Archive for October 24th, 2011

Bush lectures ICCI students on economy

| 24/10/2011 | 60 Comments

(CNS): The premier appeared as a guest lecturer last week at ICCI, where he talked to business students about the interdependence of the global and local economies. According to a release from the college, McKeeva Bush spoke on the economy, government initiatives, including economic stimulus through public private-public partnerships, managing public debt, immigration reform and the country’s relationship with the UK. “Government should not be in the business of creating businesses, but it should be in the business of facilitating businesses to grow in the medium and the long term,” he told the students. He said he did not finish high school or university because he grew up in a different time with limited resources and means. 

However, Bush told the students that the new generation coming up should take advantage of the educational opportunities available overseas and locally. Despite not studying for a degree himself, he said, he had been awarded an honorary master’s degree in humanities by the International College of the Cayman Islands, which was a source of great pride.

“If everyone here at ICCI convinces just two people to go and get a university education, Cayman would be a much better place,” he told the group.

According to the release one student said she was impressed with how much time and effort thePremier put into his presentation. “We always see him in the newspapers and TV, but to actually hear him in person was fantastic,” added Sophia Elliott.

Marva Powell, a master’s student in the human resources programme, said the premier’s exchange to the students' and faculty’s questions was engaging and thought provoking.

College business instructor, Joey Ebanks (the former director of the turtle farm), said that, given Bush’s demanding schedule, the fact he found time to come and give the evening class lecture showed how important education was to the country’s premier.

“The premier gave a very broad overview of the economy, where we are, where we need to go and what we need to do to get there. And the students got some insight in how the premier operates,” Ebanks added.

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Cruising bikers spin round Cayman with cycle champ

| 24/10/2011 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Thirty eight cycling enthusiasts from Montrose, California arrived in Grand Cayman recently on the Royal Caribbean "Freedom of the Seas" to participate in a bicycle tour of the island. The bike cruise which was the first of its kind was led by Bike Magazine editor Joe Parkin and was organised to fit in scenic cycle trails at each port of call the ship made. In the Cayman Islands the visiting bikers were met by three time Olympian and well-known local cyclist Craig Merren, who accompanied the bikers on a tour along Seven Mile Beach and through West Bay, including areas such as Salt Creek, and 'Hell' before returning to the dock.

The group sailed from Fort Lauderdale and organizers confirmed that as a result of the success of this year's inaugural trip, another bike cruise is already being planned for March 2012.

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Comfort Suites to get comfier with $2million upgrade

| 24/10/2011 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Owners of the Comfort Suites on Seven Mile Beach have been working on a US$2 million upgrade to the hotel’s rooms and facilities during the slow season. The hotel started renovations to its guest rooms in August and willalso be adding a gymnasium, a private business centre and a new breakfast room in time for the winter season, according to a release. General Manager Thomas Mason said that local staff working at the hotel had been kept on in order to help with the renovations and more people had been hired than layed off during the traditional low season as aresult of the upgrade.

Mason said that 22 of the hotel's premier business rooms which overlook the swimming pool area are being done up with new fittings and new technology.

"This is just the first phase of the renovation," Mason said, explaining that phase two will start after the winter season, when all of the property's remaining rooms will be completely remodelled. "This is a very extensive renovation which speaks to our owners' commitment to both the hotel and the Cayman Islands," Mason added.

The ownership group of the hotel comprises Caymanians and Americans and it said that 90 per cent of the property's staff is Caymanian. To avoid laying people off during the upgrade Comfort Suites said it had “re-purposed them” so they have been able to help with the renovations keeping them in work during the slower summer and autumn months.

"We have actually hired people rather than laying them off, and we are happy to play our part to keep the Caymanian economy ticking during a traditionally soft season," Mason said adding that the work is due to end in early December and had been carried out with minimal disruption to guests.

"We are constantly listening to our customers and take their needs seriously … so we have responded with a great workout area, breakfast in an even more enjoyable environment and cosy rooms with every modern convenience," he said.

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Cayman gets only one ‘Oscar’ at tourism awards

| 24/10/2011 | 28 Comments

(CNS): The Cayman Islands received just one award at this year’s World Travel Awards for the Caribbean, with the Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman winning The Leading Suite. Called the Oscars of the travel industry by the Wall Street Journal, the awards were dominated by Jamaica, which was named the Caribbean’s Leading Destination for the sixth year running. Jamaica also picked up the top spot for the Caribbean’s Leading Tourist Board and the Caribbean’s Leading Cruise Destination. Cayman did not feature even as a nominee in the latter award, with Aruba, the Bahamas, Barbados, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago all nominated for the top cruise spot.

Jamaica took the top placement in a number of other categories, including the Caribbean’s Leading Beach Destination (Negril), the Caribbean’s Leading Boutique resort (Golden Eye) and the Caribbean’s Leading Cruise Port (Ocho Rios).

The World Travel Awards for the Caribbean were presented at a gala ceremony held at Sandals Royal Caribbean Resort & Private Island in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where the Ritz-Carlton Suite at The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman won its award, beating off St Lucia’s Beachfront Rondoval Suites at Sandals, Diamond at Eden Rock, St Barts and Four Bedroom Villa at One&Only Ocean Club, Bahamas.

The Ritz-Carlton was also nominated for the Caribbean’s Leading Hotel Brand, but was beaten by Sandals resorts International.

St Lucia won the title of Caribbean’s Leading Honeymoon Destination, another category in which the Cayman Islands were not nominated, while Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic took the Caribbean’s Leading Resort category, beating fellow nominees Half Moon (Jamaica), Jumby Bay (Antigua), Four Seasons Resort (Nevis) and Sandy Lane (Barbados).

The Caribbean & the Americas Gala Ceremony was the final leg of World Travel Awards 2011 Grand Tour, and followed heats in Dubai, Turkey, Egypt and Thailand. The regional winners progress to the Grand Final, which takes place in Doha, Qatar, on 11 December.

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Tough economic times take toll on Expo

| 24/10/2011 | 4 Comments

(CNS): Small business owners exhibiting at the Chamber of Commerce Business Expo said government bureaucracy and inefficiency, a declining population, as well as the generally depressed market and the end of a particularly slow low season were all obstacles to growth. Increased costs, such as those associated with importing goods, were also putting the squeeze on even the most profitable businesses, owners said at this year’s Expo. Furthermore, a general scarcity of cash was reflected in the drop in the number of businesses exhibiting, though some found innovative solutions to showcasing their products during these tough economic times.

Carol Hay from Cayman Gourmet Pepper Jelly said she was unable, as a small business owner, to pay thecost of even a small booth at the Expo, so she was delighted when PJ Coyle from Precision Print had invited her to join him at his booth and she was happy to attract event-goers with a free sample of her pepper jelly, cheese and biscuits.

“Small companies like mine would love to exhibit at the Expo but it is just too expensive for them. Next year I think the Chamber should have a special area for locally made and grown products,” Hay said. “In Cayman we have a great selection of local grown and made products that would definitely draw people to the Expo.”

Coyle revealed that he had looked at the statistics, which indicated that around half the booth exhibitors at last year’s Expo had not returned this, which showed to him that money was extremely tight. He added that he was happy to offer Hay a place at his booth for free to attract people to his products.

Rod Jefferson, managing director with printers and shippers Post Net, said the traditionally slow season over the summer months had been “pretty rough” and there were not enough people on the island to push up sales. On a positive note, he said that his business was seeing growth signs this month and felt that business was about on track where it was before the slow season hit sales.

David Stephens, from Apex Industries, which sells storm shutters and awnings, said that the slowdown in the economy had meant that people were not spending their cash on items that were not essential. “People see the products they would like but in this present economic climate they are not prepared to pay out,” he said. “Once they see signs of improvement in the economy, I feel they will be more comfortable with spending on items that they like versus what they need.”

The busy season for Apex Industries was opposite to most businesses in Cayman, Stephens said, in that most people looked at buying storm shutters from June to October, during hurricane season, and although sales had been steady, he was expecting a quiet time from November to March.

Another exhibitor said that government bureaucracy and inefficiencies were the main obstacles for their business to overcome and that they were crippling the economy.  “I just wish that government employees would do their jobs in an efficient manner,” the exhibitor added.

One business exhibiting at the Expo that said it had seen positive sales growth was Paradise Coffee, which specialises in a single brewing coffee system. Gary Shepherd from the company said that they were in a unique situation in that their product was so innovative that it was becoming increasingly popular, even within a supressed local market.

But even though sales were growing, increases in freight costs for importing the product, as well as other factors such as the increased commodity cost, changes in weather patterns and crop growth, were all taking their toll on profit margins. Shepherd was confident that should Cayman’s economy return to the same levels of prosperity seen a few years ago, business would again be booming.

The Cayman Pharmacy Group was another company for which business was on the up. Camille Martin, home healthcare advisor & fitter for Professional Pharmacy, explained that the Pharmacy Group was offering personalised counselling on a range of issues, such as diabetes and hormone replacement therapy, and as a result they were able to expand their practice.

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Mac tells PAC he was right

| 24/10/2011 | 62 Comments

(CNS): The country’s premier made a long opening statement to the Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee on Friday and denied that there was anything wrong with the decisions he made regarding the Cohen and Co loan. Although the deal cost the public purse some $450,000, McKeeva Bush said he had acted in the best interests of the country and had done so lawfully under the Public Management and Finance law based on advice from the attorney general. He lashed out at the media, as well as criticising the former and current auditor generals and the financial secretary, and denied interfering with the CTC at any time.

During his address to the committee regarding the latest report from the auditor general that looked at the Cohen and Co loan deal as a case study, Bush said that for a long time he had concerns about how central tendering worked and agreed with some of the auditor general’s findings that it needed more expertise. He said he had wondered for some time if the CTC was able to deliver the best value for the country as a result of a lack of expertise and he queried why all the contracts always seem to go to just a few people.

But during the Cohen deal, he said, he did not have any direct contact with the Central Tendering Committee and had communicated directly with the Kenneth Jefferson, the financial secretary. He said he had acted on legal advice and as minister for finance according to the law he could secure loans for the public purse and it was his responsibility to get the best deal.

He told PAC that Peter Young, the UDP Treasurer, had approached him during a general council meeting and asked if he would like him to get Cohen and Co to put together a proposal for the $155 million loan that government needed and financing for Cayman Airways. Bush said he agreed but never had any further discussion with him after that.

“The report infers that he was my adviser,” Bush said about the auditor general’s report. “He was not my adviser, neither did he prepare any financial analysis on any loan for me, or known to me.”

Bush did not indicate and was never asked directly by any member of the PAC why it was that he opted to cancel the CTC process in favour of Cohen and Co, when the financial advisors in the ministry were advising against the move as they did not believe the firm would be able to deliver on the promised rate.

The premier did, however, point to criticisms of the financial secretary made in the press by the previous administration and noted that he was not obligated to take the advice from his officials and as minister of finance he had the power to make decisions about government loans.  When he was “told something" he wanted to be sure "it amounted to something,” he said, referring to advice and agreeing with the audit office’s report that expertise was needed in this field.

Explaining the events surrounding the Cohen deal, Bush said it was driven by a need to find financing for Cayman Airways. He said the UK would not allow the Cayman government to borrow any money on behalf of the airline so he felt government could use the loan as a way to leverage money for CAL. He said he wanted to make financing for the airline a condition of the getting government’s business.
“We were determined to assist Cayman Airways because they had $19 million in outstanding bills that they were unable to pay, and CAL is crucial to our tourism product, inter island travel,persons requiring medical assistance overseas and provides tremendous employment opportunities for Caymanians,” he said. “The loan financing, as initially advertised by the Finance Department, did not include CAL in their RFP’s.  There were many discussions with the financial secretary as to whether it could be added. Due to the critical need of funding for CAL and the advice given by the department that if we included CAL in the RFP it would have to be re-tendered and advertised in the papers. As minister of finance I made the decision that the awarding of the contracts not be carried out, to allow for a new RFP to be created, which would include the required funds for Cayman Airways, and that it be sent back out for bid,” Bush told the committee.

He said he was right to remain silent about the terms of the deal because of the sensitive negotiations and said the auditor general was “absolutely wrong” as he said he knew as a fact that he could not state the expected interest rates because of SEC rules.

“While I am no financial expert, had we been allowed to continue the negotiation with the bond offering, time has produced evidence that we could have obtained the rates that would have produced real savings for this country, much more than the $24 million that we were told by Cohen and Company that we would get,” Bush insisted. “The facts are that as of the decision of the Federal Reserve, as recorded on September 22, their rates were significantly reduced to 0.25%, almost 50% less than when we were forced to abandon the contract with Cohen and Company. That means that technically the country could’ve got 100% better deal!” Bush insisted.

Criticising the AG for the language of the report, he said he did not want to believe that his office had deliberately set out to damage people but “they need to use better wording,” he said. Bush said he did not appreciate the phraseology and thought that the country had gotten over that when “we got rid of the last cowboy”, referring to Dan Duguay, the former auditor general.

See the premier’s full statement to PAC below.

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Tropical stormcauses squally weather in Cayman

| 24/10/2011 | 0 Comments

(CNS): As the 17th storm of the Atlantic Hurricane season rumbles slowly north-northwestward, Cayman can expect to continue experiencing wet and blustery weather. Although Tropical Storm Rina is not forecast to head directly to the Cayman Islands, the latest satellite images indicate that severe weather associated with this strengthening storm will continue to affect the local area with moderate to heavy thunderstorms, squally conditions and rough seas, local experts say. Hazard management has also warned of increased flooding of low lying areas and residents of such areas are advised to take the necessary precautions.

Rina formed at around 10pm on Sunday night and was around 195 miles SSW of Grand Cayman at 7am Monday morning with winds of over 40mph and higher gusts. Currently travelling at 6 mph on a north-north west path a gradual turn toward the west is expected over the next 48 hours and the centre of Rina is expected to pass north of the northeastern coast of Honduras during the next couple of days.

Tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 90 miles mainly to the north and west of the centre and the National Hurricane Centre in Miami said the storm was expected to strengthen over the next 48 hours.

Local weather services are advising Cayman residents to pay close attention to the system and weather bulletins as the storm may produce heavy rain in the Cayman area which is also being impacted by the remnants of a stationary front to the northwest. Showers and overcast skies will persist throughout Monday with localized flooding and weather experts are forecasting a gradual decrease in cloudiness and shower activity from Tuesday afternoon.

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