Archive for October 16th, 2013

Civil service body rejects redundancy policy

Civil service body rejects redundancy policy

| 16/10/2013 | 37 Comments

(CNS): The organisation that represents local civil servants has rejected government’s proposed voluntary redundancy policy as it says that management has not taken on board the concerns raised by its membership. James Watler, the president of the Cayman Islands Civil Service Association, is urging members to attend a meeting on Thursday 24 October, where the issue will be discussed and advice offered for those considering taking up the offer to leave the service with a payoff. He said there were a number of concerns with the policy, especially the five year restriction on returning to the public sector. Although CICSA was consulted, he said, they were “surprised and saddened” that the association's concerns were not reflected in the final version.

The deputy governor released the voluntary separation policy (VSP) recently with the goal of reducing the government’s headcount, as pressure to cut public spending continues. The VSP is one of numerous measures to cut operating costs and the size of the civil service.

However the CICSA had recommended other ways of dealing with the headcount and said this policy would create a new problem between local and foreign applicants for public sector jobs.

“Of particular concern to members who are considering voluntary separation is the restriction from applying for any civil service job for five years hence. This applies to any vacant advertised job, in any section of government, not just your previous employment,” he said.

“As the Voluntary Separation Policy only applies to Cayman citizens, and there appears to be no similar measure for contracted officers who have not been renewed as part of the government’s on-going civil service cuts, a baffling and disturbing dichotomy between Caymanian’s and non-Caymanian’s potential to apply for jobs is created,” he added in a statement released to the membership and the public.

Watler explained that instead of a separation policy, CICSA had recommended a manpower survey to determine the needs of the civil service while also identifying the knowledge and skills that existed to better help in reducing the numbers .

"It is our view that clearly there is a lack of willingness to engage in a holistic review of civil service staffing and staff reductions, of which it is strongly felt that voluntary separation should be a third, not second, resort,” he said, as he encouraged members to attend the upcoming Annual Meeting on 24 October at the South Sound Community Centre at 5:30pm, when they can discuss all the issues relating to the changes in the CS.

See full statement below, as well as contact details for advice on the VSP and related issues.

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Baines to cut holiday short

Baines to cut holiday short

| 16/10/2013 | 122 Comments

(CNS): After concern over escalating crime levels came to a head in the Legislative Assembly this week, Cayman’s top cop, David Baines, will face the music in Finance Committee, having reportedly cut his three week leave short. With calls from both sides of the country’s parliament for him to take responsibility for what veteran PPM backbencher Anthony Eden described as "poor policing" and a failure to keep the people of Cayman safe, Baines’ vacation has been sacrificed. As legislator after legislator called for him to answer for rising crime levels, the premeir confirmed Wednesday that he would not hide behind the constitutional divide of responsibility and intended to have more input in police issues.

CNS has requested the exact dates of the police commissioner’s planned leave and we are awaiting a response, however it is understood that Baines had been away both last week and this. While he was expected to be absent next week as well, it appears he has been ordered back. The CoP had taken leave at a time when Grand Cayman is experiencing a disturbing spike in gun-related crime andthree murders in a space of less than four weeks.

Legislators were clearly at the end of their rope this week regarding the need for serious action, with violent crime and burglaries on a continuous upward trend — despite the not insignificant annual police budget, some 400 officers and substantial investment by government over the years in modern equipment, from CCTV to the police helicopter and boats.

Ahead of the start of the Finance Committee hearings on Wednesday afternoon, Premier Alden McLaughlinsaid he did not want to get into a fight with the RCIPS but throwing money at the problem was not going to be the solution. In his closing speech on the budget debate, the premier said that, given the changes in the constitution and as his ministry now had control of the police budget (moved from the portfolio of the deputy governor), he was not going to take the responsibility and “the licks” that would come with the management of police administration without more say.

He said he had made it plain that his acceptance of the new level of responsibility meant the elected government must have a real say in what transpires and its role could no longer be limited to just voting the cash in vacuum because, McLaughlin pointed out, the budget underpins policies and plans.

“While there have been some recent successes with the arrest of suspects … we are going to have to look at the whole approach to policing,” the premier said, adding that he had heard the legitimate concerns of the members for North Side and East End about coverage in their constituencies. “We are not prepared to accept reasons and excuses why there is not adequate coverage in the eastern districts," he said.

However, he said that if he was not able to exercise some influence, "they can take it all back” to the governor’s office and he spelt out his intention to effect some improvement and accountability from the police.

The direct criticism that came from most legislators was aimed at the commissioner, as the head of the RCIPS, who they suggested had to take the rap. East End MLA Arden McLean said that government had broken contracts before, implying that if he wouldn’t resign he should be pushed.

North Side MLA Ezzard Miller also made damning criticism about the poor level of policing in his district and said that the police had failed to provide the Bodden Town police station with an armed response unit for the eastern districts, which was why it was regular unarmed uniformed officers that ended up chasing an armed gang of robbers recently. Speaking at a press briefing on Tuesday, however, Chief Superintendent Kurt Walton said that a permanent armed support unit for Bodden Town was now in place.

Crime figures up to the end of September that were released by police on Tuesday, which did not record two out of the three recent murders or several robberies that happened this month, paint an unpleasant picture for Cayman. Overall serious crime has risen by more than 33% so far this year and will likely be far worse by the year end. Between January and September there were 540 burglaries, an increase of 45.5% on last year, and robberies have increased by more than 26%.

The premier stated that he was not prepared to concede and accept that this was just the price of progress.

“We need to find an effective means of reducing crime and especially gun crime,” he said. McLaughlin added that the police had to pay more attention to prevention because despite the resources at the RCIPS’ disposal, its capability to deal with serious crime was lacking.

He said the show of overt force in the wake of the murders should be more common and more officers needed to be trained in the use of firearms. While he said he did not want to see all police armed, clearly more had to be done to disrupt the known criminal element all of the time, not just when there was concerns about reprisal killings. He said the “bad men who carry guns with impunity” had to believe that there was a greater chance of being stopped and searched and apprehended by armed officers.

The premier said he could not promise to fix everything but pledged to take internal security seriously. McLaughlin said this was not just to ensure the safety of the local community but if they could not “ratchet down serious crime” and burglaries, Cayman’s reputation on the world stage would change from being one of the safest places to live and work to a place where there was serious concern for personal safety.

Pointing to recent disturbing posts on the travel forum TripAdvisor, he said, “We can’t allow the perception to grow that visitors can’t walk on Seven Mile Beach on a moonlit night without fear.”

Committing to get crime under control, McLaughlin said that while there were other underlying social issues that government was also addressing, he said it was the police that had to deal with what was happening now and they would be required to deliver.

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The economics of unemployment

The economics of unemployment

| 16/10/2013 | 28 Comments

Albert Einstein once remarked that if he were given only one hour to save the world, he would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes working out the solution. How might Einstein’s wisdom be applied when it comes to solving the Cayman Islands’ unemployment problem?

According to the most recent Labour Force Survey (conducted in October 2012) there were 1,925 unemployed Caymanians in the Cayman Islands labour market. But consider for a moment the significance of the word “market”.

A market is a place where buyers and sellers come together to engage in an exchange of value – normally an exchange of money for goods or services – through which both parties benefit.

One of the most critical features of a market is freedom of choice. Sellers are free to decide what to make and how much to sell it for. Buyers are free to choose between quality levels and prices. If buyers offer a price that is too low, they will be unable to find a willing seller. If sellers set their price too high, they will be unable to find a willing buyer. 

Thus sellers are incentivised to compete against one another by offering the lowest possible price and best possible quality in order to attract a buyer. This process ensures that products and services in a free market offer a reasonable profit incentive for sellers, while offering the best possible price and quality to buyers.

Thus markets harness every human being’s natural instinct for self-interest to allocate resources, generate profit, reduce prices and increase quality of all the things we buy. Adam Smith, "the father of economics", termed this unseen, beneficent force “the invisible hand of the market”. When the things we buy become less expensive and better quality, the overall result is of course an increase in our standard of living.

It is worth considering what would become of a “market” without the key ingredient of freedom of choice.

If buyers did not have freedom to choose the product with the best value for money there would be no incentive for sellers to improve quality or lower costs in pursuit of sales. Instead, the same self-interest among sellers that would normally lead to competition would work in reverse. Sellers would become complacent, raising prices and having little regard for quality, which would be bad for buyers, leading to a decline in our standard of living.

That free markets generally lead to better outcomes and rising living standards is a matter of settled fact among economists. This is not to argue against regulation. Even in heavily regulated markets buyers and sellers have the freedom to choose what to buy or sell, at what price and whether or not to engage in a trade. Without such freedom, whatever we were attempting to describe would not be a “market”.

Coming back to the Cayman Islands employment market, an economist would define the problem as follows: 1,925 sellers of labour are not able to find willing buyers.

In order to gain a better understanding of why this might be, let’s consider the reasons a seller of any product might struggle to find a buyer. According to economic theory, there are only ever four possible factors preventing a seller from finding a buyer.

First, it could be because the price of the product is too high (a “price gap”).

Second, it could be because the quality of the product is too low (a “quality gap”).

Third, it could be because buyers are not aware of the product or have bad information that makes it appear unattractive (an “information gap”).

Fourth, it could be because there is insufficient demand for the product (a “demand gap”).  In other words there are too few buyers and too many sellers.

Some readers may believe they see another possibility, that the price being offered by buyers is too low. But it is the buyer’s prerogative to buy at the price they believe to represent the best value for money. And all potential buyers must unanimously agree the price is too high (if a single buyer disagreed, the product would sell). Can they all be wrong?

Moreover, the buyer isn’t the one that has a problem — his need is being satisfied by the market. It is the seller that has a problem — he can’t sell his product. Economic theory, not to mention common sense, suggests that anyone without a good reason to change his or her behaviour will generally not.

So, to recap, our hypothetical seller has four potential issues that are preventing his product from selling: a price gap, a quality gap, an information gap, and a demand gap.

Every unemployed Caymanian is in this exact same boat, each a seller of labour unable to find a buyer, afflicted by one or more of these issues to some extent. Therefore, the war against unemployment is a war on these four fronts.

Let’s consider the issues, and potential solutions, in more detail, starting with the demand gap. First of all, does Cayman have one? Yes and no.

While most western nations are suffering from relatively high levels of unemployment, the underlying problem in each nation is basicallyarithmetic – most countries simply have more people than jobs. The Cayman Islands on the other hand is in the unique and fortunate position of having more than twice as many jobs as there are citizens in the workforce. So rather than a lack of demand for labour as such, if anything, what we have is a lack of demand for work unemployed Caymanians are willing and able to do.

Yet because economic growth (the proverbial “rising tide”) benefits all Caymanians – the unemployed, the employed and business owners – it is not just important, it is imperative for the government to create jobs in order to maintain our current standard of living. For in a service-based economy such as ours, creating new jobs is the one and only means of sustainable economic growth. 

That is precisely why it is so important that the government come up with a new work permit system that guarantees employers either a suitably qualified Caymanian or a work permit for a suitably qualified expatriate (the current system does not). No company will establish itself or grow in Cayman if it cannot be assured of the ability to hire suitably qualified employees. 

While the new immigration system should guarantee Caymanians access to job opportunities, as well as protection from discrimination, it must not be so restrictive as to come at the cost of economic growth. Otherwise the system may give the appearance it is protecting Caymanians while in reality it is holding them back.

In any case, to the extent jobseekers suffer from issues under the other three fronts described below (price, quality and information), increasing demand in itself would have no impact on unemployment because the additional demand would more than likely lead to new work permit applications. While such economic growth would still, incontrovertibly, be a good thing for Cayman, it would be cold comfort to the unemployed.

Compared to the vexing challenges of the demand gap, addressing the information gap should be relatively straightforward.

While every job not already filled with a Caymanian is required to be advertised in the newspaper, this is evidently not sufficient.

The current fall-back is the National Workforce Development Agency (NWDA), the government department tasked with introducing unemployed Caymanians to potential employers (among many other things). But the NWDA is significantly lacking in resources – both technology and manpower – to deal with the current level of unemployment. The annual budget for the department, according to the latest Annual Plan, is a mere $835,000 (a small fraction of the $10 million annual subsidy to the Turtle Farm).

Even a modest investment in technology would help close the gap. For example, every job registered with the department could be listed online for unemployed Caymanians to browse and apply for directly. This would be cheaper, easier and faster than applying for jobs via newspaper advertisement and regular mail. Those without computer access should be assisted by the NWDA. After all, the information gap cuts both ways — unemployed Caymanians may not be aware of every available job.

Improving the flow of information between the unemployed and the employers is one battle; improving the quality of the information is another. The NWDA should provide resources to Caymanian jobseekers, such as resume-writing support and interview preparation, to enable them to put their best foot forward with employers. They could also provide helpful resources to employers, for example, to ensure they accurately describe job vacancies.

The third front of the war on unemployment is the effort to bridge the quality gap.

Of course improving the “quality” of labour means up-skilling, in other words education and training. While providing more full and part time vocational training opportunities would help, the government should be realistic about the prospects for addressing the current unemployment problem through up-skilling.

Unfortunately, for the many unemployed Caymanians with family responsibilities, receiving an income is probably a higher priority than receiving an education. And in any case, the best way for someone to up-skill is by gaining work experience on the job. Hence it may be necessary for those people to find a job with the skills they have today and seek opportunities to improve them tomorrow.

If other unemployed Caymanians are able to invest more of their time in education and training, they must be given both the opportunity, and the financial assistance, to do so.  But the outcome should be a skill that is in demand and a qualification that employers value. The government should partner with the private sector at every opportunity to ensure that is the case.

Unemployed Caymanians, for their part, should make sure they take full advantage of the training opportunities that are currently available.

While improving the quality of labour, through education and training, is of limited usefulness in addressing the existing unemployment problem, it is of course critical in preventing future unemployment. To that end the government should spend time considering what, if any, role historical shortcomings in local education have played in creating the current situation and ensure they are being addressed.

The final front of the war on unemployment is the most critical and the most contentious: the price gap.

As mentioned before it is almost impossible to persuade a buyer to change their behaviour to solve someone else’s problem. Therefore, no amount of “brow-beating” employers is very likely to succeed.

A better use of resources would be to change the economic calculation to make hiring unemployed Caymanians a rational way for employers to exercise their freedom of choice. That means closing “the price gap” between what buyers are willing to offer and sellers are willing to accept.

In fact, government is already lowering the price of all Caymanian labour relative to the market through work permit fees. Work permit fees artificially raise the price of all non-Caymanian labour by between 10 and 20%. But government can only increase permit fees so high before they become unbearable for small businesses and prospective inward investors. Most believe work permit fees passed that tipping point several years ago.

The introduction of a reasonable minimum wage would help, because, like work permit fees, it would spread the cost of bridging the price gap for the lowest earners among all buyers, rather than asking a small minority to pay over the odds. While such a measure is controversial in the business community, minimum wage laws have been introduced in most western countries without calamitous consequences.

Although it is somewhat unlikely that a person unwilling to work for $4 per hour would suddenly be motivated by the prospect of earning $5 per hour, unskilled Caymanians should not be made to compete on price with foreign workers prepared to live in squalor.

It would also be helpful for unemployed Caymanians to know the current market rate for their skill level. Some people that have lost lucrative jobs in declining industries may have unwittingly tied themselves to the mast of unrealistically high expectations. Others may have gone from job to job in the buoyant employment market of the 2000’s and failed to adjust their expectations to the “new normal” wage levels that have prevailed since the beginning of the global recession in 2009.

Whatever the reason, every unemployed person ought to know what the market considers a fair wage in order to know what wage to seek or accept. The NWDA, in cooperation with the private sector, should have resources that allow them to determine market salary levels with reasonable accuracy for jobseekers they assist. 

Any jobseeker unwilling to work at the market rate for their skillset should not be eligible to receive government assistance (from NWDA or Social Services). Neither should anyone else that is effectively unemployed as a matter of personal choice.

The most problematic subset will be those people no employer wants to employ at any price: the so-called and infamous “unemployables”. Those with deal-breaking criminal records or psychiatric problems; serial job hoppers; those without decent employment references; in short those most in need of government assistance.

Programs such as Passport2Success (which should be expanded in resources and scope) can go some way to addressing the quality gap for those people in terms of basic “employability skills”. 

However, the country will need to decide what is to become of these people. If the government wishes them to become productive members of society, it will need to provide a viable pathway to employment. This will involve a combination of remedies including counselling, social intervention and pro-active monitoring. But ultimately, some kind of direct government subsidy may well be required in order to provide private sector firms with an economic incentive to engage with government agencies and facilitate a return to work.

The alternative to providing a viable pathway to productive private sector employment is for such people to be marginalised and forced to live on government hand-outs indefinitely. It is surely better for the government to temporarily pay an employer to hire and train an unemployed Caymanian than to pay them to stay home.

While many will balk at the suggestion of any new investment designed to reduce unemployment (in the form of subsidies or new government resources), consider that the government rakes in more than $60 million dollars a year in revenue from work permit fees alone. Better to invest a few million dollars of that back into the Caymanian workforce than to decline, drive away or forgo a few million dollars worth of work permits in the hope that frustrated employers will suddenly “see the light” and hire people they have so far exercised their freedom not to.

After all, Einstein also said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. 

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Telethon hopes to raise cash for children’s charities

Telethon hopes to raise cash for children’s charities

| 16/10/2013 | 0 Comments

(CNS): One of Cayman’s longest running charities is calling on the community to tune into its annual lively telethon or join the party which has been set for broadcast on Saturday 2 November 7pm to midnight on Cayman 27. Viewers can pledge cash on the night to help the NCVO’s various children’s programmes including The Nadine Andreas Residential Foster Home, “Miss Nadine’s” Pre-School, Jack & Jill Nursery, the Caring Cousins Welfare Fund and the John Gray Fund. With a variety of musical entertainment from pop, rock, and island style to country music by a line-up of local entertainers viewers who make a pledge have a chance to win one of over 50 prizes donated by many different companies.

Musicians include Teri Quappe; Gone Country; Barefoot Man; Andy Martin; JR Douglas; Joan Wilson; Heat; Inverse; Swanky; Trinity; Kool Skool; Sea N' B; Gordon Solomon; Little Magic; Bonafide and Hitide.

The NCVO is a non-profit, charitable organisation that is dedicated to the care, education and well-being of children and families in need of support in the Cayman Islands.
For more information or to make a donation to the NCVO prior to the Radio/Telethon, contact the NCVO at 949-2124 on the night pledgers can call  946-6136 to donate.


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Local kids break exam records

Local kids break exam records

| 16/10/2013 | 37 Comments

(CNS): The education ministry has now confirmed that this year’s external exam results for local students have broken all previous records, with almost 70% of Year 12 students from government schools achieving high level passes in at least five subjects. Far outstripping even last year’s record results, Chief Education Officer Shirley Wahler said 69.5% of Year 12 students leaving the government system achieved five or more Level 2 (O’ Level equivalent) passes at A*-C at GCSE/IGCSE or I-III at CXC, compared with 49% last year and 29% just five years ago. This means 267 students achieved the required standard compared to just 88 in 2007, a growth of 200% in just five years.

More than 67% of all Year 12 students achieved a Level 2 pass in English, which compares well with regional result of about 57% of students across the Caribbean. Mathematics grades have also improved over last year’s 26%, but with only 37.5% of students reaching the high level pass mark it remains an area of concern for educators.

As well as the hard work of teachers and the support of parents, Education Minister Tara Rivers also credited the Cayman Islands Further Education Centre (CIFEC) for the boost in results. All Year 12 students on Grand Cayman who remain in the government system now attend CIFEC, which was established three years ago in September 2010, when the high school system on Grand Cayman was reorganised. Students now take their Level 2 exams at the end of Year 11, using Year 12 to take vocational courses, retakes or join the duel entry programme with UCCI to take pre-college courses. 

This summer was the first time that Year 11 students on Cayman Brac took their external examinations, sitting them at the same time as the Year 12 students, and those students (the Layman Scott High School graduating Class of 2014) have already achieved a 69% high level pass rate. This figure is predicted to be 80% by the time that these students graduate next year as the first year group on the Brac to be taught within the restructured Year 12. This would make them the highest achieving class in the history of the Cayman Islands, parents and teachers of the students were told  by CEO Wahler at a recent meeting on the Brac.

However, for the first time this year, the Year 12 students on Grand Cayman slightly bettered their peers on the Brac, where 66.7% of the school's Graduating Class of 2013, who did not have the benefit of optional re-takes like the Year 12's at CIFEC, achieved 5 or more high level passes, bucking the trend of significantly better results on Cayman Brac in previous years.

Outlining the improvements in results overall, Minister Rivers told the Legislative Assembly this week, “Of the 267 students who met the benchmark standard of 5+ passes, 110 of those met that standard because of their additional studies at CIFEC, with 119 additional Level 2 qualifications being earned in maths and English.” 

CIFEC also helped students in technical and vocational studies, with 200 students earning an internationally recognized vocational pass, and the minister welcomed CIFEC’s emphasis on incorporating work place readiness, allowing all students to undertake a formal study of employability skills. 

With the record breaking results, Shirley Wahler said the community needed to recognize that the work of teachers is often difficult and undervalued but the results were a testimony to the hard work that has gone into improving the education system. Chief Officer Mary Rodrigues pointed to the raising of expectations among both students and parents.

See the minister’s full statement about the results delivered in the LA on Monday.

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Two murder suspects arrested

Two murder suspects arrested

| 16/10/2013 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Two men, aged 21 and 31, have been arrested in connection with the murder of Earl Hart earlier this month. The two men were rounded up by the police during an operation in the Bodden Town and Savannah areas earlier this morning (Wednesday 16 October), an RCIPS spokesperson stated. Both men were arrested on suspicion of murder and remain in police custody while enquiries continue. Hart was gunned down in his own home in front of his partner and young baby daughter on the evening of 3 October, when he is understood to have opened his front door to at least one armed man. The 22-year-old father received multiple gunshot wounds and was pronounced dead early the next morning at the George Town hospital.

Hart was the second murder of the year and one of three that occurred within a four week period. Police also arrested two men in the wake of Irvin Bush’s murder in West Bay on Sunday 15 September, when he was gunned down on his own doorstep in Daisy Lane, but both were released by police with one remaining on police bail.

The third gun related killing was the murder of Anthony "Beenie" Connor, which occurred on Friday night outside the Mango Tree restaurant. Police have not yet made any arrests in that case.

Admitting that resources were stretched by the three killings as well as a spate of armed robberies, door-step hold ups and other gun related crimes, police said that they were doing all they could to restore peace to Grand Cayman and warned the public to expect to see armed officers overtly displaying long weapons in areas of concern and crime hotspots.

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New day dawns for nature

New day dawns for nature

| 16/10/2013 | 71 Comments

(CNS): As a genuine conservation enthusiast, the new environment minister is set to be a true champion in the Cabinet for Cayman’s precious and dwindling natural resources. Wayne Panton has given a commitment to pass the much anticipated National Conservation Law before the end of the year, to continue the work on enhancing marine parks, adopt the Department of Environment's climate change policy and to review and implement the CITES law. The new minister has also found money for the DoE to replace critical conservation staff and to double the National Trust’s budget. Panton has made it clear that from now on the environment will be considered before development decisions instead of being an afterthought.

He told the Legislative Assembly on Friday afternoon that preserving the local natural environment was not just about the responsibility; government has to protect the resources for future generations but it was also critically important to the tourism industry.

Panton, who heads up an entirely new ministry dealing with the financial services sector and commerce as well as the environment, noted that the environment had previously been treated in a similar way to the past treatment of financial services — as an add-onto other major ministries, tagged randomly to portfolios. However, he committed to placing environmental issues at the forefront of the country’s future development.

Panton pointed out that this made economic sense and there was more than enough compelling evidence from around the world and locally that taking steps to protect the environment at the outset was far more cost effect and beneficial than trying to mitigate after the fact.

“In an effort to redress the lack of appropriate emphasis on the protection of our unique flora and fauna and the fragile habitats on which they depend, there are a number of initiatives which the ministry has identified. Chief among these is the passage of the long awaited National Conservation Law,” the minister told his legislative colleagues. “This essential piece of legislation has been languishing for more than a decade and I am committed to seeing it enacted before the end of this year.”

He said that people would get to see the draft bill well before it reaches the floor of the LA and he planned to table it well ahead of the debate to satisfy concerns about the constitutional notice of 21 days before a meeting and to give everyone additional time to read and familiarize themselves with what is one of the most widely consulted proposed pieces of legislation in Cayman history. In the past Panton has referred to the NCL as the National ‘Conversation’ Law but he made it clear the time for talking about it was over as time was running out for the country’s fragile eco-systems.

“It is critical that we plan and implement infrastructure and physical development in ways that respect the natural environment and try to preserve the integrity of eco systems that sustains and address the threats which are serious and growing. There is no more time to lose,” he said.

Admitting that it was not a panacea for all of the ills impacting Cayman, he emphasised the critical change itwould bring by requiring that the environment be considered like other important elements in development before, rather than after, action is taken.

Panton committed to press ahead with the enhancement of marine parks but he said there would be further discussions in specific districts and with particular stakeholders. With scientific research revealing that Cayman’s reefs have already reduced by 70% since the 1970's and an imbalance in favour of smaller fish and reef-smothering algae, the enhancement was desperately needed. Without the existing marine parks things would have been far worse, he stated, but with increased threats to the marine eco-system any chance of achieving future sustainability in fishing and some resistance for the vulnerable systems, more protection was needed.

“While research shows clearly that there are benefits from the marine park protection, it also shows clearly that they are no longer enough to address all issues,” he said, pointing to the pressure of over-fishing, coastal development, lion fish, the disease of coral and other organisms and the impact of climate change, as well as the increase in population and visitors.

Panton said the ministry would examining how it could adopt the DoE’s draft climate change policy, which was drawn up two years ago but has not been acted upon. He said there was a high degree of confidence that this is real problem and Cayman was 34th in 217 countries in terms of its per capita carbon footprint. As a low lying island in the hurricane belt, even if there were people out there that didn’t believe in climate change Cayman’s geographical position justified the implementation of the policy, which would require the participation of the private sector as well as government departments, he said.

The minister also pointed to the need for Cayman to meet its obligations under a number of multilateral environment conventions and treaties. He committed to take the necessary steps toupdate the CITES law, which protects endangered species from trade. Panton explained that not only was it never implemented, despite being passed by the Legislative Assembly, the current law doesn’t meet the requirements of the convention, so a review is underway with the help of the agriculture department aiming to be in full compliance by the end of next year.

With funding in place to provide the DoE with the staff it needs to undertake the workload, Panton said that while everyone was concerned about Cayman’s reputation on the world stage regarding financial services, he felt responsible environmental management would also enhance the islands' reputation in the eyes of investors and visitors, as well as preserving the local natural heritage and the way of life for Caymanians.

He also pointed to the boost in funding for the National Trust, which compliments the DoE. Panton said that the Trust would use the funds to continue its goal to protect 10% of land mass in Cayman by 2020, as well as managing existing nature reserves and historical sites and to take on an education officer. The minister said the money government gives to the Trust had doubled, which might sound like a lot but it wasn’t as their budget had been cut significantly over the years and it had been operating in a very difficult situation. Panton said that although government wasn’t in a position to give them what they really needed, they would be able to do a lot with what it could give.

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‘Hurricane Hilton’ transformation planned on Brac

‘Hurricane Hilton’ transformation planned on Brac

| 16/10/2013 | 39 Comments

(CNS): The deputy premier and minister with responsibility for the Sister Islands has announced his intention to transform the controversial and costly hurricane shelter on Cayman Brac into a new high school through a phased development. In what he said was the spirit of doing more with less, Moses Kirkconnell told his legislators last week that government intended to “re-purpose the hurricane shelter on the Bluff”, also known as the Hurricane Hilton due to the hefty price tag and luxury additions, into a new high school. The project is in the early stages, with the initial concept drawings currently being discussed by his ministry, public works and the education ministry.

The only secondary school on Cayman Brac was constructed more than 40 years ago and is in need of upgrading, the minister stated. 

“This repurposing will minimize the cost of building a new school by using the structure already built and completing it as a purpose-built secondary school,” he said. “During emergencies, it can function as a hurricane shelter, thereby serving as a dual-purpose facility.”

As it also already adjoins the sports field, students will have access to world class facilities, eliminating the costs associated with building a separate field, Kirkconnell explained.

“It is envisioned that the main building of the project as it currently stands will serve as a multipurpose hall, the heart of the school, if you will,” he said. “The upstairs areas of the current main building will serve as the administration area. It is also envisioned that classroom blocks canbe built out from the existing main building in order to suit the educational needs of our students.”

Kirkconnell promised more specific information and updates as soon as he was able on the project, which he said would ensure the long-term sustainability of the delivery of education to students on Cayman Brac.

As the first elected member for the district, during his budget presentation last week, Kirkconnell listed a number of development initiatives for his constituents. While plans to upgrade the tourism infrastructure on Cayman Brac will likely be welcomed, plans for a new airport on Little Cayman may find opposition from some quarters, as they did when first proposed ten years ago.

Kirkconnell said that efforts were already underway by the Cayman Islands Airports Authority to build an airport that will be compliant with international aviation standards. 

“This proposed facility will be constructed on Cayman Islands Airport Authority property.  The first phase of this project will be the runway," he said. “It will allow for a more cost-effective turbo prop aircraft to service Little Cayman.” 

He also said there were plans for a new boat ramp and dock for the north shore on Little Cayman, a continuation of the road improvement programme, and ongoing dialogue with the tourism partners on the Island to maintain and enhance their tourism offering.

Meanwhile, on Cayman Brac, Kirkconnell spelled out an ambitious programme of development, including the enhancement of the Charles Kirkconnell International Airport, which would include an area for hold baggage screening, with an X-ray Machine for checked baggage to allow for the processing of international flights in Cayman Brac. 

“With this increased capacity in place in Cayman Brac, it will allow a Cayman Airways route to destinations in Eastern Cuba,” he said.  “This initiative has great potential, given the lucrative market that eastern Cuba represents.”

Further phases of expansion will see a departure lounge and an enlarged arrivals facility to help relieve some of the stress on Owen Roberts Airport.

The deputy premier also indicated the resumption of an initiative that was the goal of the previous PPM administration to position Cayman Brac as a suitable location for back-office work, as he outlined the proposal for the establishment of a Cayman Airways Reservations Centre on Cayman Brac. 

He noted that a reservation centre could be established almost anywhere because of advances in technology. "Through the work of my ministry, together with Cayman Airways, this facility will be established shortly," he said, saying it would promote job growth on the Brac and the disaster mitigation efforts of Cayman Airways. The reservations centre would be coupled with a Cayman Airways Cargo Facility, adding services and employment on the Sister Islands to add to the long term sustainability of the islands.

He also announced the commencement of ‘Tall Ships’ calling on Cayman Brac as well as Grand Cayman early next year. “The route to be sailed is Grand Cayman, Southern Cuba, Cayman Brac, and back to Grand Cayman,” he revealed. “These tall ships will bring adventure-minded tourists to experience the unique qualities of each island,” he said, benefiting employment on Cayman Brac through the transportation of cruise visitors on various tours. 

“The types of tours envisioned are a general island-wide tour, an historical tour, and a tour of our caves. There will also be opportunities for cruise visitors to be taken on scuba and snorkelling excursions. Additional expressions of interest regarding potential sites to be visited are the Lighthouse on the Bluff, the Public Beach, and the Brac Reef Beach Resort.

With plans to upgrade the Brac's certified FIFA pitch on the Bluff with changing rooms, bleachers, perimeter fencing and flag poles, he said international football matches could be played on Cayman Brac so the island couldn benefit from the countrywide push for sports tourism.

“Just this week we met with CONCACAF reps to discuss how they will use this field for future Cayman Island tournaments. This project will also provide temporary employment on Cayman Brac during the construction period,” he added.

The minister announced the plan to install piped water throughout Cayman Brac. He said the Water Authority had approved a plan and work is scheduled to commence in November, creating at least eight new jobs as well as the new service, which he said would add to the long-term sustainability of the community.

Kirkconnell said government was committed to growing job opportunities and improving the quality of life in a way that was “sensitive to the character of each island”.

See the deputy premier's full presentaiton below.

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Cops find no evidence of connections in killings

Cops find no evidence of connections in killings

| 16/10/2013 | 12 Comments

(CNS): Despite what appear to be indirect connections to at least two of the three murders on Grand Cayman in the last month, one of the senior officers overseeing the cases said that so far there is no significant evidence to suggest that they are linked or even gang-related. DCI Malcolm Kay said that investigators on the three separate murder enquiries were communicating and reviewing the history but there was little evidence to join the three fatal shootings. DCI Kay also said that there was nothing at all to suggest that Earl Hart (left), who was gunned down in his own home in Prospect on 3 October, was shot because he was a witness in a 2012 murder case.

Kay emphasised that the police had no reason to believe that fatal shooting of Irvin Bush, as he arrived at his Daisy Lane home in West Bay on 15 September, had anything to do with the fatal shooting of his own son two years before.

Robert Mackford Bush was shot and killed as he sat in a car at the junction of Capts Joe and Osbert Road and Birch Tree Hill on 13 September 2011. This triggered a series of gang-related shootings, which resulted in the death of four more young men and the serious injury of a fifth. The last in the string of shootings over the ten day period was the murder of Asher McGaw in East End. In what police called only a coincidence, Earl Hart was a witness in the trial in which Chakane Jamelle "CJ" Scott was convicted of the murder.

Anthony "Beenie" Connor was killed on Friday night outside of the Mango Tree restaurant and there appears to be no links with him and the 2011 series of murders. At the time he was serving a lengthy sentence in HMP Northward, having been found guilty of robbery in 2006. Connor was convicted of a robbery at Durty Reids restaurant and bar, which took place in 2005. He was sentenced to twelve years and was only released from jail this summer.  However, Connor’s mother was also shot in a violent incident outside a George Town bar during a previous spate of gang-related gun violence in 2010. She survived being shot in the face.

With the police remaining unconvinced that the murders are linked or gang-related, Kay said he was appealing for anyone who was at the Mango Tree or passing by on Friday either just before or just after the shooting, which happened around 8:45pm, to contact them as even the smallest most insignificant piece of information may help the police.

“The information may seem insignificant to you but it could be the part of the jigsaw that will help us put the picture of the crime together,” he said, as he urged people to call any of the police stations, the hotline numbers, 911 or Crime Stoppers.

Offering his condolences to the family and friends of the victims, he said the police were working hard on all three cases and had moved officers from various specialist units onto the murder investigations. Kay said that two arrests have been made so far in the Bush case, with one man being released and a second still on police bail as the investigation continued.

No arrests have yet been made in either of the other two cases but the RCIPS will not be looking for outside assistance. Chief Superintendent Kurt Walton explained that since the last major spate of killings in Cayman, the RCIPS had successfully filled the various investigative skills gap. He also noted that while a temporary group of officers from the UK had assisted in the spate of 2011 killings, the only murder in that case to be solved so far was thekilling of Asher McGaw, which was solved by local officers.

Anyone who may have any information at all or observed anything suspicious or unusual around the time of the three killings is urged to call the police hotline at 949 7777, the incident room on 925-7240 Crime stoppers at 800 TIPS (8477), 911, or any police station or officer that they know.

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