Archive for July 3rd, 2012

MCRU facility will finish this year, say developers

| 03/07/2012 | 4 Comments

Cessna-in-mangrove-1-700x466.jpg(CNS): Despite the dependence on government finding the money, when the premier eventually delivers a budget for this financial year, the new developers of the Mosquito Research Control Unit's multi-purpose facility say it should be finished before the end of 2012. Edgewater Development took over the project last May after the original contractors, Hadsphaltic, went into liquidation in June 2009. The new MRCU’s aircraft facility includes a 12,402 square foot hangar, a 2,787 square foot custom-built pesticide store, a 1,600 square foot evaporation basin and car park facility. Regardless of government’s present financial difficulties, the minister responisble said the project is delivered as promised.

Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, the deputy premier, said that despite the many struggles, she was pleased that the MRCU was getting the much-needed upgrade, which would bring significant improvements to the efficiency and effectiveness of mosquito control operations on the islands.

“The new facility will considerably improve the MRCU's ability to protect residents from nuisance biting and from mosquito-borne disease and bring the unit in compliance with the Cayman Islands Civil Aviation. It will also assist in keeping government assets safe during a hurricane," she said.

When it’s finished the hangar, which is being built to hurricane safety standards, will be large enough to house both aircrafts. To reduce the risk of flooding, the building is elevated several feet compared to the previous hangar. It has a built-in fire suppression system using foam retardant. The building includes a workshop for aircraft maintenance, and a secure restricted-access store for aircraft parts. The MRCU facility has a generator, which means that operations can continue after a natural disaster.

The custom-built pesticide store is also built to hurricane standards to protect stock. The store is large enough to hold sufficient quantities of supplies and to store them in a safe and efficient manner. MRUC Director Dr William Petrie and ministry experts took the environment into account as well, so the aircraft loading bay incorporates a washing/flushing area, which prevents contamination of groundwater by pesticide residues and detergent wash-off.

“The wash-off water is directed to an evaporation pan – a holding tank that allows ultra violet radiation from the sun to break down pesticide residues and evaporation of harmless constituents," Dr Petrie explained. He said lessons learned from Hurricane Ivan were taken into account when the new hanger was designed.

“Mosquito control services are a vital provision of government operations in the aftermath of a storm, as experienced after Hurricane Ivan when MRCU was able to commence operations within three days of the storm. The hurricane protection measures incorporated into the new facility will protect aircraft, pesticides and equipment, and will go a long way to ensuring we can launch a response in the immediate aftermath of a storm," he added.

Kris Bergstrom, one of the owners of Edgewater Development, said it was a complex project which faced both difficulties with the original contractor and the challenges of budget constraints. He said Edgewater had provided “a flexible, budget-driven schedule” for the project and the main structural shell was already completed.

“We are hopeful that the new budget allows us to complete this project later in 2012," Bergstrom said, although no budget has yet been delivered.

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Sea levels rises unstoppable, say scientists

| 03/07/2012 | 0 Comments

sea_level_rising_myth (260x300).jpg(Care2.com): New research indicates that no matter what is done to halt global warming; sea levels will continue to rise for the next several centuries. The article by researchers from the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, U.S. research organization Climate Central and the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research notes, “Though sea-level rise cannot be stopped for at least the next several hundred years, with aggressive mitigation it can be slowed down, and this would buy time for adaptation measures to be adopted.” Many previous studies have shown similar data, yet global action to curb carbon emissions and other efforts to mitigate global warming have been slow in coming.

While the situation is too complex to allow for precise predictions of the rate and degree of sea level rise, the data indicate that sea level rise will continue, no matter how much is done to stabilize temperatures, due to the thermal expansion of sea water and the melting of ice sheets and glaciers that is already underway. And, far from stabilizing, last month it was reported that carbon dioxide levels in the Arctic crossed the 400 parts per million mark.

This is the first time a monthly average measurement for thegreenhouse gas attained the 400 ppm mark in a remote location. Carbon dioxide levels globally, currently around 395 ppm, are at the highest level of any time in the past 800,000 years.


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TCI reviewing political financing

| 03/07/2012 | 5 Comments

corruption_0.jpg(CNS): The authorities in the Turks and Caicos Islands have begun another public consultation process on legislation, this time on proposed new rules for political party financing. The governor’s office published the suggested legislation on Tuesday and is now asking the country to consider how donations to political parties should work, what the limits should be on campaign spending, the reporting process and penalties. The move to better regulate political financing is one of the recommendations from the 2009 Sir Robin Auld inquiry that exposed the concerns over corruption in TCI and led to the imposition of direct rule from London.

The TCI governor’s office said that an earlier draft of the legislation was given to local political parties and other society groups. officials said It was also discussed in the UK earlier this year and a range of modifications have now been included in the new draft.

The law, once passed, will apply to political parties and independent candidates, although the reporting requirements and obligations on independents are lesser due to their likely lack of party machinery to support their campaigning.

Comments as to how this might be best achieved are specifically being sought during the public consultation, the governor’s office said.

The public is being asked to consider if there should be a maximum amount an individual donor can give a party, suggesting $50,000, and also who should be allowed to fund parties, among other issues.

“The Westminster Foundation for Democracy plans to return to TCI in late July to begin their work with the local political parties on accounting for campaign financing and political financing, advice on policy-based campaigning and bilateral consultations for prospective independent candidates,” said Philip Rushbrook, Director of Strategy in the Governor’s Office. “The draft Political Activities Ordinance will be used as the basis of their training activities."

He also said that the Integrity Commission would set up an ‘election monitoring unit’ to examine accounts and investigate omissions and complaints, which would work in conjunction with the Elections Office.

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Bush must take responsibility

| 03/07/2012 | 73 Comments

5753726_f260.jpg(CNS): The opposition leader has pointed out that, despite the Minister of Finance's persistence in blaming others, the failure to bring a completed budget for his government’s last year in this term of office was down to him and no one else. In response to the Premier McKeeva Bush's presentation of a government motion for an emergency spending plan instead of a budget last week, Alden McLaughlin pointed to the unprecedented situation and the message it sent to all those who live, work and invest in the Cayman Islands. He questioned when it was that Bush, who is also Minister of Finance, would eventually take responsibility for what had happened with public finances.

“It is his responsibility to deliver a budget,” McLaughlin stated as he pointed to the fact that this administration is the first ever to fail to do so. Despite the deficit left by the administration he was a part of, McLaughlin said this was Bush’s budget and his failure.

The PPM leader pointed to the premier's boasting last year about the ”miraculous turnaround” in the public finances which had enabled him to give the cost of living allowance (COLA) back to civil servants. As a result, how could the country’s leader continue to blame others, and the opposition in particular, if the UDP had brought about such an improvement at that time in the public purse.

McLaughlin said the problem was that it was difficult to believe anything the premier said anymore and Bush could no longer expect people to swallow his claims that it was all the fault of the opposition or the FCO.  He said that for all of the rhetoric over the last three years, absolutely nothing of consequence had been achieved by the current administration.

“Virtually nothing in government’s plan has actually happened,” the opposition leader stated. “The place has been on auto-pilot while the premier has partied in London, Honduras and Panama.”

The PPM, he said, had been the whipping boy for this government for the last three years but the reality was that Bush had done nothing to address the problems with the public finances. McLaughlin pointed to the excessive spending by government and other issues which were the fault of this administration and not the previous one, such as the money wasted on the Cohen and Co failed loan deal and the settlement to GLF over the cruise port after the premier breached the agreement on the negotiations.

The Nation Building Fund and other projects were nothing more than vote buying schemes, the opposition leader said, as he noted the latest announcement that government intends to give grants to people to fix up their homes using Dart money, as well as the solar panel project, which was one of the reasons why government wanted to borrow in the next fiscal year.

McLaughlin said he was thankful the UK had some say over the public finances because if not, from what Bush had said over the last few weeks about the requests from the civil service, the premier had planned to bring operating expenses of more than $630 milllion, with borrowing of around $80 million had the FCO not declined to approve the premier’s borrowing request. McLaughlin pointed out that this year’s budget had “floundered on the reef of new borrowing”, despite the previous claims by the premier that his government would not be adding to the public debt.

“The point the premier missies in the budget problem is not the FCO but spending more than we are earning,” he said. “If we haven’t understood that by now, then God help us.”

McLaughlin said little if any of the recommendations made in the Miller-Shaw report have been implemented and the UDP  administration had failed to live up to its three year plan predications or even follow the requirements of the recent Fiscal Framework Agreement the premier had signed with Henry Bellingham, the UK’s overseas territories minister, just last November.

The entire issue of public finances during the UDP government’s time in office had been “artificial”, the opposition leader said. None of the administrations financial predictions had ever become a reality. He questioned how at the beginning of this financial year Bush had gloated over how he had sorted out the mess left by the previous government and bragged about fiscal prudence, only to find himself unable to even bring a new budget at all at the close of the fiscal year.

Government’s claims were “nothing but a lie”, McLaughlin claimed, as it had done nothing at all to address the real issue and make the hard decision to cut government spending.

“This government has been very long on rhetoric but short on consequence,” he said adding that the failure by the finance minister to bring a budget was illustrative of the incompetence and neglect on the part of the premier, for which he had to take responsibility.

“There has never been a sense of greater insecurity in this country, ever,” McLaughlin stated, noting that as a result of his failure to bring the budget government would now have license to spend $127 million in two months without any scrutiny.

“The premier is not only the author of his own misfortune but unfortunately that of the country as well,” the opposition leader lamented.

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Finance minister should resign

| 03/07/2012 | 36 Comments

_DSC7922-web.jpg(CNS): The parliament’s only independent member has called for the premier to resign his portfolio as minister of finance as a result of his consistent failures in the post. Ezzard Miller said that the most important job of a finance minister is to produce a budget every year in accordance with the law. He said that the incumbent minister’s tardy budgets in the previous two years coupled with the complete failure to bring a  budget at all this year left him no other choice but to resign. The North Side MLA said that when someone consistently fails in their most important job they should be relieved of that job, and he asked McKeeva Bush to give the finance ministry to another member of his Cabinet.

“The failure two years ago to produce the budget on time which necessitated an amendment to the law, the failure a year ago to present a budget within the new time frame, bringing it at the last minute so it was rushed and the discussion curtailed with no detailed answers from anybody … And the most miserable failure of all is to not be able to produce a budget at all this year,” Miller told the Legislative Assembly Wednesday during the parliamentary debate on the premier’s stop-gap emergency two-month spending plan.

“When people so consistently fail at their most important job they should be relieved of their responsibilities,” Miller said, as he called on the premier to give the job to someone else and see if they could do it better.

“The one job the minister of finance has every year is to produce a budget in accordance with the public management and finance law. “It’s his most important job for the year,” Miller said. “This is not something new … every minister of finance and his staff knows that the most important job for the year is producing the budget.”

The independent member said that the problem started when the legislators had amended the Public Management and Finance Law to give government two more months to prepare a budget, as he described Wednesday’s presentation by the premier as history repeating itself as Bush was essentially asking for yet another two months to prepare a budget. 

“I can think of no conversation that the minister of finance can have now with his ministers or chief officers and chief finance officers that could not have taken place in March or April of this year,” Miller added, as he berated the premier for the budget crisis. “This is a very sad, sad, sad day for these beloved islands,” he said as he pointed out that never in the history of this country had such a failure on the part of government occurred and he was embarrassed to be a member of the parliament when such a history had been established.

Miller pointed out that the premier’s persistent blaming of the PPM, the FCO, the civil service, or anyone else would not solve the problems faced by government in regard to its finances. “We can’t blame the civil servants, because … the civil servants don’t set policy or pass legislation or put programmes in place. Those decisions are made by ministers and the elected arm of government. The civil servants have no authority to just imagine expenses and go out and create them,” he added.

Ministers must take responsibility to decide what programmes and what policies, what legislation it is going to amend to cut costs, the MLA said. “You can’t cut spending by just writing a letter to the civil service telling them not to spend. The PPM proved that didn’t work in 2008/09,” Miller warned.

He stated that amendments to the PMFL and to the Public Management Service Law were required to re-centralize government accounting and human resources and to make real cuts in government spending. The North Side representative pointed to the motion he brought in 2010 asking government to do that but he said the UDP benches rejected his proposal because they were planning on making the necessary changes themselves by June of that year.

However, the MLA pointed to the fact that two years later the changes still hadn’t been made and the government machine remained over staffed and out of control.

“If you have to get rid of people then you have to get rid of people,” he said. “You must take the responsibility to do what is best for the country, not play politics with these kinds of decisions and worry about votes. We have thousands of people on work permits which can be cancelled and Caymanians can be hired. If restoring the financial position of this country requires laying off some Caymanians, Ezzard Miller will support that,” Miller directed at the government benches during his debate.

Continuing with runaway spending and increasing the cost of living by imposing taxation to create jobs in government was wrong, Miller said, adding that the problem with the budget was not revenue. Every year since taking office the UDP had increased revenue and collected more money from the people. “But they have spent more,” he added.

Miller accused government of not being “man enough to accept the responsibility to do what is right by the country”, but like it or not, legislators had to make the tough decisions. The only way government could get public finances back on track was through genuine public sector cuts, the MLA stated.

He also spoke of the need to reduce fuel duty to stimulate the economy and accused the UDP government of “murdering Mr Entrepreneur” because by sending up the cost of business and imposing so many high fees, the cost of doing business was too great.

Despite everyone saying the local economy was in the doldrums, each year the government was able to extract more and more cash from the public.

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Time to stop name calling

| 03/07/2012 | 35 Comments

As many people know, both my wife and I keep up with the news from Cayman. It was with considerable dismay that I read the story where Mr Bush called the current Auditor General a “hitman”. People with a long memory will remember him accusing me of the same thing.

As far as I can tell, Mr Swarbrick is doing a good job in a difficult position. He understands his job and is doing it to the best of his ability. Without a strong Auditor General, I fear that there would be no real accountability within government. For the premier to attack this Office and the current Auditor General is just politicking at its most base level. I hope that all Caymanians will join me in supporting the Auditor General’s Office and the current AG as he continues to fight for value for money and accountability.

I remember well when I was similarly attacked by Mr Bush with similar comments. At the time, I felt I couldn’t respond and I am sure that the present AG feels the same way. But as a private citizen now, I can say some things that need to be said.

Mr Swarbrick and his Office are not hitmen. Yes, they say things that are difficult on the government of the day but it is not personal. I am sure that people will remember that the Office was often critical of government when the present opposition was in power. In fact, they didn’t always like our reports then either. The simple truth is the Office of the Auditor General is not political but it does report when it finds areas of poor value for money or poor accountability.

The solution for politicians is quite simple. Stop allowing money to be spent without due regard for value for money (such as the Cohen financing and Turtle Farm) and stop allowing money to be wasted (Gasboy et al). I am sure that the AG will be happy to report good behaviour as well as bad. However, if you continue with such behaviour, I hope for the sake of the Cayman Islands that the AG will continue to report it.

One final point. The Premier stated that he plans to sue the AG. I can’t imagine what basis he would feels a lawsuit is warranted. As far as this poor accountant can tell, doing his job well is NOT the basis for a lawsuit! Rest assured that if Mr Bush wants to continue down such a treacherous path, I would be happy to come downto testify (at my own expense) for the current AG and his Office.

As always, I wish the people of the Cayman Islands prosperity and well wishes.

 

Dan Duguay was the auditor general of the Cayman Islands from February 2004 to May 2010.

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