Archive for January 5th, 2014

This is the year that was

| 05/01/2014 | 3 Comments

(CNS): Cayman may have welcomed a new government and a new governor in 2013 but it also faced many familiar problems, in particular a continuing rise in serious crime and a sluggish economy. The first part of 2013 was dominated by a long and heated election campaign against a backdrop of genuine concerns in the community about Cayman’s future. However, in the second half of the year, with the new PPM government incorporating non-party members, the Progressives sent a signal that party politics could be flexible, as it pressed through a new budget, immigration changes and the long awaited National Conservation Law before the year was out.

JANUARY: 2013 began, much as 2012 did and as 2014 has, dominated by crime with two people being mugged on the streets of Grand Cayman on New Year’s Day. Tourism was hit with bad news when the Carnival Cruise Line announced it was cutting the number of ships coming to Cayman, and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) upped its campaign to highlight conditions at the Cayman Turtle Farm. January also marked the beginning of the permanent closure of a stretch of the West Bay Road, as Dart  Realty began work on the Easterly Tibbetts Highway. Meanwhile, Dr Devi Shetty was given planning approval for his hospital in East End.

The Governor’s Office started legal proceedings to challenge a decision by the information commissioner in an effort to keep documents relating to the discredited Operation Tempura under wraps. The Nation Building Fund continued to stir up controversy when it was revealed that a handful of churches had received almost $500,000 at a time when the public purse was having significant cash flow problems.

The travelling expenses of the then premier, McKeeva Bush, were revealed to much consternation. The election battle started to heat up when several Coalition  for Cayman candidates began declaring their intention to run in the election on the non-party C4C ticket and the voters in Bodden Town finally outnumbered those of West Bay.

As crime continued throughout the month, the RCIPS received its first batch of Tasers and began training officers in how to use the controversial non-lethal weapons. Days after announcing the introduction of the weapon into the police armoury, an officer shot a 44-year-old suspected burglar.

FEBRUARY:  The prison system came under the spotlight in February when a report by the UK’s prison inspector exposed a shocking environment of mismanagement, drug abuse, victimization, bullying and violence, as well as poor and inhumane treatment of inmates.

Meanwhile, the interim People's National Alliance administration said that the deal signed between the UDP government, the National Roads Authority and the Dart Group in December 2011, known as the NRA Deal, was legally binding. However, four West Bay women filed court action against the deal. (They are currently waiting on the decision in the case by Justice Henderson.)

The election campaign got into full swing as several candidates declared their hand and McKeeva Bush opened the UDP campaign in West Bay. Despite being under arrest at the time on suspicion of theft and abuse of office, Bush also opened the new UDP office. A proposal was floated by the UK for Cayman to encourage election observers, which caused Bush some concerns.

The month was dominated by scandal at the airport and hints of corruption among board members when the suspended CEO of the Cayman Islands Airport Authority was accused of mismanagement at the airport and the misuse of public money. A report commissioned by the CIAA Board indicated that hundreds of thousands of dollars appeared to have been misappropriated, with boozy lunches for staff that were on duty, flying lessons for an employee running a private flight school, as well as unexplained thefts.

The Cayman Islands Government revealed that it was owed more than CI$16.5 million in uncollected fees and bad cheques. DECCO, a subsidiary of the Dart Group, was selected by the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) to generate future power on Grand Cayman.

MARCH: The managing director of the ERA, Joey Ebanks, was suspended in the face of an investigation into alleged financial irregularities in the authority’s books. Ebanks was later sacked from his job, arrested and charged. (He is due to stand trial in 2014 for a list of offences.) Following his arrest he not only declared his intention to run in the election as a candidate for North Side but also began making allegations of corruption surrounding the DECCO award, triggering another enquiry and ultimately a new tendering process.

Meanwhile, an RCIPS staffer, who was the first person charged under the Anti-corruption Law, pleaded guilty to several counts relating to the misuse of information and was given a suspended sentence. Later in the month McKeeva Bush was charged under the same law with a list of offences, including theft, abuse of office and corruption, following his arrest and fall from office in December. The then education minister and deputy premier, Rolston Anglin, was fined $500 and banned for one year after he pleaded guilty to drinking and driving.

A second legal challenge wasmounted against the West Bay Road closure, which was eventually to fail because it was out of time. Negotiations between government and Dart also hit the news headlines as the interim government tried to claw back more value for the Cayman people regarding the NRA Deal.

Kent McTaggart, who had announced his intention to run as a Coalition for Cayman candidate in Bodden Town, pulled out from the political race ahead of Nomination Day in the first of a series of issues relating to candidates qualifications. Richard Christian was prevented from running after he admitted having an American passport. Questions were also raised about Tara Rivers’ qualifications, which resulted in a full courtroom challenge later in the year. In the end, 57 candidates were formally nominated to enter the election.

Members of the interim Cabinet, three of whom had been part of the UDP government, denied knowing anything about an agreement which the former premier and UDP leader, McKeeva Bush, had signed in 2012 with China HarbourEngineering Company (CHEC) regarding the development of cruise port facilities before he fell from office. The five ministers said they knew talks with CHEC had moved toward a framework agreement but had no idea that their leader had signed that deal without any legal advice and without consulting his Cabinet colleagues, including the attorney general.

APRIL: The controversial nation building fund was in the headlines again when it was revealed that the Red Bay Church of God (Holiness), which was attended by the new premier, Juliana O’Connor Connolly, had received around $100,000. It was later to give the money back and others followed suit, with Hillside Chapel on Cayman Brac returning the $50,000 grant it was given from the fund.

Cayman’s lack of environmental legislation put the islands at the bottom of the league across the UK overseas territories in the first ever analysis of environmental laws across all 14 OTs. 

The beleaguered former premier, McKeeva Bush, made his first appearance in court in connection with the charges against him, which were transmitted to the Grand Court as details emerged of allegations that he used his government credit card in casinos. The former MD of the Electricity Regulatory Authority and candidate for North Side was also charged with 29 different counts of theft and fraud-related offences. Joey Ebanks was also threatened with a number of civil legal threats as a result of the allegations he made on his Facebook page.

The Elections Office was concerned that electors in George Town would not vote correctly, thus spoiling their ballots, because of the whopping six votes they would have in the May 2013 elections. Campaigns against treating, corruption and vote buying took centre stage in election news, even as vandals attacked political posters. The PPM candidates all made public pledges of integrity as the UDP launched an ethics policy.

It was revealed that prisoners at HMP Northward were posting on Facebook using smartphones smuggled into the prison. Crime continued throughout the month and even Cayman Brac featured in the crime headlines, as customs officials and police recovered over 100lbs of cocaine in a space of less than two weeks on the south side of the island. The drugs were estimated to have a street value in excess of $6 million.

MAY: The month opened with more alleged white collar crime. The former head of the Pines Retirement Home, Sue Nicholson, left the island under a cloud amid allegations that she had misappropriated significant funds. While the RCIPS say they are continuing the investigation, no arrests have been made. Nicholson’s husband has now paid back the undisclosed missing sums that disappeared during his wife’s tenure. The RCIPS scored a significant result, however, when five men were all convicted of the robbery of Cayman National Bank following a jury trial one year after the daylight heist, in which the men made off with over half a million dollars.

Talks between government and Dart over the NRA Deal and the concessions in the original agreement collapsed ahead of the elections because the government and the developer could not agree on changes to re-balance the deal in favour of the public purse. A report by local management consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers also revealed a number of risks and raised questions about the value of the deal, pointing out that the CIG was down at least $20 million.

A survey on the state of the country’s health found that the people of the Cayman Islands were unfit, overweight and at high risk of chronic non-communicable diseases. Most were not eating the right foods, smoking and drinking too much and not getting enough exercise. More than a third (36.6%) were found to be obese and over 70% overweight.

The $1 million donation given to a Jamaican university that had planned to convey an honorary degree on McKeeva Bush hit the headlines as police said they were looking into the issue. Bush denied any knowledge about the money, which was transferred from a New York bank to the University College of the Caribbean (UCC) but returned when the former premier did not get the degree in the fallout of his arrest.

Meanwhile, the election campaigned heated up as candidates threw dirt at their opponents and hedged their bets on who they would or would not support, as expectations for a coalition government increased. On Election Day just under 80% of voters turned out for what were declared as free and fair elections by observers. The PPM took the majority of seats and quickly invited Julianna O’Connor-Connolly, the only interim Cabinet member re-elected, into the fold and offered her the post of speaker of the House. Tara Rivers, the C4C candidate who came second in the West Bay fight, breaking the UDP stranglehold, was invited by the new premier, Alden McLaughlin, to join his cabinet.

Rivers eventually joined the government, though not the PPM, several days later. Her two C4C colleagues, Winston Connolly and Roy McTaggart, joined the government back benches in what the new premier termed an inclusive government. Bush, whose UDP had managed to win three of the West Bay seats, ousting his former colleagues, Rolston Anglin and Cline Glidden, became opposition leader, as both the independent members, North Side MLA Ezzard Miller and East End MLA Arden McLean, took up their position on the opposition benches but away from the former premier, signalling their opposition not just to government but to the official opposition as well.

Cayman mourned the loss of Edna Moyle, a former speaker of the LA, PPM member and North Side political representative, who was given a full state funeral.

JUNE: As the new government settled into office, Osbourne Bodden made it clear that this administration would not be moving the George Town landfill but would be tackling the garbage pile where it is. Moses Kirkconnell, the new tourism minister, promised two piers in George Town and no upland development for the cruise berthing facility. Finance Minister Marco Archer started on his first budget and the Coalition for Cayman told its candidates, who were now in government, it would be keeping a close eye on them.

Crime continued to be of major concern, with daylight robberies and increasing burglaries. Thieves even stole meat from the Cayman Turtle Farm. Police said they were perpetually dealing with gang-related issues and the commissioner revealed that fights, gun possessions and escalations of tensions when known gang members were released from jail regularly occupy his officers. Operation Tempura, the discredited investigation into police corruption, continued to make news as Martin Bridger, the former lead investigator, made allegations about its handling by Cayman authorities. He claimed that everyone, from the former governor to the attorney general, had been conflicted in the case and had withheld critical information from him and his officers during the probe.

Police procedures came under the spotlight when local activist Sandra Catron won a judicial review over an illegal warrant. The court heard that police officers had asked a justice of the peace to sign a search warrant, even though he had no clue what he was signing and did not understand the alleged crime. He admitted that not only did he not have any understanding of the law but that over the course of two decades he had never refused to sign a search warrant or ever been shown evidence to support them.

On the consumer front, customers felt an even bigger pinch when Caribbean Utilities Company was given permission to increase power rates by 1.8%. The new government introduced a travel policy that saw ministers flying in economy class.

With Governor Duncan Taylor heading for a new position in Mexico, Cayman learned that for the first time a woman had been appointed to the post. In an additionalbreak from tradition, she came not from the Foreign Office but was a public finance expert from the UK’s Home Office.

Meanwhile, the issues over election qualifications hit the headlines when John Hewitt, the husband of Velma Hewitt, the only UDP candidate who failed to win a seat in West Bay at the national poll, filed a petition challenging Tara Rivers’ election. The new education and employment minister's focus moved to the courtroom as a hearing was set for July.

JULY: Crime continue to dog the Cayman Islands; a bus driver was mugged while another man was stabbed in the stomach, as robbers took to ambushing their victims on their doorsteps. Meanwhile, one local police officer was under investigation after allegations were made that he was buying illegal numbers in a local store.

The Elections Office reported that over $1 million was spent by candidates on the election campaign and the new financial services minister, Wayne Panton, was revealed to have been the most significant donor to his own party’s election success. Civil service reform made the headlines and Deputy Governor Franz Manderson said that in future promotions in the public sector would be based on performance and not length of service. In his parting interviews Governor Taylor said his biggest regret was that he was not able to advance reform in the civil service further and increase accountability.

The governor-in-waiting, Helen Kilpatrick, made a flying visit to the islands and promised the people she would listen and learn when she arrived to take up the post in September.

The new government opened talks with Dart regarding the ForCayman Investment Alliance, the NRA Agreement, the West Bay Road closure and the 50% tax concession on accommodation, which Kurt Tibbetts, the minister of Planning, Agriculture, Housing and Infrastructure, announced was not acceptable to the new administration. Meanwhile, the ERA cancelled the award to Dart for power generation in light of the ensuing scandal after Joey Ebanks made allegations that the bid had been fixed for the local developer.

The PPM made the announcement that it would be following through on its election promise to change the rollover policy and push the term limit to ten years (though eventually it was to settle on nine) — passed the point of eligibility to apply for permanent residency, essentially allowing everyone to have a shot at PR.

Stingrays that had been held captive at a local dolphinarium were recovered and released back into the wild by the Department of the Environment in accordance with changes in the law that now protect the local marine creatures.

All eyes were on the courtroom in July, when the election challenge against Tara Rivers began. It was soon revealed that Rivers had been living overseas in the seven years prior to the election and that she held and used an American passport. Nevertheless, the new minister insisted she was qualified. Despite being a co-respondent in the election petition, the attorney general remained largely silent. The government lawyer was placed in a compromising position as a defendant in the Rivers case when he had previously advised the Elections Office that Richard Christian was disqualified to run as a candidate for Bodden Town after he admitted having a US passport.

AUGUST: Cayman did not have long to wait on the decision regarding the Rivers challenge. Chief Justice Anthony Smellie declared in August that Rivers was duly elected. Despite her time spent working overseas before the election and the fact that she has and uses an American passport, the CJ foundd that she was qualified, signalling a new interpretation of the elections law and the constitution. However, shortly after the ruling lawyers acting for Hewitt filed an appeal but because the local law indicates that the Grand Court has the final say in any election challenge, the appeal was eventually thrown out.

Meanwhile, crime continued to plague the community. The RCIPS raised concerns about the number of burglaries and more home invasions by armed villains, and robberies in the tourist district of Seven Mile Beach were reported. However, it was convicted criminals that dominated the headlines in August when Steve Manderson, his son Marcus Manderson and Jamaican national Chadwick Dale all busted out of HMP Northward. The break-out came just weeks after Cayman’s new prison director, Neil Lavis, arrived to take up his post after almost thirty years working in the prison system in the UK. Although Dale and Steve Manderson, who was on his sixth jail break, were captured within a few weeks, Marcus remained on the run for many months and was eventually recaptured in December.

Sex offenders also made the headlines this month. A magistrate handed down a six month jail term to a father who had molested his 8-year-old daughter. The sentence caused outrage in the community and led local activist Sandra Catron to press politicians for a minimum sentence for all sex offender cases. Catron came under investigation herself as a result of her connection with an unofficial register that was naming and shaming sex offenders in contravention of local laws, which seek to protect the names of victims by not naming the offenders. 

A jury found 22-year-old Tareeq Ricketts guilty of the murder of Jackson Rainford. The George Town man was convicted of the killing and possession of an unlicensed firearm after the jury found that the crown had proved Ricketts shot 23-year-old Rainford out of jealousy and anger. Rainford was killed as he sat in the passenger seat of a car just off Sheddon Road in Printers Way, George Town, in December 2012.

Cayman’s Under-15 football players put up a great show as Cayman hosted its first international CONCACAF development tournaments, with a step in the right direction for sports tourism thanks to the influence of Caymanian Jeffrey Webb, who, as president of the regional footballing body, ensured that his country also benefitted from his lofty appointment.

In recognition of his efforts in successfully bringing back Grand Cayman's blue iguana from the brink of extinction, Fred Burton was nominated to receive an international award for animal conservation.

SEPTEMBER:  Crime was a dominant issue through all of 2013 but in September things began to get even worse. The month saw the first murder of the year and a further increase in gun crime and even a car-jacking.

Education Minister Tara Rivers hit the headlines again when CNS revealed that she had missed the start of the new school year, having gone to South Africa for a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference, as the LA opened and just a few weeks after the court case over her qualification for election, which had kept the minister away from her desk.

The public were less than impressed but Rivers reaction caused an even bigger firestorm when she took aim at the press for reporting on her decision to go to Johannesburg, accusing the local media of gender discrimination. On her return she had to deal with another drama in East End, where parents had locked the district primary school in protest over teacher shortages at the beginning of the new school year.

The leader of the opposition’s trial for the alleged misuse of his government credit card, which had been set for March 2014, was postponed and re-set for 8 September 2014.

The police were kept very busy with daylight armed robberies at stores and in the street, with more doorstep muggings in which robbers shot at and eventual hit one of their victims. The worst was yet to come; in what was believed to be a gang-related murder in West Bay, Irvin Bush was gunned down outside his home in Daisy Lane. No one has yet been charged with his killing. Bush was the father of Robert Mackford Bush, who was killed in a spate of gang-related shootings in the district twoyears earlier.

The Cayman Islands was revealed to have one of the highest rates of prisoners per capita in the world, according to research by the International Centre for Prison Studies, coming in at number 20 on the world list out of 223 countries. Nevertheless, the new PPM administration announced its intention to invest $2.1 million in a new police custody suite to lock up more criminals.

Two remand prisoners became longer term residents of Northward after two major convictions and sentences made the headlines. Michael Levitt, who was described as a "sophisticated and calculating criminal", admitted seven counts of theft and related crimes in connection with more than 80 fraudulent transactions from the accounts of law firm Solomon Harris, where he was employed as the financial controller. The 57-year-old South African national stole over US$846,000 from the local legal firm and was handed a seven and a half year sentence.

Serial rapist Jeffery Barnes made the headlines again when he was given a full life sentence after being convicted of a second rape and the embargo on reporting his cases was lifted.

The head of the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) revealed that 971 households in Cayman were receiving some kind of permanent financial support. The agency also helped another 1,795 households with some form of service, from help with elderly relatives to paying one-off bills for families.

The new Cayman Islands governor arrived and announced that, like her predecessor, she intended to operate with a light touch but emphasised the mantra of good governance. Admitting she had a lot to learn and speaking directly to the people, the twelfth governor of the islands and the first woman in that role said she would “work tirelessly” to earn the people’s trust.

The final stretch of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway to West Bay opened as Dart continued in closed door talks with the new government. The Mastic trail won an international award and the World Cup passed through Cayman on its way to Brazil. 

OCTOBER: While September had kept the police busy enough, in October crime reached crisis point and dominated the headlines as cops dealt with three more murders and a string of robberies and muggings.

The killing of Earl Hart in Prospect and Anthony ‘Beenie’ Connor near Mango Tree shook an already fearful community as the level of crimes involving guns climbed to shocking heights. In a month in which the RCIPS started a recruitment drive, Police Commissioner David Baines reportedly cut his three week leave short to answer to Finance Committee, as MLAs called 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.

Things got worse for the RCIPS as the police opened the fourth murder case of the year after the body of 35-year-old Patrick Leonard Williamson was found in a pond close to his home in Spruce Lane, off Courts Road. The police also lost a suspect after he dived into a raging ocean. Anthony White remains missing, although police say he is believed to have left the island.

The RCIPS did get some results to brag about in October when the Cold Case Unit laid charges in a 2008 killing. Chad Anglin, who is serving a five year sentence for indecent assault and wounding, and Leonard Antonio Ebanks, who is serving a life sentence for murder, were charged with the murder of Swiss Banker Frederick Bise, who was killed over five and a half years ago in West Bay.

Three out of four accused men were found guilty in the case of the WestStar TV offices robbery, which took place in May 2012. The men, some of whom were also involved in the CNB robbery, were handed hefty sentences. David Tomasa, who was considered the mastermind in both robberies, and Andre Burton were handed 14 year sentences. Ryan Edwards got 13 years, George Mignot, who was convictedin the bank case but not WestStar, got 12 years, and Rennie Cole was given nine years.

According to a leaked memo, which was sent by the Information and Communications Technology Authority’s director to local telecommunications firms, the Cayman authorities were making plans to widen their spying net and wire taps to include all kinds of electronic information.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office gave the PPM government the nod for its budget, with a more than $100 million surplus. Despite a great deal of opposition and misunderstanding about changes to the immigration law, government steered through legislation removing the seven year term limit and allowing all ex-pat workers who stay in Cayman for eight years to apply for permanent residency.

However, Tara Rivers failed to show up to the LA for the critical debate, sending word that she was unwell and unable to attend. Veteran PPM backbencher Anthony Eden joined the opposition benches and voted ‘no’ to the government’s change due to his concern that more than 1,500 exemption permit holders were allowed to remain. Government promised to help locals find work ahead of the controversial changes and the decision to allow those term limit exemption permit holders to stay.

Pension issues hit the headlines again. Three years after completing a report on the appalling state of pension delinquency in the private sector, the complaints commissioner revealed that things had got worse. Nicola Williams said the number of delinquent bosses had increased by 70%, with tens of millions of dollars now missing from pension funds. Shortly afterwards, Employment Director Mario Ebanks revealed that delinquent pension bosses would be named and shamed, with the details of their alleged offences uploaded onto the National Pensions Office website.

Before the month was out Cabinet backed plans to move ahead with the development of two berthing piers in George Town, despite a number of questions regarding the business case and very real fears for the environment and in particular the future of Seven Mile Beach.

NOVEMBER: While crime remained a pressing concern and dominated the headlines, Cayman’s moves towards more transparency in the financial services industry were also at the forefront of the news stories in November. Mark Simmonds, the UK’s overseas territories minister, made his first visit to Cayman and said he was impressed by the new government’s budget plans. His visit came against the backdrop of CIG signing a Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) agreement with the US and a similar agreement with the UK. The government also began a consultation period on how the jurisdiction would tackle the issue of beneficial ownership disclosure.

Meanwhile, robberies muggings and burglaries continued and police opened the fifth murder case of the year when local businessman Perry Steven McLaughlin was allegedly killed by his girlfriend at his home in Little Cayman. In another shocking first, Little Cayman also fell victim to armed robbers when five masked men held up the mini-mart store in Blossom Village and stole the cash pan, ran off and boarded a ‘fast vessel’. The five men were quickly arrested off the coast of East End and all of them were later bailed but no charges have yet been brought in the case.

Things got worse for the RCIPS when one of their own went on trial accused of bribery. However, the case against Elvis Kelsey Ebanks was adjourned part way through when the judge was forced to discharge the jury because of a legal procedural issue. The case against three men charged with conspiring to rob the George Town branch of Scotiabank also collapsed part way through after the judge questioned the credibility of the crown’s only key witness and threw the case out.

Aat the prison the seizures of drugs and other contraband continued when officials turned up thirteen phones and chargers during various searches. Prison Director Neil Lavis said efforts to control drugs, booze and phones in the prison were being frustrated by members of the public who continued to try to smuggle items to inmates or throw them over the double-perimeter fences.

PricewaterhouseCoopers said the development of a cruise berthing facilities would cost around $100 million and it would take whoever develops the port 20 years for them to recoup their investment. Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell set out the plans for the project and made it clear the PPM government wanted to work with a consortium of cruise lines to avoid a monopoly and that it had campaigned on putting the dock in the capital.

Hopes that Cayman Enterprise City (CEC) would boost government coffers were dashed when documents revealed that the initiative has barely covered the costs of setting up and running of the Special Economic Zone’s authority. Billed as a potential new economic pillar for Cayman, there is still no sign of the promised campus and the predicted earnings for the public purse have failed to materialize.

As Cayman’s first information commissioner, Jennifer Dilbert, headed toward her retirement, she continued to expose dire shortcomings when it came to public authorities properly following the freedom of information law. Finding many procedural issues, she pointed to “appalling record keeping” by public authorities and agencies and raised concerns about the perception being created that government was deliberately hiding documents.

Local business man and architect and upright law abiding citizen Burns Connolly launched a campaign to lobby for the legalization of medicinal ganja. The Human Rights Commission warned that government needed to tackle the issue of mandatory life sentences before it was forced to adopt an inappropriate model for Cayman as the concept of whole life sentences runs contrary to Cayman’s own Bill of Rights.

The government made a decision to move the beginning of its fiscal year from 1 July to match the calendar year and to introduce multi-year budgeting, which will see an 18 month budget delivered at the end of this fiscal year followed by a two-year budget on 1 January 2016. The controversial Nation Building Fund (NBF) hit the headlines again when the government revealed that some students had received three and a half times the maximum scholarship given to students through the normal procedures. Some students related to key UDP members were revealed to have received annual grants of almost $70,000.

The Cayman Turtle Farm admitted that it should not be releasing its farmed turtles into the wild without putting the animals through a more vigorous quarantine and health screening process. As a result, despite having more than 8,000 turtles at the facility, the annual release, which the CTF highlights as part of its conservation credentials, did not go ahead in 2013.

DECEMBER: The last month of the year was dominated by the National Conservation Law and the polarization of those for and against. After a long debate and hours of wrangling at the committee stage, Environment Minister Wayne Panton made history when he finally steered the NCL through the Legislative Assembly with full support from across the floor.

There was little let-up on the crime front though, with more robberies and burglaries. The RCIPS Stay Alive road safety campaign recorded 32 road crashes in its first ten days. One man caused havoc at the peak of the tourist season ahead of the Christmas holidays with a Saturday evening bomb hoax

Nelson Mandela, the founding president of the new South Africa, died at his home aged 95. As the entire world mourned his passing, Cayman opened a condolence books on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac.

Local attorney Anthony Akiwumi argued that the closure of the West Bay Road was an unconstitutional ‘fait accompli’ which gave the people of the Cayman Islands no right of appeal and lacked transparency when heopened the case for four West Bay ladies who filed a legal challenge to the closure. The plaintiffs are currently awaiting a decision by justice Alex Henderson in the case. 

Regardless of the new more cordial relationship with the UK, the Cayman Islands Government began a new fight with Britain over the future of Cayman-specific British passports and the ability of the local passport office to issue emergency passports, especially to those who are in need of overseas medical attention. Premier Alden McLaughlin said he had “some grave concerns” about the UK government’s plans to replace local, non-biometric variant passports in its territories with British biometric ones.

The United Democratic Party (UDP) came to an end in December, when party officials announced plans to ratify a change in its name at the party conference in the New Year. The new Cayman Islands Democratic Party (CDP) was registered under the Elections Law (2013 revision) as a political party to replace the UDP, which was formed in 2001 by the opposition leader and former premier, McKeeva Bush.

Christmas lunch was in question for many families when power outages across George Town and parts of Bodden Town disrupted preparations and the holiday festivities.

Meanwhile, despite extensive sea searches, authorities were unable to find a missing cruise ship passenger who is believed to have fallen overboard on New Year’s Eve some 13 miles off the coast of Grand Cayman as the ship approached George Town harbour.

There were no top royal gongs for Caymanians in the Queen’s New Year’s honours list, revealed on 31 December. However, despite a year dominated by rising crime, UK national David Baines, the police commissioner, was awarded an OBE for services to policing in the Cayman Islands.

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