Archive for December 13th, 2013

Panton makes history

Panton makes history

| 13/12/2013 | 53 Comments

(CNS) Full report: After more than three hours of wrangling and wrestling at the committee stage and around 35 amendments, Wayne Panton made history on Friday evening when he finally steered the National Conservation Law through the Legislative Assembly with full support from across the floor. With more than a decade of conversation on the law, the PPM's environment minister was finally the man that managed to pass the law that will, for the first time, give legal protection to Cayman's unique and diverse land-based and marine-based natural resources.The debate had been acrimonious at times, with the opposition leader describing it as unintelligible and the independent members calling it a land grab.

Legislators spent three days on the debate, and despite their attack on the bill during that time, all members of the opposition benches, including the two independent members, gave it their resounding backing when it went to the final vote.

This was a result of some amendments, such as the word "purchase" replacing the word "acquire" in clauses relating to land that could become protected. In addition, the clause banning the use of spear guns was changed following a government back bench rebellion. The requirement for those caught in a marine park with conch or lobster to demonstrate that it was not taken from that protected area was also removed.

However, most of what was seen by many as a controversial law survived and despite the acrimony between Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush and Premier Alden McLaughlin, especially at the end of Friday’s debate, all of the legislators in the House voted a resounding 'yes' to the bill.

Ministers Moses Kirkconnell and Osbourne Bodden, who had both offered their full backing to the bill during the debate last week, were absent. They were therefore the only two MLAs not to record their support and join what would have been a unanimous vote.

The premier had pressed the importance of the bill in his contribution and said it was “one of most important pieces of legislation to come to assembly in many years”, as it was about protecting everything that is dear to the Caymanian people. In the face of last minute opposition and attacks on the bill, McLaughlin said that the government had spent a considerable amount of time and effort and had thought “long and hard” about the legislation. He pointed to the five lawyers in the administration who had also made contributions and noted there would be committee stage amendments.

McLaughlin said there had been many mistakes in the past in Cayman regarding development, which he said was understandable given the circumstances. However, going forward this legislation would prevent future mistakes and see that care and consideration would be taken when it came to future development and the environment.

He highlighted the fact that the opposition leader, who has often promoted the efforts he claims to have made regarding conservation, voted against the marine park laws, for which he was rebuked by Bush when he finally got up to make his contribution.

Bush, the UDP leader, said that he had been waiting to see what the amendments would be and he had not planned to speak on the bill but was goaded into doing so because the premier “could not get up in the House unless he has something derogatory to say about this leader of the opposition".

He accused the premier of having a “happy knack of trying to chastise” him. Regardless of McLaughlin’s claims to have a mandate, Bush reminded the premier that he did not win the election outright.

“He had to be palsy-walsy with those he said he would never be palsy-walsy with,” Bush stated, adding, much to the amusement of the members, that he “didn’t just dance with 'em” but that he “must’ve taken some of them home” in order to form the government.

Insisting that he was not against conservation, Bush said he believed that Cayman had to accept that to get where it is today it had to give up something. He pointed to the loss of habitat and asked where the country would be if it had not “given up something”. He said there was already too much red tape for developers and investors and that while the UK wanted more bureaucracy in Cayman, it was cutting out 1,000 pages from its own planning rules.

Bush maintained that enforcing the conservation legislation was going to be very costly, despite denials of this by government, and the country would lose opportunities because of it.

Continue Reading

Cayman Status and PR board to go to Cabinet

Cayman Status and PR board to go to Cabinet

| 13/12/2013 | 36 Comments

(CNS): The chief officer in the Home Affairs Ministry, Eric Bush, has said that the new line-up of the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residence (PR) board will go before Cabinet when it meetsTuesday and should be gazetted later next week. The board will still play a significant part in delivery of the government’s new immigration policy, which will see every work permit holder who remains in Cayman for more than eight years allowed to make an application to live here permanently. Decisions on who stays and goes will be made by immigration staff in the future, based on new stricter points criteria, but the board will still make decisions regarding some applications.

Meanwhile, concerns have been raised by PR applicants who applied before the law changed that they too will be judged under the new harsher regime. Among the criteria that applicants for PR need to satisfy is their understanding of the local history and culture and this is assessed via a multiple choice test, which has been suspended since the new immigration bill was enacted in October.

Officials have not said why the tests have been placed on hold but several applicants contacted CNS with concerns that this is an illustration that, despite applying before the changes in the law, they are going to be judged on the new stricter criteria. 

Having already jumped through the key employee status hoop, anyone who applied for permanent residency before the new immigration bill was passed would be judged under the old system with a target of 100 points rather than 120, government officials have stated.

During the government’s public outreach regarding the changes to the points system, Bush said that the PR test would be tightened up and candidates would need to answer more questions to reach the maximum 20 points available from the history and culture test.

However, Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans confirmed this week that the tests will resume shortly, in the next week or so, and those previously scheduled with an appointment will be contacted for the next available sitting.

“The test will consist of 20 questions with one correct answer earning one point, which is what it was under the prior points system.  The level of difficulty hasn't changed,” she added.

Continue Reading

Miller denies species threat

Miller denies species threat

| 13/12/2013 | 41 Comments

(CNS): As he raised his objections to the National Conservation Law on Wednesday, Ezzard Miller, the independent member for North Side, was skeptical about the threat to Cayman’s indigenous and endemic species, as he took aim at visiting scientists and conservationists. The first member of the Legislative Assembly to respond to the presentation of the NCL by Environment Minister Wayne Panton, he said the government was gobbling up what these scientists were telling them, even though when asked about specific species, such as Silver Thatch, they could not say how many there are on the island. Having filed some 30 amendments to the law, Miller made his objections to the bill clear.

He said the conservationists had finally found someone in the minister who they could cajole into passing this draconian bill, which he believed was unconstitutional and so broad the courts would have “some fun” with it.

Miller attacked several aspects of the legislation but his main concern was over land. Despite the fact that there is nothing in the NCL to allow government to take anyone’s land Miller said he did not believe the government.

“I know they have said that there is no intention to acquire peoples land but I don’t believe it as the law facilitates it,” Miller insisted. He pointed to the use of the word “acquire” rather than buy, which he presented as evidence that the minister was not being truthful and that the conservationist would be allowed to get control of the people’s land, regardless of what was said. Having filed committeestage amendments, he said that if government did not intend to go after private land whether people want to sell it or not, it should remove the word "acquire". The North Side representative said people would be intimidated into giving up their land and the government had manipulated the law to turn it into a land grab.

The independent member stated that because others had allowed foreign developers to buy their land and in turn extract massive profits, government now wanted to come and conserve the people’s land in North Side. He said it would be Caymanians that would have things taken from them, even though they are the ones that have done the conserving in the past. He said that because Seven Mile Beach and other areas were taken away, they want to go after what’s left in his district so they can say they have a legacy.

Making derogatory remarks about scientists, conservationists and other technical experts, he implied that the species they have identified as vulnerable or endangered were without merit and there was no evidence to suggest those species were in trouble. He accused them of making up the critically endangered status of flora and fauna, despite the very real and documented evidence that some endemic species in Cayman, such as the ghost orchid, is on the verge of extinction.

Continue Reading