Archive for December 5th, 2011

Police urge people to keep safe over holidays

| 05/12/2011 | 6 Comments

(CNS): As part of Operation Christmas Cracker, the RCIPS is urging people to take advice regarding their own personal safety over the holidays, and throughout the week police will be visiting community groups to provide personal safety tips.  Chief Inspector Angelique Howell, the operational commander of Christmas Cracker, offered some common sense safety tips reminding everyone to always let someone else know where you are going and to socialise in groups when out drinking as well as telling people not to leave their drinks unattended.

“During the festive season people go out more and in many cases they drink a bit more than usual. We would urge everyone to be responsible and be safety conscious,” Howell said.  “The aim of this week’s activity is to reinforce the simple, common sense steps that people can take to stay safe and crime free. But remember, this advice should be followed every day and night of the year, not just for Christmas.”

She reminded people to carry their cell phones and to stay in touch when driving to and from an event and she advised parking in a well-lit area. Those who are drinking alcohol should not drive but instead designate a booze free driver and never hitchhike or accept a ride from a stranger.

The police officer also advised that if someone makes an unwelcome approach not to become aggressive. Confidently and authoritatively tell him, or her, to back off and leave you alone but if the situation escalates call for help, she added.

If you wish to speak to an officer about personal safety concerns, please contact your nearest police station. More personal safety advice can be found on the RCIPS website – www.rcips.ky.

Operation Christmas Cracker began on 28 November and will run until 4 January. This year police are pursuing a comprehensive safety drive covering not just road safety but personal safety, home and business security and safety at sea.

Continue Reading

Jamaican PM calls elections for 29 December

| 05/12/2011 | 2 Comments

Andrew-Holness1.jpg(CNS): After less than two months in office Andrew Holness, (39) the Jamaican Prime Minister has announced that the country will hold general elections on 29 December. He revealed the date on Sunday on a visit Mandeville where he spoke to Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporters. Holness, who served as education minister before his appointment as the PM, was required under the Constitution to hold elections before the end of this year and he faces the possibility of becoming the shortest serving leader in Jamaica’s history. The opposition People's National Party is headed by Portia Simpson Miller who served as the country’s first woman leader between March 2006 and September 2007.

"We are ready for progress, ready for development and ready for a positive future," Holness told the JLP crowd Sunday as he revealed the election date and said formal nominations for the election would be held on 12 December.  Now is decision time,” he said. “I have a feeling that our future is going to be a great future.”

Holness said that he had waited until a proper enumeration of voters had been produced before calling the date and he had been told by the director of elections that the new list has now been published.

The opposition People's National Party is headed by Portia Simpson Miller, who served briefly as Jamaica's first female prime minister from March2006 to September 2007.
At a massive meeting in Cross Roads St Andrew on Saturday night, Simpson Miller presented the party’s 63 candidates as she declared that the comrades are ready to go to the polls and the PNP was ready to take control of the affairs of the State.

 

Continue Reading

Talks drag on with water company

| 05/12/2011 | 0 Comments

waterpipes.jpg(CNS Business): The private firm which supplies water to the local Water Authority as well as directly to the people of West Bay has still not come to an agreement with the Cayman Islands Government over the company’s future franchise. Although Consolidated Water was given an extension to its licence until the end of January 2012, a substantive agreement has still not been made and government officials confirmed that there are some complex sticking points regarding the new licence. In its quarterly report last month the firm said its earnings had increased as a result of the profit primarily from its refurbished Red Gate plant on Grand Cayman. Read more on CNS Business

Continue Reading

Driving the press away

| 05/12/2011 | 25 Comments

As a reporter I enjoy covering the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly. Despite the cramped press area and the 'hard' chairs, the hanging around for something to happen, the marathon late night sittings and of course the yelling, sometimes it can be very entertaining and, as a journalist, you can always be sure to get a good story and that is, if we are honest, why we all do our job. But recently it’s become something of a chore, not least because of the speaker's taking against technology.

At risk of stating the obvious, the country’s parliament is an important place, and even though it may well be the best place for Cayman’s first wind-turbine to be situated, quite often stuff that the voting population should be aware of actually does go on there.

It’s not compulsory for the press to cover it. We go because we are well aware that few people are in a position to ‘enjoy’ the proceedings for themselves, and listening to the verbatim coverage on Radio Cayman is not everyone’s idea of a fun night in. Even though we are insulted, berated and railed against, more often than not by the premier (despite the angry words, deep down we know he loves us really), that’s part and parcel of the job.

But to try and hamper our ability to cover the LA with a technology ban is bizarre as it impacts all equally, including the government’s own radio news station.

As is the case in most democracies, people get their take on their country’s politics via the press and here in Cayman the parliament has traditionally been covered pretty well by all of the media houses. But the recent decision by the speaker to stop people taking any form of digital equipment into the House is throwing a Luddite spanner in those works.

The local press corps has appealed to the speaker and asked her to reconsider but she seems intent on ensuring that nothing from the 21st century makes it anywhere near the gallery and we are as yet unsure why.

If I go along today, I am beginning to get a little nervous that my rather modern looking rollerball point pen and my neatly lined notepad made from recycled paper may also be taken from me, as the kindly police officers manning the reception desk hand me a sheet of parchmentand an inkwell.

Given that modern news media is more instantaneous than it has ever been, the speaker’s decision to hamstring the press with this technology ban seems even stranger, especially at a time when around the world modern parliaments are bending over backwards to encourage the press to cover the political news as quickly as possible. It also seems at odds with government’s own acknowledgement that it needs to take advantage of technology to improve its efficiency.

While the press has long accepted that phones should not be used in the gallery, they have always been allowed to keep them by their sides so that they can still step away from the proceedings from time to time and deal with other issues when necessary.  The total ban is a new move, in contrast with the rulings of previous speakers like Linford Pierson, who had even ruled lap tops in for press use.

Ironically, the current speaker is a former journalist and should know the difficulties of trying to cover the meetings of the Legislative Assembly, which are always erratic, while at the same time keeping up with news events from myriad other sources. One can only conclude that either things have changed so much from her day that she does not understand the impact on reporters, or that she is well aware of what the ban means.

The motive is very hard to discern and the press core is left wondering why. But in the end reporters can be a fickle bunch and the lure of other more tantalising and exciting stories will soon tempt us away altogether. 

The press will always find something to write about to fill the time, space or pages, so it is not the media that the speaker is harming. It is the public that will be short changed because without the press to digest and regurgitate the proceedings of the public’s parliament into an edible form, the community will be increasingly less informed.

Continue Reading

Public spending still going up

| 05/12/2011 | 55 Comments

government building.JPG(CNS): Despite claims by Premier McKeeva Bush that his government has made great strides to improve the country’s finances, over the next three years public spending is set increase. The projections in the government’s Strategic Policy Statement (SPS) for the next three financial years shows no reduction in expenditures but instead depend on projections of increased revenues to deliver surpluses and eventually meet the requirements of the Public Management and Finance Law, as well as the terms of the fiscal agreement Bush has signed with the United Kingdom. Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin has said that this is a very dangerous place for Cayman to be, given how poor past revenue projections have proved to be.

According to the SPS, which was delivered by the premier in the Legislative Assembly last week, during the next financial year, which starts in June, core government forecasts spending around $498 million, compared to around $490 million that was originally predicted for this financial year. In 2013/14 central government expects to spend almost $503 million and in 2014/15 $507 million.

The document says that the UDP government is taking “definitive steps to control expenditure in a sensible and logical manner,” while the figures clearly reveal a continued increase in spending. “The government has commenced an extensive review of public sector entities aimed at reducing the cost of delivering services to the public. The SPS has established clear targets for their reduction of operating expenditure over the next three financial years,” the document states in face of the growing public spending.

While the figures indicate an increase in spending, they also project a surplus in excess of $20 million, $30 million and $40 million in each of the respective financial years as a result of projections for an increase in revenue.

It is not clear how the revenue is to grow. Despite talk in the document about revenue enhancement and the development of “a more stable and sustainable revenue base for government” and “options for new revenue streams”, there is no indication of what these will be.

McLaughlin said he had very real concerns that government was predicting an increase in revenue without explaining how it would be achieved and without explaining why the country could trust this figures.

Speaking from experience, he said, he knew all about the problems associated with government’s projections. He pointed to the predictions made by the financial experts during his time in office and said the administration he had served in had fallen victim to unfounded economic forecasting, not least during the last financial year of the PPM government. McLaughlin pointed to the now infamous situation of the surplus predicted by government’s technocrats that turned into what the current administration has claimed became an $80 million deficit.

On 30 April 2008 Financial Secretary Ken Jefferson delivered the budget for the fiscal year 08/09 and predicted $501 million in operating expense, which was already $12 million more than he had predicted in the SPS statement delivered in the December before that budget, but as Jefferson had called for projected revenues of more than $28 million, all appeared to be well. Given what happened, the opposition leader questioned how government could expect people to have faith in the most recent projections.

“We have done nothing since then to change the economic forecasting model,” McLaughlin said. He pointed to the failure of the predictions every year since then, including this fiscal year, in which a $12 million plus surplus has now turned into a deficit of $4.5 milllion.

The PPM leader said he had real concerns about the future situation as government had produced nothing concrete to show where the increase in revenue would be coming from.  At the same time he pointed to an increase in public spending, despite the constant claims by the government that it had got the public finances back on track.

Continue Reading

LA phone ban hinders press

| 05/12/2011 | 49 Comments

_DSC7927-web (241x300).jpg(CNS): An unexplained ban on all forms of digital equipment in the public and press galleries of the Legislative Assembly, from mobile phones to lap tops, is making it increasingly difficult for the local media to keep covering the proceedings of the country’s parliament. The leader of the opposition said Friday that the absence of the media in the gallery was of concern and described it as an affront to democracy, when he rose to give his response to the premier’s Strategic Policy Statement and faced an empty press box. The PPM leader said the Legislative Assembly should not be stuck in the Middle Ages and if it was the digital equipment ban that was the obstacle to them covering the parliament then it should be addressed. (Photo Dennie Warren Jr)

“This is a deplorable state of affairs,” said Alden McLaughlin as he called publicly on the Speaker to address the situation as well as the House committee, adding that he had raised the issue privately with her and the premier and was aware of letters being written by the media to the Speaker. “We must address it as a matter of urgency.”

McLaughlin pointed to the importance of the media to the business of the Legislative Assembly and their role in communicating the proceedings and the contributions of all members of the elected body to the wider public.

Since the ban was introduced several weeks ago, the media has been making attempts to cover the proceedings, with difficulty, in the reception area of the LA or via the broadcasts on Radio Cayman. A letter was also written to the speaker on behalf of CITN, Radio Cayman, the Caymanian Compass and CNS requesting the speaker to at least reconsider the cell phone and BlackBerry ban.

With most news organisations on Cayman having small teams, very few can afford to have their reporters out of contact with their head office, especially given the erratic nature of the Assembly’s sittings. The meetings can start late, finish suddenly, reconvene, only to adjourn again, or sometimes sit till midnight without any warning.

“Like most journalists I need to be able to keep my phone close by in order to follow other news events that may be happening,” said Wendy Ledger, the only news reporter on CNS.

“Our readers expect more than just LA coverage when they log on to CNS. It’s not possible for me to switch off from everything else that is happening when the House is sitting. As much as we want to ensure we give the public some idea of what their elected representatives are doing, the more difficult it is to cover it the less we will cover.”

The letter from the press was sent to Mary Lawrence on the 12 October and two months later she has still not responded. A request to meet with her last month to try and discuss the matter was denied and Lawrence said she was taking advice on the situation.

CNS also wrote to Lawrence upon her appointment to office more than two years ago, requesting permission for Ledger to use her lap top in the chamber, as previous speakers had allowed reporters to use computers in order to assist them with their coverage, but the two letters have never been answered.

Since the ban, the media has been infrequently present at the actual assembly because covering the proceedings from the reception area is difficult as the sound is poor and the reception area often noisy with the comings and goings of people meeting with MLAs and ministers.

The Speaker appeared not to understand the situation on Friday, despite the correspondence and the comments, as she was under the impression that the press had taken to sitting in the reception because of the “comfortable chairs”. In her responseto McLaughlin, she said the press were not banned and that they were present in the reception and that is was “their choice” to sit there.

“This is not true,” Ledger added. “There’s no denying that the seats are certainly softer but most of the local press core has sat on far worse things that the press chairs in the LA. The choice, as the speaker puts it, is nothing more than a Hobson’s choice. It’s not possible for reporters from any modern news organisation to function properly without their phones.”

The Legislative Assembly rarely attracts the public to its proceedings, with no more than a handful of people passing through. Although some people do listen to the entire proceedings on the government owned radio station, most keep up to date  with the goings on in the country’s parliament via the various media outlets.

The Legislative Assembly opens at 10am this morning, when the premier will wind up the SPS debate and begin the debates on the latest legislative changes, including the criminal procedure code and the amendments aimed at clamping down on gang violence.

See letter to the Speaker from the press below.

Continue Reading