Archive for July 24th, 2013

TS Dorian begins journey across Atlantic

| 24/07/2013 | 0 Comments

(CNS): As forecasted Wednesday  morning by the National hurricane Centre in Miami a tropical depression which formed off the coast of Africa early this morning had churned into a tropical storm by the afternoon. At 4pm the centre of Tropical Storm Dorian was located about 505 miles w of the Cape Verde Islands. The storm was blowing at 50 mph and travelling at 20 mph toward the west-northwest near 20 mph. forecaster said that slight weakening was possible on Thursday as Dorian moves over cooler water but according to weather experts the storm will re-intensify soon after.

Currently tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 45 miles from the centre and if  Dorian remains on track it is not expected in the Caribbean region until at least next Monday.

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Prison intercepts booty thrown over fence

| 24/07/2013 | 19 Comments

(CNS): A bag containing what is believed to be around five ounces of ganja, a box of smoking papers, a smart phone and charger were intercepted by officials at Grand Cayman's prison at the weekend. The package containing the contraband was lobbed over the perimeter fence at HMP Northward and officers are reportedly now looking at the prison's cameras to try and identify the person who attempted to deliver the parcel over the 15 foot security fence to an inmate. Although the fence is topped with razor wire, packages are still sometimes thrown over into the jail compound, despite the risk of prosecution of the perpetrators.

While members of the public who are caught throwing booty into the prison are subject to criminal prosecution, the inmates who intercept them lose remission time from their sentences. However, this latest bundle was intercepted by prison staff before the inmates got to it.

Meanwhile, in a separate incident that took place this weekend, an inmate was found using a BlackBerry device. Although he immediately destroyed the phone when he was caught, the smartphone was confiscated.

The new prison director who took up the top job in May, Neil Lavis, said it was discovered because of his staff’s keen observations and swift work.

“These operations continue the zero-tolerance policy towards drugs and communication devices, which was introduced earlier this year,” the prison boss said. “Over recent weeks I have emphasized to staff the importance of these procedures. The urgent responses by officers to suspicions and intelligence in this regard are noteworthy, and I am encouraged by their enthusiasm.”

Before he arrived the prison service had already instituted a no-tolerance policy for cell-phones amongst staff members and a new BOSS (body-scanner) chair was introduced in 2012 to scan inmates, visitors and staff.

However, the issue of cell-phones and drugs remain a major problem for the prison. CNS recently revealed that prisoners were posting pictures of themselves on Facebook pages, throwing gang signs and smoking ganja in their jail cells, which were believed to have been posted using smartphones such as Blackberries or other devices.

Prison officials have persistently stated that phone and drug use is a problem for prisons worldwide but Lavis said new solutions were being sought to address the issue. On the local front, he vowed to continue the zero-tolerance policy, “as drugs and cell-phones are not only major security breaches, but also inhibit prisoner rehabilitation," he said.

“I recognise that these problems are universal, and overcoming them requires strategic planning, resources and a combined effort by all stakeholders. Apart from detection, I believe it is also important to reduce drug use by offering programmes which reduce prisoners’ reliance on drugs," Lavis added.

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SAGs & cops fuel CS increase

| 24/07/2013 | 64 Comments

(CNS): Despite government’s ongoing battle to reduce the number of people it employs in an effort to cut costs, the latest statistics reveal that a whopping 5,901 people were still employed in the public sector at the fiscal year end for 2011/2012. The newly released statistics, which are already a year old, reveal that 91 people were added to the core government payroll and those of statutory authorities and government companies (SAGs) during the 2011/12 financial year. Officials said 22% of the increase in workers was mostly down to the jump in police numbers as a result of a spike in crime, while the other 78% increase in workers was across the various SAGs.

Despite the rise in numbers for 2011/12, over the last five years the size of the service has dropped by about 200 people because of the recruitment moratorium which started in October 2008. This requires that all requests to fill vacancies, add posts or renew fixed term contracts be approved by the deputy governor. 

“The report shows that while we experienced minimum staff growth in 2011/12, over the past 5 years we have continued to make steady progress to decrease the size of the service through natural attrition while still facilitating policy priorities of the government, such as public safety, education and good governance, as illustrated in initiatives such as the Freedom of Information and the adoption of the Bill of Rights,” Franz Manderson, the deputy governor, stated Wednesday in a release accompanying the report. “The results are gradual but tangible.” 

He added that any effort to accelerate the pace of reducing the public service would require policy decisions to streamline the services government provides and to tackle HR and other costs associated with government companies. Manderson warned that core government had already reached the end of its ability to cut without major changes. Given the current situation with government finances, this is bad news for the new administration, which will need to show a reduction in operating expenses in its budget expected in less than two months.

“In core government, we have virtually exhausted efforts to do more with less and the questions which currently loom are what services, if any, is the community and government willing to discontinue,” Manderson said. “We also need to work more closely with the various arm’s length bodies, that is SAGCs, as they join our efforts to reduce costs and improve efficiency,” he warned.

The report revealed that the majority of government workers are still local, with more than 74% of civil servants and employees in SAGs being Caymanians. Nevertheless, government is still a diverse employee, as there are people working in government from 37 different countries. Reflecting the make-up of the workforce in Cayman as a whole, the largest ex-pat group are Jamaicans, who account for 12% of the public sector workforce.

The service is evenly split between the genders, withwomen representing some 52% of the entire service, but on average female civil servants earn less than men. The top three salary grades are dominated by men, who hold 64% of the positions. However, with salary freezes and the cost of living allowance (COLA) cut among others, the wages of all civil servants have stagnated and the majority of people in the service earn less than $40,000 per year.

The lack of salary increases and the removal of the COLA is having a significant impact now on the recruitment and retention of workers, said Chief Officer in the Portfolio pf the Civil Service Gloria McField-Nixon. She said remuneration strategy needed to be re-examined, including what were intended to be short-term austerity measures, such as the 3.2% COLA cut in 2010, the elimination of annual increments for more than a decade and the recent ban on all within-grade salary increases. 

“Such policies, while intended to be short-term, have persisted over the long to medium term and are resulting in pay stagnation, as evidenced by the fact that almost one in three staff — including long serving employees — are on the lowest possible pay point within their salary grade and 7 in 10 are below the midpoint. This trend presents challenges to staff retention and morale, particularly in technical roles where competition is particularly strong. This review will have to be done while still balancing the requirement to comply with overall budget constraints,” she warned.

However, McField-Nixon pointed to the positive factor that three quarters of the civil service is Caymanian. “In terms of Caymanian representation within the civil service, we pride ourselves in the fact that this continues to remain high, with over 70% of our talent being Caymanian. As a national policy-setting institution, it is crucial that we lead by example in ensuring Caymanians have ample opportunities to be hired, developed and promoted and to contribute to the policy and legislative framework which governs this society,” she added.

Despite growing unemployment among local workers, however, only 62% of new core government recruits in 2011/12, mostly police and teachers, were local.

The number of Caymanians employed across the public sector varies greatly, from agency to department and from government company to statutory authority, depending on the size. Cayman Airways, a larger employer with 373 employees, has a 97% Caymanian work force, while the Health Service Authority, which is the largest of the authority employers, just over half the workers are local.  

See full report below.

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839 drivers caught on phone

| 24/07/2013 | 38 Comments

(CNS): The RCIPS has issued hundreds of tickets to drivers using their cell phones on the road since the ban came into effect at the end of September last year. According to their statistics, the police are nabbing more than four people per day talking on the phone behindthe wheel. Traffic crashes increased again in the first half of 2013 by 21% compared to last year with almost 700 smashes on Cayman’s roads in just six months, 120 more than the same period last year. Although DUI and speeding offences both fell in the first half of this year, overall traffic offences increased by 25%, with police issuing a bumper 3,001 tickets for various road infractions.

Despite the widespread campaign in September last year, when police warned drivers that they would begin a zero tolerance policy when it came to using their mobile phones behind the wheel, tickets have increased since the ban began, with 140 drivers just last month being caught.

Although drivers are allowed to use their phones with a hands-free device, talking without one or texting costs drivers $150 for every infringement, but the sanction does not seem to be working as the numbers of tickets issued is increasing. In October last year, the first full month of the ban, 50 tickets were issued, then in November 60, and in December 65. With the start of the New Year the numbers were similar for the first two months, with 52 drivers in January and 45 in the slightly shorter month of February. However, in March 145 drivers were nabbed and the numbers have continued to remain at similar levels, with 134 in April and 137 in May.

Despite the warnings from police and the obvious dangers of distracted driving, in the first six months of this year 653 tickets were issued. Government has now collected C$125,850 from delinquent drivers.

Meanwhile, general bad behaviour on the local roads continues. Although the rate fell by 27%, police arrested 81 people since the year started for drinking and driving. 330 people were fined for not wearing seatbelts, and despite a significant drop compared to last year, when nearly a thousand people were stopped for speeding, in the first part of 2013 nearly 500 people were fined for driving above the speed limit.

Despite the poor road record, however, fatal accidents did not increase, with three lives being taken on the roads in first half of 2013, the same number as those killed last year during the same period.

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Burglars spoil crime stats

| 24/07/2013 | 20 Comments

(CNS): With an increase of almost 8%, the local police say they are concerned about the continued rise in burglaries in Cayman when every other category of crime is falling. The RCIPS has warned that daytime burglaries in particular are causing concern, and despite 63 arrests of suspects, 262 burglaries have already been reported this year compared with 243 in the first six months of 2012. The rise in break-ins is bucking a continuing trend of falling crime rates on the island where other serious crimes are concerned. Murders and attempted murders, robberies, attempted robberies and GBH all fell significantly in the first half of this year, leadingto an overall fall of more than 20%.

In the latest statistics compiled by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, another notable exception to the falling violent crime rate included a massive increase in reported incidences of defilement, which grew from three to ten cases — a 233% growth rate. Just one more case of wounding was reported during the first half of 2013 compared to 2012 and the cases of people found in possession of unlicensed firearms remained the same as last year, with twelve people found to be carrying unlawful guns.

Although both violent crime and overall volume of crime are falling, burglaries are now the  major concern for the RCIPS because of the wide impact on the community. With an increase of 7.82%, 19 more burglaries than during the same time last year equates to nineteen more victims.

Superintendent Adrian Seales, head of district operations for the RCIPS, said officers were working hard with communities to help reduce burglaries.

“Daytime burglaries are a major issue for us at the moment," he said. "It’s clear that burglars are targeting houses and condos whilst people are out at work or on holiday. Our beat officers have been meeting with Neighbourhood Watch coordinators and talking to people throughout the islands to offer crime prevention advice. We have officers conducting high visibility and unmarked patrols at all times of the day and night.

“So far this year we have made 63 burglary arrests as a result of our proactive patrolling and intelligence gathering. But we need people to help us reduce the opportunities for burglars by ensuring that they have proper locks on their windows and doors, and that they note the serial numbers of their property.

“We are also liaising closely with second hand dealers to ensure that all possible steps are taken to prevent the resale of stolen goods. The items of choice for burglars are electronics, such as flat screen TVs, laptops, iPads, tablets, cell phones, etc. On some occasions jewellery and cash have been taken too."

Although secondhand dealers are now commonplace on Grand Cayman and have given cause for concern for the police, they are not common in the Sister Islands but a new company has started doing business there. Staff from the company on Grand Cayman visit Cayman Brac and Little Cayman every few months and report a brisk trade.

Chief Inspector Frank Owens in charge of Sister Islands policing said that potential thieves and burglars may see this as a route to offload stolen property.  He said that he and staff from the company have established a good working relationship and procedures to ensure that no stolen property is inadvertently handled by staff.

“Household burglaries are rare in the Sister Islands and that’s the way we want to keep it,” said CI Frank Owens, who was recently transferred to the Sister Islands from George Town. “Historically, secondhand dealers may have been seen by burglars and thieves as a way to offload stolen property. On many occasions the staff within these establishments have no way of identifying the property as stolen – it may seem to be a genuine transaction. That’s why residents and business owners should make sure that they note serial numbers, take photographs and mark their property. That way, if their property is stolen the police will be able to work with the dealer to ensure that if it’s offered to them for sale, it’s identified quickly – and the suspect arrested," he added.

Neighbourhood officers from George Town are in the process of arranging a crime prevention seminar for residents and business owners in the district. The seminar will be held in partnership with local security companies. Further details of the event will be made available shortly.

In the meantime, anyone who wishes to speak with an officer about crime prevention, or any concerns about crime in general, should contact their local police station or visit the RCIPS website.

The latest statistical publication is posted on the RCIPS website and attached to this story below.

Figures reveal that serious crimes have fallen by almost 7% overall and volume crimes by almost 27%. Almost every recorded crime category has shown a decrease compared to the same period last year. Attempted murders decreased by 75%, robberies are down by 46.88 %, attempted robberies down 50% and GBH shows a reduction of 58.33%. Every volume crime category such as theft, threatening violence and assaults has fallen.

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Cop cameras break law in small UK Town

| 24/07/2013 | 0 Comments

(BBC): A police force must stop using number plate recognition technology after a warning from the UK's data watchdog. The Information Commissioner's Office said Hertfordshire Constabulary's use of cameras in and around the town of Royston was in breach of the law. It said the force had failed to carry out required privacy impact checks. The ICO's ruling may have wider significance for the gathering of number plate data in the UK. "It is difficult to see why a small, rural town such as Royston requires cameras monitoring all traffic in and out of the town 24 hours a day," said Stephen Eckersley, the ICO's head of enforcement.

"The use of ANPR [automatic number plate recognition] cameras and other forms of surveillance must be proportionate to the problem it is trying to address.After detailed inquiries, including consideration of the information Hertfordshire Constabulary provided, we found that this simply wasn't the case in Royston."

The ICO added that the use of seven cameras had made it impossible for motorists to drive into the town without a record being kept of the journey. It noted the scheme had become known locally as "the ring of steel".

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Divers pull up 1000lb ghost net from ocean

| 24/07/2013 | 6 Comments

(NC5): Floating aimlessly and stretching the length of a football field, divers off the coast of Palm Beach made a deadly discovery when they found a near 1,000 pound commercial fishing net.  "Nets in the water are a death trap," said Nikole Ordway. Ordway and several other divers managed to pull what they call a "ghost net" just as it was headed toward a fragile coral reef. "Yeah it might be one net, but that's a whole ecosystem it can wipe out," said Ordway. The "ghost net" is just one example of the marine debris problem according to Ordway. She said ocean trash is everywhere.

Aluminum cans, plastic bags and all sorts of trash was found within minutes when Ordway took a dive off the Blue Heron Bridge of Tuesday.

"A lot of these ghost nets or derelict nets can drift for years," said Ed Tichenor of Palm Beach County Reef Rescue. In that time, Tichenor said the debris can kills sharks, lobsters and wipe out entire sections of coral reef.

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Storm brewing in eastern Atlantic, say experts

| 24/07/2013 | 8 Comments

(CNS): A tropical depression some 310 miles off the coast of the Cape Verde Islands is very likely to become a tropical storm by this evening or early tomorrow hurricane experts in Miami said Wednesday. The National Hurricane Centre issued a bulletin on Wednesday morning advising that the depression which is moving at around 20 mph towards the west-north-west was likely to strengthen as it travels across the ocean towards the region. With maximum sustained winds already at 35 mph the weather system could pose a threat to this side of the Atlantic in the coming week. Meanwhile, according to the local weather service and the Kearney Gomez radar, Cayman would enjoy light easterly winds and no organized rainfall across the area.

For more information on local weather visit www.weather.gov.ky

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Time needed to rebuild trust

| 24/07/2013 | 72 Comments

(CNS): The premier has said it will take time for his government to rebuild trust between Cayman and the UK after the last four years. The new administration will need to demonstrate that it can keep its word regarding budget forecasts and manage public finances more carefully before the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) will consider loosening the knots on government purse strings. Alden McLaughlin said he was pleased that he was able to extend the overdraft facility for the forthcoming financial year, giving some room to manoeuvre. He still wants to renegotiate the terms of the remaining three years on the fiscal plan agreed between the former UDP administration and the FCO but understands the need to re-establish trust first.

McLaughlin told CNS that, given the circumstances of the last four years regarding the broken commitments and budget surpluses that never materialized, the FCO and the overseas territories minister will need to see some consistency from the Cayman government and far more prudent management of public finances before they are willing to talk about changing the terms of the plan.

But even at the end of this financial year, the new government will struggle to deliver on the commitment made by former premier McKeeva Bush to the UK last year for a more than $80 million surplus this year.

As a result of pressure on senior civil servants and chief financial officers from the new finance minister, Marco Archer, not to spend their full budgets if they don’t need to, the government appears to be on track to end the year with a surplus of around $50 million, which, given the current economic difficulties, is significant but it is still far short of the predicted figure.

The shortfall in the surplus comes from the failure of government to implement certain legislation in time that would have generated additional revenue and because some areas of predicted revenue simply did not make the expected returns. It was not as a result of over spending.

However, in order to get the UK to ease some of the restrictions and give the CIG more wiggle room to meet the requirements of the Public Management and Finance Law and the various sound accounting principles, such as the parameters for the net debt ratio and cash reserves, the government will need to begin delivering on its commitments, which makes the forthcoming budget for 2013/14 crucial.

McLaughlin said that government would need to demonstrate that it can manage the public purse sensibly and meet its own budget forecasts, as the UK would not simply take it as read that because a new government was in office, the public coffers were in safer hands.

“We will need to show that we can deliver and stick to our commitments,” the premier said, before the UK would be willing to offer more concessions on what is currently a very difficult plan to fulfill without causing undue hardship and further burdens to an already struggling local economy.

The government is currently working on its annual plan for the remaining part of this financial year, which began in July. The passage at the end of last month of the emergency budget has provided a spending plan until the end of October but the full budget is expected to be delivered in September, when the premier said he and the minister of finance will set out how the PPM administration will get Cayman’s finances back on track, with the major projects at the port and the airport underway, and reduce the pressure on the local taxpayer, as promised in their election manifesto.

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Road activists defend case

| 24/07/2013 | 47 Comments

(CNS): The four women who filed a legal action in Grand Court in February against the closure and divestment of a stretch of the West Bay Road by the previous government will be protecting their case in open court on Thursday against efforts by the government’s lawyers to strike out the suit. The West Bay ladies, who are part of a wider campaign to re-open the West Bay Road, and opposition to what is known as the “NRA Agreement”, a part of Dart’s ForCayman Investment Alliance, are seeking the court's intervention to stop the deal. Efforts by Mourant Ozannes to strike out the case in a closed door hearing Tuesday were rejected by Justice Alex Henderson, who ordered that the application must be formally argued in the courtroom.

The judge denied the government’s attempts to shut down the case, pointing out that because the motion was filed in February, Mourant, the firm acting for the government, had had plenty of time to file their application.

Local attorney Irvin Banks will argue against the motion on behalf of Alice Mae Coe, Annie Multon, Ezmie Smith and Betty Ebanks, who filed the writ based on the bill of rights and the constitution. The West Bay women claim the governor, the attorney general, the minister with responsibility for roads and the National Roads Authority all breached laws in connection with this deal. The claim points to the fact that the West Bay Road has been in use for over 100 years.

The case was filed before the first stretch of the road was closed when the interim Cabinet gazetted the road between Trafalgar Square and Raleigh Quay, infront of the site where Dart Realty proposes to build a ten-storey resort hotel and a condo development. Since the closure, the developer has covered a portion of the road with several tonnes of a sand-like substance as part of plans for what was described as an enhanced public beach area.

As a result, the courts may not be able to address that fait accompli, but the women are still hoping to prevent the further closures.

Since the suit was filed, government has changed hands and the new administration is opposed to further closures and has also been discussing with Dart how some form of access road can be opened separate from the Easterly Tibbetts by-pass, which will maintain a through route to the West Bay Road.  It also places the government in the unenviable position of having to defend an agreement which it does not fully support against a suit which members of the PPM had supported.

The case will be heard in open court on Thursday at 10am but a courtroom has not yet been allocated.

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