Archive for October 26th, 2011

Shipping registry changes tonnage taxes

| 26/10/2011 | 0 Comments

(CNS) The Maritime Authority of the Cayman Islands (MACI) is introducing a new fee structure which will come into effect on 1 January.  In what MACI described as a bid to remain competitive with other territories, it carried out an investigation of the annual tonnage fees comparing them to other jurisdictions. The result MACI said was the creation of a simplified and competitive structure which for the first time in its history provides two different formulations, one for merchant vessels and one for pleasure yachts, including those engaged in trade.

MACI’s Director for Global Operations, Kenrick Ebanks said: “We have long recognized that the economic operating profile for merchant ships is very different to yachts and it is therefore, entirely logical to develop two separate regimes which take account of this fact.”
The new ATF structure for merchant ships will now include a flat minimum ATF of USD1,000, and this rate will be chargeable up to 2,500 gross tonnes. For vessels in excess of this figure, the first 2,500 tonnes will be charged at the flat minimum of USD1,000 with the remainder charged at USD0.11 per unit gross tonne.

For pleasure yachts, including yachts registered as commercial vessels, the flat minimum will be USD400 and this will be chargeable up to 500 gross tonnes. Larger yachts will be charged at USD600 for the first 1,000 tonnes with the remainder charged at USD0.20 per unit gross tonne.

MACI has said it is confident that the new structure will benefit its clients, and will ensure that the the Cayman Islands remain an attractive place for ship registration.

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Pension office abuses FOI

| 26/10/2011 | 29 Comments

(CNS): In her 16th decision regarding a denied request, the information commissioner has found that yet again the public authority in question had not followed the correct process and also used “spurious grounds” to try to withhold information. In a connection with a refused request made to the National Pensions Office, Jennifer Dilbert has ordered that the chief officer in question re-examine the entire request as she found that the senior civil servant did not conduct an adequate Internal Review of the request. Made one year ago, the request was for audited accounts and correspondence relating to employer pension plans from 2006 to 2010.

Local activist Billy Adam, who is also a member of the pension’s board, made the request not in his capacity as an official but as a member of the public as he says the information he wanted is crucial to the decisions workers should be making about which pension firm they wish their employers to use.

Adam pointed out that the compulsory pension system in Cayman was designed to be employee centric and it is down to workers in discussion with their employers to decide where the money contributed by both parties should be invested. In order to make those decisions, Adam says, the kind of information he is requesting should be freely available but it is currently being withheld.

Following the refusal of his request by the information manager in January of this year on the grounds that it would break the actual pensions law, Adam asked for an internal review, and three weeks later Chief Officer Mary Rodriguez responded by upholding the decision to refuse access. Adam then appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office and after mediation failed to resolve the issue it proceeded to a hearing.

For the first time in one of her rulings the information commissioner declined to offer a substantive decision on disclosure and actually sent the request back to the public authority in question because, Dilbert said, she did not believe the records had actually been examined before the refusal was upheld by the chief officer, asking that the necessary steps to bring the National Pensions Office into compliance with its obligations under the freedom of information law be made.

The chief officer of the NPO now has 14 days to complete the review ordered by the commissioner.

Dilbert explains in her ruling that the actual responsive records were never produced during the hearing. “I am unsure as to whether the Chief Officer had sight of the responsive records prior to issuing the internal review decision,” the information boss said.

“Along with the Registrar of Hearings, I visited the NPO to get insight into the content and volume of records requested. The records covered by the request are numerous, and filed in a number of different places. They had not been identified and pulled from their respective files,” Dilbert added.

During her consideration of the matter Dilbert rejected the pensions office claim that the pensions law prevents access and said the NPO had to treat the request as an FOI request and provide access to the applicant, unless another legal exemption could be applied or public interest in withholding outweighs the interest in disclosure.

Besides criticizing the failure of the chief officer to follow the proper procedure, she also question the NPOs position that disclosure could constitute personal information and criticized the office for attempting to hide behind this part of the law.

“To attempt to apply the definition of a 'person' under the Interpretation Law to this case is contrary to both the letter and spirit of the FOI Law,” Dilbert noted. “I am disappointed that a public authority would try to withhold information on such spurious grounds, especially given that the FOI Law presumes disclosure, and the public authority is expected to release records unless an exemption or exception can be legally applied, and even then, still release the responsive record if it would be in the public interest to do so.”

The information officer stated that she had faced “tremendous difficulty” in obtaining and considering the views of the parties and not all of the responsive records had been identified and have not been examined to determine what information could be released.

Although the request covered over an estimated 100 files, the commissioner said that the “carte blanche” application of the exemptions cited by the NPO to all of the records was not acceptable, despite the size.

“The exemptions set out in the FOI Law are to be used only where a legitimate need arises to withhold disclosure” said Dilbert. “A public authority must identify and review records before making the determination that they cannot be released.”

Adam, who made the request, pointed out that if the pensions office was not seeking to hide the information the size of his request would not be presenting such a major problem to the public authority.

“It is not freedom of information that costs the country money,” Adam said, “but the efforts by authorities to hide things.”

Adam pointed out that none of the information he is requesting needs to be kept from public consumption as all of it is information that workers need when deciding how their pension money should be invested.

See full decision below.

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Rina churns up rough seas for Cayman

| 26/10/2011 | 5 Comments

(CNS): Updated 5pm  Local weather forecasters said seas will be rough in Grand Cayman Wednesday and Thursday with wave heights of 4 to 6 ft rising to 6 to 8 ft with higher swells expected along the south and west coasts as Hurricane Rina continues to impact local weather conditions. But police have now opened the roads which were closed during the day as a result of the debris and high waves. Both the West Bay Road and North Church Street are open in both directions but police said they will continue to monitor the situation.Drivers are being warned to continue to take care when using  roads along the south and west cpast of Grand Cayman.

The category two hurricane, which is slowly rumbling across the Caribbean some 280 miles south west of Cayman, poses no direct threat to the islands.

The National Hurricane Centre in Miami said that at around 10:00 am Rina was packing winds of 110mph with higher gusts and moving west-northwest at only 5mph. The hurricane is expected to gradually turn to the northwest with a slight increase in forward speed later today (Wednesday) followed by a turn toward the north on Thursday.  On the forecast track the centre of Rina will be moving near or over the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula on Thursday.

A gradual weakening is expected to begin today and a faster weakening may occur as the centre moves near or over the Yucatan Peninsula.  At present hurricane force winds extend outward up to 25 miles from the centre and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 115 miles.

Meanwhile, a surface trough located over the central Caribbean which has been fluctuating in organization is still producing disorganized cloudiness and showers but development of tropical weather system if any will be slow the NHC said giving it only a 10 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone during the next 48 hours as it moves westward at 10 to 15 mph.

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Culinary competition to encourage local chefs

| 26/10/2011 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Events such as this week’s Out of the Kitchen gala charity dinner go a long way in raising the profile of chefs in Cayman, encouraging young Caymanians to enter a career traditionally dominated by professionals from overseas, say organisers. Out of the Kitchen brings this week’s Cayman Culinary Society’s competition to a close, when winners will be announced at the event on Thursday night, with chefs from restaurants all over Cayman cooking dinner for tables of up to twelve guests, right at the table. Joey Hew of Hews Supplies, a sponsor of the competition and trade show said Cayman still has a long way to go before young people are properly enticed into the industry.

“We still need better promotion about the culinary arts in schools and we need to see stronger participation by the private sector to get young Caymanians into the profession,” he stated.

The competition which is taking place at the Ritz-Carlton received a boost of energy three years agowhen Culinary Society President Vidyadhara Shetty and Chef Keith Griffin joined forces with The Ritz-Carlton and Hews to see how the event’s status could be raised and made more worthwhile. Out of the Kitchen was introduced last year to raise the profile of chefs and raise money for sponsorship of young Caymanians at the same time. Around half of the proceeds raised from the Out of the Kitchen event go towards providing a culinary scholarship for a Caymanian to Johnson & Wales University in the US, one of the most prestigious culinary schools in the country.

Three judges for the culinary competition, in which Cayman chefs do battle with each other in a number of rounds vying for the ultimate title of Chef of the Year, have been flown in from the US and Puerto Rico.

Chris Wagner, Director of Culinary Operations at Johnson & Wales in Miami is a judge who attended Monday’s opening night celebration to kick off the culinary competition. He said that there was a number of Caymanians studying across the university’s four campuses, in Miami, Rhode Island, Denver and North Carolina.

“I have come to realise that what sets Caymanian students apart from others is that they all know what they want to do – open a restaurant back home in the Cayman Islands,” he noted.

Ariel Rodriguez, chef/owner of Augusto’s in Puerto Rico is another judge at the Cayman competition and said that his home country saw a renaissance of local chefs in the late Nineties, where overseas chefs had once been. Now, around fifteen to twenty of the top twenty five restaurants in Puerto Rico have locals as their executive chefs, he confirmed.
“There is a lot going on in the Caribbean right now. There is great hope for the industry,” he said.

Food & Beverage Director at the Westin Casuarina Carl Goldner warns that the profession is tough and not for the faint-hearted: “People in the profession have to be prepared to work very hard. In the first ten years or so you will barely survive on what you make; after that it gets better. The profession needs a huge commitment. There are certainly easier ways to make a living!”

The Ritz-Carlton’s Executive Chef Frederic Morineau says they have increased the table size this year to allow for more diners, so they anticipate that this year’s Out of the Kitchen event will raise even more funds than last year. By promoting the culinary arts in this way, Chef Frederic says they hope to show young Caymanians that there are many more career opportunities for them than the traditional lawyer/accountant/banker route.

Out of the Kitchen participating restaurants include: Abacus, Aqua, Blue, the Brasserie, Casa Havana, Cracked Conch, Deckers, Osetra Bay, Hemingways, Karoo, the Lighthouse, the Lobster Pot, Luca, Michaels, Ortanique, Prime, Rum Point, Solana and the Wharf.Bernard Guillas, Maitre Cuisinier De France, Executive Chef of La Jollia Shores Hotel, California and Author of the Flying Pans Cookbook 2011 will be the event’s keynote speaker.

 

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A 3rd Way for Cayman

| 26/10/2011 | 92 Comments

In a little more than 18 months there will be an election that will determine the future of Cayman. Pre-election positioning is already underway. Part of the current discussion focuses on the alternatives of Cayman reverting to electing independent MLAs and forming a new 3rd political alliance. Recent (unscientific) polls suggest that something like 75% of the populace view the current government as being somewhere between less than competent and disastrous.

Something like another 10% have a slightly higher view of the current government, but still would not vote for them in the next election.

Satisfaction with the official opposition, which seems content to lackadaisically sit back and watch the current government destroy the country, is not that much better.  Something like 35% of the population would prefer the somnolent PPM to the UDP, but then again the polls leave open the conclusion that about the same percentage would prefer to elect a box of frozen squid rather than the UDP.

The electorate’s views on independent candidates are mixed. Some point to “the good old days” when unpaid community leaders with no party affiliation were elected to represent their districts. Alliances among these old time politicians came and went on specific subjects as a path forward for the country was negotiated among people who actually had Cayman’s interests at heart. In those days MLAs were not obliged to support the actions of a single party leader, even when the actions of that supreme politician suggested some total derangement.

There is a considerable appeal in a return to those days. Needed legislation was passed and Cayman prospered. Sadly, a return to those days is unlikely any time soon simply because a return to those days would almost certainly require a change in the Constitution and neither of the current political parties would ever vote to limit their own power. The current Constitution simply gives far too much power over other MLAs to the premier and the party in power. It has also allowed the premier to assume excessive powers without implementing any meaningful safeguards to prevent the abuse of power.

The political architects of the new Constitution tipped the balance in favour of highly paid and often completely useless populist politicians who respond to the demands of the party and party bosses rather than the electorate. Those who designed the party system, and are dependent on it rather than the will of the people to stay in power, know this. That is not to say that those who designed the new Constitution did so out of malice. It is more likely that they saw the transfer of power from the people to party bosses and backers as a way of getting things done their way. I doubt that any of them had the foresight to see how far wrong things could go if the wrong person was made premier and the wrong party given such great power.  

What then are the arguments being debated? Sensible arguments coming from UDP supporters on the subject of maximising democracy in Cayman unfortunately seem less common than parrot’s teeth. The main argument that is trotted out by PPM supporters for supporting the PPM over independent candidates is a scare tactic to the effect that if people don’t vote for the PPM, then the drone masses of the UDP will block vote and the result will be that the UDP will be re-elected. PPM supporters point to the last election, in which many good independent candidates split the vote in several districts allowingthe UDP candidates to be elected despite having far less than 50% of the votes cast.

PPM supporters also point to the integrity of their leadership and argue that a political party is necessary to secure the votes necessary to carry forward an agenda in the LA.  It is no doubt the case that party organisations assist somebody’s agenda to be moved forward. Sadly there is little democracy in this approach as there are no meaningful manifestos presented to the people at election time. It is therefore the case that the agenda that is moved forward by the current party system is not necessarily what the people want.

How then can we improve democracy in Cayman? It is obvious that there is a desperate need to elect intelligent, motivated, energetic and honest legislators who are committed to community service and who will fix what is broken at the level of our Constitution for a start. Such people exist, as is evident from some of the signed comments on CNS. Absent a one man one vote system and any clear unequivocal and time specific commitment from the PPM to fix what is broken, it will almost certainly be necessary for civic minded independents to be put forward in each district. In order to be successful, it will also be necessary for independents to have town hall meeting based mini-elections before the official election. At these town hall meetings, only the minimum number of the best independents necessary to secure the seats available in each district would be selected by each district to appear on the official ballot to contest seats with the UDP and PPM.

Ideally, independents would be selected on the basis of specific commitments to implement the legislation necessary to minimise crime and restore the economy, but I will save what the ideal independent candidate would commit to for another day.

Vote in the CNS online poll: Which party would you like to see form the next government?

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Construction worker in roof top wage protest

| 26/10/2011 | 39 Comments

(CNS): A construction worker who was described as causing a disturbance in Bodden Town Tuesday morning was demonstrating for his pay. A Royal Cayman Islands Police Service spokesperson confirmed that officers had received a report that a man was on the roof of the new extension at the construction site of the local primary school and was threatening to damage the property. Dexter Bodden’s protest lasted for around two hours but it ended peacefully, without injury or damage, when he was given his pay by his employer who had laid him off from the construction job at the school on Monday. Bodden was not arrested and after receiving his money he left for home. (Photos Dennie Warren Jr)

There were no children around during the protest as the school was closed for half term. Police said that the construction worker was angry about his pay and no one else. No one was injured and there was no need for police to become involved in the dispute as it was resolved.

During his roof top protest in the pouring rain Bodden had waved his construction tools as he demanded his wages and severance pay in connection with the job that he had been doing at the site for the last several weeks.

Bodden Town primary is one of several primary schools around the island where government is investing some $10million to renovate and extend the existing campuses to meet the growing needs of the communities.

Some local construction workers have been complaining however, that the local sub-contractors who are receiving the government tenders to do the work are cutting the wages of their workers to the wire.

     
 

 

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Swiss-UK tax deal points to other tax havens

| 26/10/2011 | 0 Comments

(Telegraph): The recent Swiss-UK tax agreement is likely to give HMRC the ammunition to focus on other tax havens.On October 6, HMRC released the full details of its controversial deal with Switzerland, designed to enabling the taxation of undeclared assets hidden in Swiss bank accounts in return for account holders retaining their anonymity. As governments across the globe try to minimise their deficits by tapping into unpaid tax bills, "tackling offshore tax evasion" has become the buzz phrase of the moment. The Swiss-UK agreement adds another string (or two) to the UK government’s bow in this respect, due to information sharing provisions which help HMRC decide "where next" in the fight against tax evasion.

Specifically, the Swiss banks have agreed to inform HMRC of the top ten destinations to which money removed from Switzerland is sent. Information to be provided will include the number of people who transferred their funds to each destination between the date of signature of the agreement and the last day of the month, following a period of four months after the date of entry into force of the agreement.

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Mac on Far Eastern visit

| 26/10/2011 | 154 Comments

(CNS):Thepremier, along with a group of at least half a dozen government representatives, left the Cayman Islands at the weekend destined for the Far East. According to various sources and unconfirmed reports, McKeeva Bush is leading a government delegation to Hong Kong and China on an official visit. Despite repeated requests to the premier’s press office, no official details of the trip have been released. It is not known exactly how long the visit is for or the ports of call, though sources have pointed to Bejing and Shanghai, as well as Hong Kong, nor has the purpose of the visit been revealed to the public or the names of the full delegation.

CNS has been able to confirm that UDP backbencher Ellio Solomon is travelling with the premier, as is Dax Basdeo, the chief officer in the Ministry of Finance, and Jonathan Piercy, who now heads up the Department of Commerce and Investment. A representative of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority and the registrar general are also accompanying the premier, along with his political assistant, Richard Parchment.

Other delegates are also believed to be on the trip. CNS has been unable to confirm who they are but it is understood that no other MLAs or minsters have travelled to the Far East.

Based on the delegates that have been identified, the trip appears to be in connection with seeking inward investment for the Cayman Island. It is not clear if the premier will be meeting with representatives from China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), the Bejing based firm currently in talks with the premier over the development of cruise berthing facilities in George Town.

With no official itinerary released and no comment on the premier’s departure, it is assumed, though not confirmed, that the deputy premier, Juliana O’Connor Connolly, is currently acting as premier.  

The independent MLA for North Side, Ezzard Miller, told CNS that he and other members of the country’s legislature, like the wider public, had been kept in the dark regarding the trip.

“It is usual in a democracy when someone is elected to high office by the people and when travelling on behalf of the people that they find the capacity to tell the peoplewhere they are going, who they are going to meet and what they hope to achieve,” Miller said. “Otherwise it would be assumed it is just another world tour or a joy ride.”

The premier has often been criticised for the amount of travelling he undertakes but has lashed out at his critics on many occasions, defending his trips by suggesting that he needs to travel to secure overseas investment to turn the economy around.

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