the last financial year it was $4million and in the first year when the premier introduced the new allocation around $2.8 million had been appropriated. He said there had, however, been no transparency or accountability regarding the money, which was coming from the public purse.

McLaughlin said that normally the kind of payments the premier was describing were allocated under ownership or purchase agreements where the recipient programmes, church groups or volunteers were held accountable for how they used taxpayers' money and explained in detail the goals and ambitions of the various projects.

He also queried why the scholarships that the premier said were being funded under the allocation were not being handled through the normal channels. Bush stated that 27 people were receiving scholarships through the nation building programme as they had not qualified through the usual routes because the students in question had special talents but not necessarily the academic grades. He said two of the recipients were very talented musicians.

The opposition leader pointed out that the scholarship secretariat normally provides vocational scholarships for gifted students no matter their academic situation, as he pressed the premier to explain exactly where the $10 million was being spent and offer the public some transparency and accountability.

The premier said that aside from helping churches with their buildings, after school programmes and scholarships, some of the money had also been spent on Barkers national park.

Despite the leader of the opposition’s persistence, the premier refused to detail the names of the organisations and the amounts given and said he had already explained where the money was going and that it was being handled properly.

McLaughlin suggested that the premier supply Finance Committee members with a detailed report breaking down the grants and awards. “Given the amount of the allocation, can the committee be provided with a report so we can perform our proper function of scrutinizing how money is being spent?” the opposition leader asked.

The premier insisted it was not normal to detail all of these kinds of grants and he would check how things were usually handled. “I’ve told you what it’s being spent on,” Bush said, adding that it was going through the accountants at the ministry. He accused the opposition leader of not liking the creation of the programme and him being in the position to do what he could, but Bush said that as long as he was in a position to help people he would.

The opposition leader noted, however, that what he didn’t like was the fact that he, the Finance Committee and the public could not see how public money was being spent.

For details of government'sspending plans go to www.bmu.gov.ky or click here
 

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OT secure prison in review

| 24/06/2011 | 40 Comments

(CNS): The proposal to send Cayman's high risk prisoners off-shore and remove the pressure from Northward is currently being discussed by members of the Overseas Territories Council, the governor has revealed. Duncan Taylor said that the UK is considering the possibility of creating a high security facility which would be used to house all of the regional OT's serious offenders but the problem is finding a territory willing to host the prison. One of the suggestions put forward in the national crime prevention strategy, unveiled this week, to send high risk prisoners overseas would enable the local prison to focus on rehabilitation rather than security and get to grips with the high recidivism rates.

Premier McKeeva Bush first raised the idea last year at a public meeting in West Bay in the wake of a spate of shootings in the district but he had suggested housing the facility in another country. Bush said at the time that because of human rights he didn’t think people were afraid to go to Northward Prison and Cayman needed somewhere else to send its serious criminals.

“I am going to propose to my colleagues that we develop … a regional prison for serious crime that will be in a country outside of the territories,” he said. “All of us would put our funds in to get an outside prison … a place where human rights don’t bother them so much.”

Speaking about idea on Wednesday, Taylor said the UK was considering having a single facility in one of the Caribbean territories but aside from the location another stumbling block was the rights of family members to visit their incarcerated relatives and having the prison offshore would make that difficult.

The governor did, however, note the possible advantages for the current prison system as he said much of the prisons time and resources are directed at security issues because of the dangerous prisoners currently housed there. He explained that the much needed rehabilitation programmes are sacrificed because of the need to maintain security levels due to the category A prisoners being housed in the same prison as category D offenders.

“The Overseas Territories Council is exploring the idea of a regional high security prison for the OTS,” Taylor stated. “I see some benefits in that, if Northward didn't have such high risk prisoners in there, it would be a lot easier to implement programmes. If it were a low-to-medium secure prison, the environment can switch from a security punitive one to one of rehabilitation.”

One of the major criticisms by the working group which researched the crime prevention strategy was the failure of the prison to offer rehabilitation for its offenders. The strategy pointed to the need for drug and alcohol counselling to be reintroduced at the prison. “This should be part of mandatory sentence planning, which is at the heart of the rehabilitative process,” the document states.

Over 70% of prisoners have a drug and or alcohol problem but none are receiving help and with budget cuts all rehabilitation programmes have diminished significantly, the report found. Sentence planning, which is at the heart of the rehabilitative process, is not mandatory.

As a result of security taking priority over rehab and reform of prisoners, they leave HMP Northward under license because of good behaviour without any comprehensive assessment of changes in attitudes and beliefs following their participation in programmes like anger management, sexual offenders therapy or addiction treatment.
 

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Gore condemns Obama for lack of action on climate

| 24/06/2011 | 0 Comments

(CP): President Obama has been fiercely criticized by former Vice President Al Gore for his lack of progress on climate change in a magazine article set to be published Friday. gore criticized Obama saying that he had failed to act decisively to make any significant changes to the country’s climate change and energy policies. The rebuke came as Gore wrote for “Rolling Stone” magazine, where he said: “President Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis. He has simply not made the case for action. “He has not defended the science against the ongoing, withering and dishonest attacks,” Gore said.

“Nor has he provided a presidential venue for the scientific community – including our own National Academy – to bring the reality of the science before the public.”

Gore explained that Obama has failed to stand up for “bold action” on global warming and has made inadequate progress on the problem since the days of Republican President George W. Bush.


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FIFA report reveals compelling evidence

| 24/06/2011 | 0 Comments

(AP):  FIFA's ethics committee says a report reveals "compelling" evidence that Mohamed bin Hammam and Jack Warner conspired to bribe presidential election voters before they were suspended from soccer. The committee concludes that bin Hammam's alleged actions in offering $40,000 cash payments to Caribbean officials "constitute prima facie an act of bribery." The report, seen by The Associated Press, says Warner was an accessory to bribery who offered "mere self-serving declarations" at a hearing last month. The 17-page document was sent last week to Warner, a FIFA vice president before he resigned his soccer positions.

FIFA dropped its investigation of Warner on Monday after he resigned, saying he maintains "the presumption of innocence."

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US hedge fund regulation pushed back to 2012

| 24/06/2011 | 0 Comments

(MarketWatch): The US securities regulator delayed a long-awaited rule bringing US hedge funds under its purview, Wednesday as the agency struggles to implement a mountain of new rules after the banking crisis. The Securities and Exchange Commission pushed back a plan to have the new funds register by July 21, until the first quarter of 2012.  SEC members adopted a proposal they introduced in November that requires hedge-fund and private-equity managers with more than $150 million in assets, or with 15 or more clients in the United States, to register with the agency.

Roughly 750 big funds will now be subject to the new regulations, a rule that the Dodd-Frank bank reform legislation allowed the agency to write.

The SEC also will conduct surprise examinations of these managers, who will be required to file reports about their funds and on any conflicts of interest starting in 2012.

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MOU doesn’t need UK nod

| 24/06/2011 | 17 Comments

(CNS): The government will not need approval from the UK to do business with the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), even though it is a state owned firm. The Governor’s Office confirmed Thursday that the MOU the government has signed with CHEC “does not fall within the ambit of external affairs as contemplated under section 55(1)(b) of the Constitution. As such, UK consent or approval is not required.” Queries had been raised in the wake of the announcement by the premier that he had signed an MOU with the state owned Chinese company that the deal would need FCO approval. In particular, the PPM member for East End, Arden McLean, had said that this was a foreign government and a communist country.

During his budget reply in the Legislative Assembly earlier this week the premier took aim at the opposition members for suggesting that he was doing something wrong by entering into a deal with the firm. He said they were showing their ignorance when they criticised him over doing business with a communist country. He told McLean, “You can’t catch communism like a cold,” and said that the UK and the USA, as well as many other countries, were doing business with the Chinese.

“Everything and anything is being said by the opposition to ‘blaggard’ everything we are trying to do,” the premier said when he closed the budget debate.

Despite the extensive media coverage to the contrary and questions about the firm, the premier denied there was anything going wrong in Jamaica with the work CHEC was doing there. The premier said he had a letter from that country’s contractor general denying there were any investigations going on. He added that he believed there was nothing wrong with Cayman doing business with the firm and he wished they could do a lot more.

The premier has signed a preliminary deal with CHEC to develop the cruise berthing facilities in George Town on a 49 year concession and to construct a cruise berthing pier in West Bay that will service the Turtle Farm. He has also signed a separate agreement to renovate the Spotts jetty, where work is expected to start next month.

During the Finance Committee session on Thursday the premier denied that the $3 million which has been advanced by CHEC to do the work at Spotts needed to be added to government’s anticipated costs for interest payments on public debt. The opposition leader, Alden McLaughlin, pointed out that the recently signed MOU states that if the Cayman Islands Government and CHEC can’t reach an agreement on the details of the George Town and West Bay cruise developments, the government will reimburse the Chinese firm for the Spotts work.

Bush angrily rejected the need to do that and said were it to reach that point he would bring the deal to the Legislative Assembly and make the arrangements, but he said it was not adding to the financing arrangements for something that had not yet happened. He said it was his goal that the cruise talks would move fast and that things would be in place soon and he did not need to put the $3 million on the financing appropriations as it was not a loan.

The premier has stated that he hopes to move to a framework agreement with CHEC for the cruise berthing projects to be underway by November.

See MOU with the premier and CHEC below.

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Tourism sector finds borrowing tough

| 24/06/2011 | 1 Comment

(CNS): Only hotels in the Caribbean with well-known household names are likely to have received cash in recent times, according to a study carried out by KPMG. Globally branded projects, which are well capitalised and carry low levels of debt to equity are the best positioned to succeed when it comes to receiving financing while financial institutions continue to remain tight on lending, the report says. KPMG’s 2011 Caribbean Region Financing Survey focussing on lending in the hospitality and tourism sector in the Caribbean was based on findings carried out by KPMG professionals from across the region from February to April 2011.

It targeted senior corporate bankers and senior executives of niche financiers, representing a total of US$2.8 billion in exposure to the tourism sector.  Countries represented were the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Barbados, Jamaica, Bermuda, Trinidad & Tobago, British Virgin Islands, Turks & Caicos Islands and the Cayman Islands.

As the downturn in the global economy continues to impact lenders, new and increased credit facilities are being made available to established hotel operations and operators with strong track records, according to the report.

“Borrowers are, in most cases, well capitalised borrowers and, ideally, part of a recognised chain of branded properties. A strong operator and hotel brand is seen as a prerequisite in order to survive and, in some instances, thrive within the increasingly price competitive market, where hotel properties are faced with operating cost pressures,” the report says.

In comparison, very little lender financing activity was to “greenfield” or boutique properties.

The report goes on to say that renegotiation and restructuring activities have increased where borrowers have got into difficulties and lenders have become more active in monitoring loan portfolios.

Lenders are also requiring borrowers to take additional risk in hotel projects by lowering loan to value ratios. The report says the impact has been that lenders are able to reduce exposure as thinly capitalised projects are not likely to be financed. At the same time a decrease in property values is likely to further impact existing loan exposures.

To move stalled projects forward, survey participants said there was a need for an assessment of the market, and an injection of additional equity to recapitalise the project.
“One of the themes in these responses was that where the project had stalled, there was erosion in the credibility of the sponsors, and their initial assessment of the project’s feasibility,” the report noted.

Lenders, it said, continue to exhibit a cautious approach to lending and see a gradual improvement in the Caribbean tourism sector. That said, this year they are increasingly worried about international world developments.

Global and regional macroeconomic indicators, including the price of oil, world food and commodity prices, and the socio-political developments in northern Africa and the Middle East were some of the issues currently worrying bankers and developers. Others issues of concern to the region’s tourism industry included the implementation of the UK travel tax and the increased awareness of regional crime in the international press.

Regional stopover visitor arrivals have fallen in each of the last three calendar years and are now lower than they were in 2006. With regard to stopover visitors, some of the winners were Cuba, Dominican Republic and Jamaica, with Puerto Rico and Bahamas being the biggest losers, the report stated.

Survey participants ranked global economic issues as being the most significant challenge and the strongest indicators of a turnaround in the tourism sector (73 per cent), while issues such as operating costs, social issues, the UK travel tax, and the quality of hotel product were each thought to pose a significant challenge to the sector, by approximately two percent of the survey participants.

Only 36 percent of the survey participants had positive views for the prospects of the Caribbean tourism industry over the next 12 months.

See full report here

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Gov’t working hard says Mac

| 24/06/2011 | 43 Comments

(CNS): The premier told the Cayman people in a broadcast address on Thursday evening that he and his government were hard at work on their behalf. McKeeva Bush said that as a result of that hard work and despite the economic decline in the last two years, the outlook for 2011 was more optimistic. The modest recovery, he added, was supported by construction projects due to start later this year. However the premier warned against negative publicity and “negative demonstrations” as he took aim at the planned march on Tuesday. “These islands are being watched every day by the international world and the PPM has now encouraged what they term civil disobedience,” he said.

Bush accused the opposition of being out of touch with reality and having nothing to offer. “When people are out to spread a message of fear, to create a climate of doubt and suspicion, you wouldn’t expect them to have anything much to show beyond wild rhetoric,” the premier said in his TV and radio message.

He said the “noise” being made by the opposition was merely about shouting down the good his government was trying to do — “the jobs we are trying to create, the progress we are trying to generate for the people of these islands.”

He denied that government had anything to do with the debate over the East End port facility. “This is a proposal which the proposed developer has had the good sense to open up to public scrutiny; it is a proposal which would be subject to the full rigours of scrutiny with respect to the impacts it would have, the resources it would require, and the benefits it might bring,” Bush said that the port was not being built by government, the property in question was not owned by the government and it had not been approved by government.

He said, “The Dart proposal is good, the oil refinery is good, the projects that the China Harbour Company offers are good. They will create opportunity and a better economy for all.”

As he took aim at the opposition, he said that beating up on the government was one of the world’s oldest sports and some of our "so-called leaders" were "in the Olympic class" but that there was no gold medal in the sport.

The premier said government continues to work night and day to make things better for Cayman, for all thepeople of the Cayman Islands. “The things we do, and some things we have to undo, are based on this, and grow out of this objective. We work for you!” he exclaimed. “We are not deaf to criticism, nor do we stop our ears when constructive suggestions are brought forward. We are working for you, for all of us, and for all our children, and we implore you to judge our efforts objectively,” Bush pleaded in the address.

See full statement below.

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