Archive for April 11th, 2013

Cops charge teen street robbery suspect

| 11/04/2013 | 0 Comments

(CNS): A 17-year-old boy has been charged in connection with two muggings in the capital. The teenager was charged with robbery, attempted robbery and theft and is due to appear in court tomorrow morning. The teenager was arrested in Bodden Town on Tuesday 9 April in connection with a daylight street robbery in Dr Roy’s Drive on 23 March, when a woman was robbed of her handbag, and an attempted robbery in Newport Avenue on 4 April, when another woman was pulled to the ground and an attempt made to steal her handbag, again in the middle of the day. The boy has also been charged with the theft of a bicycle.

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Brac church gives cash back

| 11/04/2013 | 80 Comments

(CNS): As controversy swirls around the Nation Building Fund and grants to churches, the Hillside Chapel on Cayman Brac has made a decision to give back its $50,000 grant. In the wake of Thursday morning’s Cabinet press briefing, when Premier Juliana O’Connor Connolly defended the $100,000 grant to a church on Grand Cayman that she sometimes attends, the Rev Audley Scott released a short media statement in connection with the Brac church’s grant saying that the church membership at a joint meeting with the council on Wednesday April 10 had made the decision to give the cheque back. Hillside Chapel was one of ten churches to receive money from the controversial fund this financial year, which the premier said had all been approved by the previous premier.

However, according to the statement from the Rev Scott, the church had not received any commitment from the previous administration and it was not until this February, after chasing its application last summer with O'Connor-Connolly, who was deputy premier at the time, that it was told its application had been approved.

“On February 14, 2012 a request was made to the then Hon. Premier Mr Bush for the grant of funds under the 'Nation Building Program'. We never received a reply to this request,” Scott said in an emailed press statement. “In July 2012 I spoke to the Hon. Deputy Premier Ms O’Connor-Connolly about our request. She asked me to give her a copy of the letter again, which I did. On February 10, 2013 I was informed by the Hon Premier that the amount of $50,000.00 had been approved. On March 31, 2013 the cheque was received,” he added.

However, it appears the church began to have second thoughts about what it said was much needed funding as a result of the “negative publicity and political spin”.

“The request for funds was made out of necessity of on-going works as a result of Hurricane Paloma. Our church is very grateful to the government of the Cayman Island and to the Hon Premier Ms Juli for these much needed funds. However, because of all the negative publicity and political spin, the church membership at a joint meeting with the church council on April 10, 2013 took the decision to return the $50,000.00 to the government of the Cayman Islands, through the good office of the Hon Premier. Our need is great, but our God is greater," the reverend added.

The news was released just hours after the premier had defended the donation to the church she sometimes attends in Red Bay and just days after the news of that donation had generated considerable public indignation.

More than 220 comments were posted on the CNS report in less than three days, the vast majority of which were opposed to tax payers money being given to churches via a fund where the criteria appears ambiguous and where approval appears to be granted directly by the office of the premier.

Related articles on CNS:

JOCC gives church 100k

Premier defends church grant

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UK may foot election observers bill

| 11/04/2013 | 20 Comments

observers.jpg(CNS): The interim government has given its official agreement to the idea of having election observers at the general election next month and it may be that the UK will foot the bill as a result of the Cayman government’s tight budget. Some confusion over who is responsible for issuing the invitation to observers was cleared up by the governor’s office Thursday when a spokesperson confirmed that the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association had been approached to put together a proposal for the make-up of the mission and it would be the Cayman Islands governor who would issue the formal invitation.

It is not clear exactly when the observers will arrive but they are expected to be in Cayman at least one week before Election Day, when they will take time to discuss the election process with voters, candidates, election officials and staff, police, political agents, returning officers and all stakeholders before Cayman goes to the polls.

Speaking at Thursday’s press briefing, the premier confirmed that the Cabinet had agreed as there were no objections to issuing the invitation. In addition, Juliana O’Connor-Connolly said, there was every indication that the UK government via the FCO would be willing to provide the funding for the observers, given the CIG’s tight budget parameters. The governor’s office confirmed later Thursday that the process was underway to identify a team and now that Cabinet had agreed on having observers and there were no legislative barriers, an invitation would be issued by the governor.

Firstly, however, the team of observers who will come from around the Commonwealth will need to be proposed and when Governor Duncan Taylor receives that proposal, if the mission is agreeable, then the invitation will be issued to the group. All of this is expected to happen shortly.

The idea of having observers for this election has been welcomed by most of the candidates in the election race, with the exception of the UDP’s leader and several of that party’s candidates, who have implied that observers only go to third world countries where ballot boxes go missing. Former premier McKeeva Bush has said that having observers in Cayman could send a message that this country has a problem with its election record when there have never been any questions about free and fair elections.

While there have been few controversies regarding the actual count, questions of treating, undue influence and vote buying have surrounded elections in Cayman for many years and still do, even though no charges have ever being brought. This year election officials have warned that they will be clamping down on any hint of impropriety when it comes to undue influence, coercion regarding votes and out right vote buying and bribery. The police will also have officers taking a special interest in the campaign and ensuring that political meetings are above board.

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Strata law consultation extended for second time

| 11/04/2013 | 8 Comments

538e1487-ec7b-4a6d-af33-31b177a7cd89.1.jpg(CNS): Questions raised about another hew piece of legislation drafted by the former UDP administration has led to an extension of the consulting period pushing it past the election date. The Law Reform Commission has agreed to a request by the Caymanian Bar Association and the Cayman Islands Law Society to extend the date for comments on the strata titles reform to 31st May, 2013. This will be the second extension to the proposed law which comes in the wake of an amendment to the original law last year that allowed strata to tear down and redevelop Seven Mile Beach condos with a supermajority vote instead of a unanimous vote described as an attack on individual property rights, by the local real estate industry.

Comments on the proposed new bill and discussion paper should be submitted in writing and delivered to the Director of the Law Reform Commission at 1st Floor dms House, Genesis Close or sent by e-mail to Cheryl.Neblett@gov.ky

 

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Premier defends church grant

| 11/04/2013 | 115 Comments

jocc.JPG(CNS): The premier has denied allegations of vote buying in relation to a Nation Building Fund grant given to the church she sometimes attends in Red Bay. Juliana O’Connor-Connolly said Thursday that the Church of God Holiness was one of ten churches that received a grant from the fund during this fiscal year and the amount had been signed off by the previous premier last year. The delay in payment was because scholarship and vocational training grants took priority and the churches had to wait to get their grants. While stating that it was McKeeva Bush, using his discretion, who had granted the $100k to that churches as well as grants to nine others, the current premier said she fully supported the fund.

However, O’Connor-Connolly said that the resulting backlash following the reports had deeply hurt the congregation, and church officials were now considering giving back the money, despite the desperate need for the grant.

Speaking at Thursday’s press briefing, in which the issue took centre stage, the premier read the original letter from the Red Bay Church to the former premier requesting cash from the fund to assist with a leaky roof and the re-paving of car-parks. The premier said that Red Bay had needed $150,000 but in the end the former premier signed off on $100,000 because of the limited budget.

She did not name the other nine churches that were recipients of grants during this financial year but she confirmed that all of the information would be released via the freedom of information requests that have all now been filed. She confirmed that one of the nine was a church on Cayman Brac in her constituency, but CNS understands it was not the premier’s local church.

O’Connor-Connolly sought to explain the circumstances around the grant and said that the donation to the Red Bay Church and the others had all been approved by the former premier "at his discretion”.

But in regards to the comments and the wider community response to the story which appeared on CNS on Monday, the premier denied any impropriety and pointed to the heavy scrutiny which this budgethad been subject to, which included the cash allocated to the Nation Building Fund. 

O’Connor-Connolly stated that, when the new Cabinet took over as a holding government, the members had agreed to honour the commitments which the previous premier had made because the churches had been informed that they would be receiving their grants.

“We took the position that we would honour the commitments made,” she said, adding that all new applications were to be shelved until after the election for the next government to deal with.

The premier suggested that it would have been far worse if the interim government had refused to honour commitments made by the previous premier to churches in need, especially as the cabinet members all supported the principle of fund.

She said she was well aware how seriously and how upset the church members were about what has happened, not least because the church was well known for never asking for money, and the elders were contemplating returning the grant as they still believed the blessings would come.

The premier said she did not mind the criticisms and being the “sacrificial lamb” because she had followed through on a commitment already approved, but she felt upset for the congregation. She said the Red Bay Church of God Holiness was not the sort of church that wants the Lord’s name destroyed and strong consideration was being given, despite the pressing need for the grant, to “give back the cheque and wait on the Lord to provide".

The premier said she was not ashamed of the religious affiliations and the people of Cayman Brac had elected her to office knowing she was a Christian woman, and she was not going to change policies because it was politically correct.

“If they want to take political stabs at me for doing what is right, I apologise, but I will always do what is right,” she said.

The timing of the announcement, she said, was as a result of the chain of events, with the government taking office and the need to deal with scholarships first so students would not get locked out of class.

The next stage, she said, was vocational training funding to try and get those people back into training. She said that her ministry had spent a significant amount of time trying to deal with an application for a grant from a computer training centre, which was still not resolved as there were questions about how funds had been allocated, and she was not prepared to dispense funds until all those issues were cleared up. The premier added that by the time the office got around to sorting out the funds for the churches it was already March. 

She also revealed that in total the Nation Building Fund had received applications for more than $800,000 from churches, but the previous premier had to cut that down to $500,000, otherwise the fund would have exceeded its budget allocation. O’Connor-Connolly pointed to a refusal of another application from a church which had already received significant funds from government.

The premier said there were several more applications to the fund from other churches, which would now have to wait until the next administration before they received any cash.

Related article:

JOCC gives church 100k

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Loyalty over principle rejected by candidates

| 11/04/2013 | 35 Comments

WHOGENE.JPG(CNS): Blind loyalty to a leader has been rejected by all of the candidates so far at the  forums hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, even though at least one of them has already fallen into the trap. At Wednesday night’s forum, the West Bay candidates were asked if they would speak up if they were part of a government and the leader proposed something they disagreed with, such as a payroll tax. All of them, including Captain Eugene Ebanks, said they would not go along with something that was against their principles. However, the UDP backbench MLA also said he did not agree with any kind of direct taxation, even though in June 2012 when the payroll tax was proposed by then premier McKeeva Bush, he remained silent.

Despite the answer given by the West Bay incumbent, who has remained completely loyal to Bush, his party leader, there was no rebuttal during the forum, which has thrown up very little debate so far this election season.

Ebanks said he rejected all forms of direct taxation and would not support any proposals, despite the fact that he did not speak out against the idea when it was proposed by his party leader during the 2012/13 budget preparations.

“I will speak out against any kind of taxation,” Ebanks stated when he appeared on the panel with his UDP running mate for the district, Velma Powery, as well as PPM candidate Woody DaCosta and the two independent candidates for the district, Andrea Christian and Dwene Ebanks.

Although that was exactly what the West Bay backbencher had failed to do last year, he was not called out on his answer. All of the other candidates said that they would not blindly follow and insisted they would resign.

Speaking to CNS on Thursday morning following the forum, Woody DaCosta said that Ebanks' comment was laughable, given the circumstances, but he and the other panel members were prevented from rebutting or calling out their political rivals. The Progressive candidate said the Chamber had shut down opportunities for any crosstalk.

“The forums are not debates this year and it was made clear that the candidates would be asked the questions and given the chance to answer but there would be no room for any rebuttal,” Da Costa said. “The forums cannot be described as debates.”

DaCosta said Ebanks should have been challenged on his answer because he sat by throughout the entire UDP administration, despite everything that unfolded. “He didn’t stand up at all during his time in office and some of his answers last night demonstrated the irony and hypocrisy with the representation in our district for too long.”

The issue of blind loyalty came to the fore last week, when Cabinet Minister Dwayne Seymour, the former UDP backbencher and incumbent member for Bodden Town, revealed that the former premier had thrown him and his party colleagues "under the bus" regarding the proposal to relocate the George Town landfill to his district. He revealed that he did not support the proposal and had never supported it but had not spoken out against his leader at the time as he did not want to air their squabbles in public.

His cabinet colleague Cline Glidden had also endured a public split with the UDP leader over the cruise port debacle but he too had remained tight lipped about the circumstances surrounding the port deal and had given his tacit approval to the talks with the Chinese firm when he remained quiet on the issue.

Speaking about blind loyalty during the first Bodden Town forum, in which there was no debate at all on Tuesday, both PPM hopefuls for the district also said they would not put party loyalty above principles.

Wayne Panton said he would never be thrown “under a bus” as he would resign if he felt strongly about an issue that became party policy. During the BT forum, where only the two Progressives were present, his party colleague Al Suckoo said he had not joined the PPM to be a “Kool-Aid drinker” and was attracted to the party because of the way it was run. He said the members discuss issues and being part of a political party did not mean he had to always swallow the party line.

The forums, which are being broadcast on Radio Cayman live and then posted on the Chamber website, move back to Bodden Town Civic Centre this evening, when the line-up includes independents Vincent Frederick and Arnold Berry, the UDP hopeful Chris Saunders, former district representative and PPM member Osbourne Bodden and the incumbent minister and member of the newly formed PNA, Mark Scotland.

Go to the Chamber website to see more and listen to the forums.

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Cayman model makes reality TV show finals

| 11/04/2013 | 21 Comments

Treveen (249x300).jpgCNS): Only two finalists remain in the Regional version of the model reality show, Caribbean's Next Top Model, and one of them is Cayman’s own Treveen Stewart. The 5'9" 22-year-old George Towner will be going head-to-head in the final episode with Stephany from Curacao.  The TV franchise created by Tyra Banks has been an international sensation, with countries all over the world doing their own version of the American TV hit. The Caribbean version is hosted by former Miss Universe and model,Trinidad’s Wendy Fitzwilliam. In episode eight Treveen took best picture, placing her in genuine contention of taking the title.

See more about the show and Treveen here

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ERA will need to tender probe

| 11/04/2013 | 28 Comments

Cash.JPG(CNS): The need to investigate the circumstances surrounding the bid to generate 35MW of electricity for Grand Cayman could end up being very costly for the public purse. Officials from the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) Board said this week that they had noted the request by one of the bidders for a public enquiry, which they said would increase the costs further. The board is currently deciding if the investigation itself will need to be tendered, since the ERA is a public authority. The board has concerns that the probe is as a result of what could be baseless allegations, given that the award was made after an assessment by ERA staff, including the then Managing Director and his management team, as well as two independent consultants.

The need for an investigation has been triggered bythe former MD, Joey Ebanks, who was charged yesterday with 29 counts of theft, fraud and forgery. Ebanks is running for office in the district of North Side against the incumbent, Ezzard Miller, on a platform of anti-corruption. He began making allegations about the tendering process for the generation contract after he was suspended when financial irregularities, which have resulted in the charges, were made public and just ahead of his announcement that he would be taking Miller on in the elections.

The ERA has made it clear that it has concerns about the motivation behind the allegations which has led to the need for a costly enquiry.

“All parties concerned need to bear in mind the source of these allegations and the fact that these were not brought to the board's attention until after the employee's suspension for financial irregularities and his subsequent resignation," a board spokesperson stated. “Taken on their face value, the allegations do not suggest but in fact confirm that the decision to award the bid to DECCO was taken by the board after an assessment had been made by the staff of the ERA, two independent and overseas consultants, the then managing director, with the full support of the management team and based on legal advice."

Ebanks has used the pages of Facebook to claim that he was asked to fix the Dart bid made by DECCO and that he had begun raising the issue before he was suspended. Ebanks claims that it was when he refused to ’fix’ the bid after the fact, despite his own part in the award, that the irregularities were raised and he was subsequently suspended and placed under investigation. The North Side hopeful said he was asked to amend the rate for DECCO as there had been a typo in the Dart bid. He has implied, however, that this ‘fixing issue’ occurred in March, although the contract was awarded in February, which raises questions about the veracity of the allegations.

In addition, the irregularities on which the charges against Ebanks were based and leaked this week were discovered by staff from the Office of the Auditor General during the usual annual audit.

After the charges were laid against him yesterday, Ebanks posted on his Facebook page that, had the police shown him the list of allegations instead of leaking them to his opponent and Cayman News Service, he would have been able to explain away all of the accusations. However, as he was only presented with the details yesterday when he answered the police bail, he will now have to go to trial, where he was confident he would be exonerated.

In the meantime, he has contacted Navasota Energy, the Texas-based firm which was one of the three bidders in the competitive tender for the power generation, along with CUC and Darts’ company DECCO, offering to supply an affidavit regarding the circumstances of the alleged impropriety with the bidding process.

In the wake of the ERA’s announcement last Friday that it would be undertaking an enquiry, the Texas-based energy firm has called for that enquiry to be open and public. The ERA has said that this may be the case but the cost of the probe also has to be considered, given that the allegations are in question.

“As an authority, any enquiry will have to go to public tender unless there are exceptional circumstances justifying the appointment of a single individual provider,” a spokesperson for the ERA told CNS Wednesday, adding that the source of the allegations has to be considered in this case.

“The ERA has a duty to ensure that any bidders for any tender receive an honest and fair assessment and we intend to ensure that that was the case in this instance but we also have a duty to the public to respond to any allegations in a measured and reasonable manner and to ensure that our response is proportionate.”

The board is meeting next week and will announce their decision on how the enquiry will move forward after that.

Meanwhile, the former ERA boss is continuing what he maintains is his campaign against corruption on the pages of Facebook, as well as the local airwaves with his evening radio show on Vibe FM.

Ebanks is also facing a number of civil actions, including those from the chair of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission and the governor.

Related articles:

US bidder wants open probe

Joey took salary advance

Cops throw book Joey

Ebanks triggers bid probe

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Environment – Is that with an ‘E’?

| 11/04/2013 | 22 Comments

So, we are but a few short weeks away from a free-for-all election at which nobody standing has so far even mentioned the ‘E’ word. That’s “e” for environment, or “ecology” if you’re being choosy. So, let’s start. If you are planning to represent us on May 22, or even if you are voting that day, please answer the following questions. These are not from some outlandish eco-freak – though I have been called that – they are questions that people all over the world are asking themselves just about every day as we lurch forward through the second decade of the 21st Century.

Obviously, first and foremost, do you understand that we are heading into a century of bigger storms, more volatile weather, ocean acidification, rapidly melting icecaps (amongst other things)? Then you must recognize that we are undergoing Climate Change hugely and rapidly and it will impact dramatically on our lives. What plans have you made to deal with this? One simple one would be to fund (through tax breaks, etc.) the implementation of alternative energy projects on an island-wide scale.

Next: Do you or don’t you understand that if we do not protect both our land and sea-based natural resources, then we will no longer be able to continue to live the way we do? If we choose, as we have been doing for the past 20 years, to value concrete more than we value the fragile ecosystems in which we live, then we will not be living here much longer. We are part of a very special ecosystem that we are rapidly destroying. We need it to be protected.

Countries throughout the rest of the world are putting these protective measures in place. Can you commit to doing the same – for the sake of your children and grandchildren?

With this in mind, do you recognize that tourism is one of the pillars of our economy? That being said, if you destroy that pillar, do you seriously expect that we will be able to be sustained by the financial industry when it is gone?

Do you enjoy eating fish – and do you want to continue to go on doing so? Then we need to put in place extended marine protected areas and replenishment zones. They work. Scientific research all over the world has proven this to be so.

And while we are at it, give back the maintenance and scientific control of our sea-based resources to the Marine Conservation Board (MRCB). Reverse the decision just made to move control to short-term thinking politicians who are too easily swayed to make decisions that affect our marine resources. Let Caymanians who take a long-term and scientific perspective of our marine ecosystems (the MRCB) make the decisions based on common sense and hard scientific data.

The list seems to be getting longer. Hmmmm. Well, I’ll finish for now with one lasting question that has been on my mind for 25 years:

Do you believe in recycling? Do you recognize that the world is running low on natural resources and that we need to recycle materials we no longer use? If so, then will you put into place island-wide recycling programs for all three islands that reduce the amount of waste we create every day and collect it then separate it, and then ship it to the nearest recycling plants – in the US or wherever is closer … And the added benefit will be the slow elimination of the need for more landfill sites.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

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