Archive for October 21st, 2011

New housing board selected

| 21/10/2011 | 34 Comments

(CNS): Following the arrest of an official on Monday from the National Housing Development Trust (NHDT), the minister with responsibility has appointed a new board. On Friday afternoon Mike Adam announced a new chair and list of directors, including five of the original members who had been appointed in January 2010 but who had since resigned. Both the previous chair Steve McLaughlin and the deputy chair Edlin Myles, who were two of only three remaining members, as of last week, have both been removed. 

The police have not yet named the 59-year-old George Town man who was arrested at his home last Monday under the anti-corruption law, and who is currently released on police bail, as charges have not yet been brought. Earlier this week the NHDT offices were temporarily closed down while police reportedly seized and searched the trust's computers and other files.

Expressing his confidence in the new board, Adam said the membership plans to cooperate fully with the ongoing Royal Cayman Islands Police Service (RCIPS) investigation into a past board member. He added  that at the same time he was looking forward to working with the new board to advance the work of the trust.

As minister with responsibility for the board and its conduct Adam has confirmed that he was aware of the investigation and that complaints and accusations had been made about a member’s conduct. The member is believed to have abused his position to sell insurance to the NHDT clients in East End but the minister has not yet stated what he knew about the allegations against the George Town man.

A number of board members who had resigned last year and during the course of this year said this week that they had no part in the activities that have taken place since they resigned but it has not been made clear why so many members had stepped down. It is understood that for the last few months only five members were left on the board and the regulations requiring a quorum of five had been waived to allow the board to carry out its work with only three members present. Then last week two more members left shortly before one of the remaining three was arrested.

However, a number of those who had resigned have now returned. Rayal Bodden, who left in July of last year, has returned to chair the trust’s board and Allan Bush, Michael Godfrey, Ann-Marie Powell and Jaron Jackson, who all resigned over the course of this year, have now re-joined the board. Joining the veterans as new members are Terry-Ann Arch and Delia Hydes.

The NHDT was created in 2003 to make housing available to low-income applicants through the affordable homeowners and build on your own property initiatives, as well as the Government Guaranteed Housing Assistance Mortgages. The trust has operations in West Bay and East End. Workwill soon be completed on a redevelopment in the Windsor Park area of George Town.

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Energy committee to offer a sneak-peek of policy

| 21/10/2011 | 8 Comments

(CNS): Having spent more than one year preparing it a government committee will be offering a preview of the proposed national energy policy next week during a Chamber of Commerce meeting but it is not yet clear if it will include the development of an oil refinery. The National Energy Policy Committee (NEPC) will be giving business leaders a sneak peak of its work to date on the policy which officials have said will guide the country’s energy needsover the next two decades. The chamber said the committee will discuss their mandate and findings with members at its next Be Informed meeting. The draft policy is due to be submitted to Cabinet in the first quarter of 2012.

Chair of the NEPC government backbench MLA Cline Glidden said Cayman faced the challenge of finding an energy solution that is both affordable and secure.

“Our vision is to encourage a diversified sector that is supported by informed public behaviour,” Glidden stated, in a government release. “We believe this will help to strengthen our economy in a number of ways: by reducing the cost of fuel; generating a demand for new products and services, and creating more jobs than are lost in the transition from fossil fuels. We would, of course, also be reducing the Cayman Islands carbon footprint,” but made no reference to the government talks over the development of an oil refinery.

In June the premier announced that he had signed a “ministerial MOU” with two firms- -Vintech Ltd and Navitas to develop an oil refinery which he said, at the time had started a full Environmental Impact Assessment to analyze all the issues related to the development of such a facility. Speaking in the Legislative Assembly McKeeva Bush said Cayman had to “develop a strategy to have a constant supply of affordable fuel” to the country could become self sufficient.

At the time the premier did not say how long the ministerial agreement was for and there have been no comments or updates from governmentsince.

Members of the NEPC committees and subcommittees will reveal the story so far on energy policy at 3pm Wednesday, 26 October at the Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Centre conference facility in Governor’s Square.

For more details and to register for the event visit www.caymanchamber.ky

 

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Housing trust is functioning, say officials

| 21/10/2011 | 8 Comments

(CNS): Despite the arrest of a member of the National Housing Development Trust under anti-corruption legislation and the seizure of the trust’s computers, officials from the office have stated that the programme itself is unaffected by the situation. General Manager Janet James said that the administrative functions have not been impeded. “There are no accusations relating to the operational or financial aspects of the NHDT. Our offices are open as usual, and we are cooperating fully with the authorities,” she said, adding that the RCIPS investigation has not impacted the NHDT’s service to the public.

Mike Adam, the minister with responsibility has stated that he will be issuing a release today (Friday 21 October) with more details regarding the future of the board which even before the arrest had experienced a string of resignations.

A number of former board members raised concerns this week that the government had not been clear that when the arrest was made there were only three remaining members on the trust board and the government website had not been updated since the board was appointed in January 2010, giving the impression that anyone of them could have been under suspicion despite their long departure.

Former board member Alric Lindsay told CNS he had resigned in May last year and Rayal Bodden had resigned just two months later. Most other members with the exception of the chair, the deputy chair and one other member had all tendered their resignations over the last few months. The minister confirmed that the most recent resignations had occurred just last week.

The board had originally comprised nine members and required five members to attend to form a quorum. CNS was informed that after the surge of resignations no new appointments were made and instead the remaining members changed the regulations and reduced the quorum requirement to just three members.

The police have confirmed that a 59 year old man was released on police bail this week after his arrest in George Town on Monday. The man who is also a director of the UDP was arrested under sections 13 and 17 of the Anti-Corruption Law for breach of trust and abuse of public office, as well as suspicion of obtaining property by deception. The man is understood to have manipulated his position of trust on the board to sell insurance to applicants who applied to buy homes on the recently completed East End site.

To contact the office NDHT office which is now open in the Cayman Centre call 945 7649.

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Conflicts of interest

| 21/10/2011 | 27 Comments

Ezzard Miller is absolutely right to be concerned about elected representatives' conflicts of interest where they have businesses directly related to their public work. However, there is one critical issue which bears mentioning and another which bears elaboration. We have a woefully inadequate Register of Interests Law. 

You could drive a bus load of conflicts sideways through the gates of that and not scratch either end! Let me give you one obvious example. In respect of shareholdings in non-exempt companies, the declaration form provides:

SHAREHOLDINGS
Do you have (either yourself or with or on behalf of your spouse or dependent children) interests in shareholdings in any company (other than an exempt or non-resident company) or other body which have a nominal value (a) greater than $25,000, or (b) less than $25,000 but greater than one per cent of the issued share capital of the company or body?
YES/NO (Please delete as appropriate).
If you look at the language in parentheses you will see that the question is in respect of (a) yourself (individually), or (b) yourself and your spouse and/or your dependent children (jointly) or (c) yourself acting trustee on behalf of your wife and/or your dependent children (trustee).

What is obviously missing?

The missing scenario is shares that are known to the declarant to be held in the name of his/her spouse and/or his/her dependent children.

The law can’t really cover every conceivable permutation of potential conflicts of interests but it seems to me that it misses some very obvious and common place mechanisms used to avoid its bite. This law needs to be strengthened considerably. One last point on this is that I can see no reason why the Register of Interests  (as deficient as it is) should not be on the website of the Legislative Assembly. This is a public document and should be available to the public in the most convenient way.  The Hansard is online and the Register is no less significant.

The other point:

The other point worthy of elaboration is that those individuals who are not financially self-sufficient are much more likely to succumb to improper opportunities. We know that there are many that become politicians and (to borrow a wonderful Jamaican expression) go from “vapour to paper” almost overnight. If you look at the average person in the country earning a similar salary to that earned by MLAs, they certainly can do well for themselves and their family and even where they have small businesses but you would be hard pressed to find examples of real extravagance such as multi-million dollar condos and the perceived trappings of the rich and famous.

Why should it be different for some of our politicians? The difference between the long track record of a successful businessman and a successful politician should be fairly stark. The former should have done well financially and continue to better his position, the latter should in general be no better off than the man in the street earning a similar salary (and one could argue that as a politician he might be worse off the longer he is in office given the regular requests for assistance that comes with the territory). That is the irony of a comparison of those two success stories, my friends. Where the reality is significantly different for the politician, it bears examination. They may be spending more time looking after their interests than yours.

So the issue is not necessarily whether someone has business interests. People who are self-made outside of politics are in a number of respects better placed to represent the interests of their people, not simply because they are free of temptation but also because they usually aren’t successful businesspeople if they lack credibility and integrity and those desirable characteristics of drive and determination. The issue is really whether they appropriately and fully disclose their interests and make sure that they avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest by perhaps going as far as divestment, as Mr Miller did.

I have commented on this issue previously but it seems to me that we have some politicians in this country (and some who surround them) who see potential and often even real conflicts as opportunities to be exploited rather than avoided simply because they won a battle at the polls. The spoils of war. The word typically used to describe that is corruption and it is a tax on the country. It is an insidious destructive cancer that eats away at civil society in a multitude of ways and can ultimately even threaten the Rule of Law and democracy itself. You only have to look at TCI as an example. There are ominous signs here as well.

I am pleased that we have some politicians like Mr Miller who insist on the avoidance of conflicts, who implement and support the laws and institutions of transparency and good governance and who clearly are acting against any suggestion of self-interest. Talking about transparency and good governance creates neither. We have to look at actions. Those who have put in place and supported such things as the Freedom of Information Law are clearly acting in the interests of the people and even in the short time that it has been in effect, it is obvious that it is a far more effective tool to strengthen democracy than the Register of Interests Law as it is. Those who don’t like it do so for obvious reasons.

The accountants usually say follow the money to find the answers. The character flaws that cause people to participate in corruption are the same ones that put their egos into overdrive. If politicians or those around them appear extravagant and acquire substantial properties and car collections and exhibit lifestyles that seem far beyond their means, it may well be time for the public and the people they purport to represent to question whether something inappropriate is going on. It may be time to demand explanations and hold them accountable. If you accept lame explanations, you are selling out yourself, your fellow countryman and yourchildren’s future. “It is political” is not an explanation.  These things will have a major impact down the line if not immediately. These things get worse if unchecked, not better.      

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Report offers leaders new approach to climate change

| 21/10/2011 | 0 Comments

(CNS): A major new report is calling for a different approach to decision making by national leaders regarding climate. Drawing on input from over 100 experts in over 35 countries, the report includes 12 case studies of innovative, real world responses to climate change. The report offers a suite of tools and recommendations for national-level policy makers about adaptation efforts to address uneven vulnerability and planning for uncertainty when making decisions. Decision Making in a Changing Climate, explores challenges and offers recommendations for national-level government officials to make informed and effective decisions to respond to the changing climate.

The report, produced by the World Resources Institute, UNDP, UNEP, and the World Bank, is the latest edition of the influential World Resources Report.

“Climate change is a vast, complex, and urgent issue for national leaders. What’s clear beyond doubt is that the decisions leaders make today will have a profound effect on their countries’ ability to find real, lasting solutions to adapt to this global crisis,” said Manish Bapna, Interim President, the World Resources Institute. “This report provides decision makers with concepts and information they need – drawn from real world experiences – to make smart choices and ensure that decision making is effective and durable in the light of these challenges.”

The challenges of climate change are made clear by the array of recent extreme weather events from massive droughts in the Horn of Africa to record rainfall in the United States to wildfires in Brazil. According to global insurance company, Munich Re, there were more than 950 natural disasters in 2010, 90 percent of which were weather related, costing a total of at least $130 billion.

“Climate change is not solely an environmental issue. It is an issue that needs to be taken into account in order to ensure that human development is sustainable over the long term” said Olav Kjorven, Director of the Bureau for Development Policy at UNDP. “Governments must start now to incorporate climate risks into plans and policies across all sectors, including urban development, coastal planning, agriculture, water and forestry management, and electricity production.”

While the pace of climate change is accelerating, there is great uncertainty about how some impacts— such as changing precipitation patterns and sea level rise — will unfold around the world. The report says that climate change impacts will not play out on a level playing field as some people are more vulnerable than others and it demands tough, but transformational changes.

"National, regional and local governments, businesses, and civil society are already making decisions to make the transition to a climate resilient, low-carbon future and build the green economies of the twenty-first century,” says Kaveh Zahedi, Coordinator of UNEP’s Climate Change Program. “This report shows that smart adaptation investments, such as those in climate resilient agriculture in China, mangrove restoration in Vietnam, and watershed management in Rwanda, deliver multiple benefits from food security to coastline protection to improved energy supply and ultimately help build the resilience of communities that are most vulnerable to climate change."

The full report, including the executive summary, individual case studies, and expert papers, can be found here: http://www.worldresourcesreport.org

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