Archive for January 29th, 2014

LA adjourned early, ethics debate set for Thursday

| 29/01/2014 | 3 Comments

(CNS): Government managed to get through only a limited amount of business Wednesday since the speaker was unable to attend the Legislative Assembly as a result of illness. Although Anthony Eden, the deputy speaker, was able to step in for the morning, a funeral appointment in his constituency prevented him from presiding over the afternoon session, leading to an adjournment before members began the much anticipated debate on the new Standards in Public Life Bill. That is now expected to be dealt with on Thursday. Three private members motions dealing with a minimum wage, the introduction of 'one man, one vote' and changes to the customs law will also now be pushed to another sitting.

Despite a packed order paper, government only managed to lay a few reports on the table, deal with just one parliamentary question and pass amendments to the police law and the criminal procedure code as a result of the early adjournment. Two government motions regarding a rezoning application and Cayman’s latest tax information exchange deals were also left unaddressed.

During the briefing debate on the police bill, following the explanation from Attorney General Samuel Bulgin that the law had to be amended to make it compatible with the Bill of Rights, the member for North Side raised concerns over the constant legislative changes to help the police without any results.

Ezzard Miller said he would support the change but he questioned what was happening, as every time he saw the news judges were throwing out cases because of incompetence somewhere along the line from the police or prosecutors. He said just about every law that could be amended had been to help combat crime but it was still increasing. Miller said legislators had to believe that what they were doing was helping. While he said he was prepared to vote for the change, government must look at what is happening in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and with the police to give people some assurance that it is not a case of incompetence driving all the legislative changes.

“Every time we are here we seem to be amending the law to help the police but my community has no police and the criminals are running wild,” he added.

Meanwhile, his colleague Arden McLean, the independent member for East End, also voiced concerns and queried how government could implement the Constitution and a year later pass a police law that was incompatible with it, as he pointed the finger at the Attorney General. He said many times he and other members of the LA have brought potential anomalies to the attention of the official member but as they were not lawyers their concerns were not listened to. But here they were again, having to amend laws because the ones that were supposed to know weren’t getting it right. McLean said it was the AG's responsibility to ensure the laws conform to the constitution.

Premier Alden McLaughlin spoke briefly on the issue and said the Constitution was working as expected and that there was no way that any government could expect not to find some circumstances where incompatibility would occur. He pointed out how old the US constitution is and yet the laws still face constant challenges in the courts there.

The AG also dismissed the comments from the independent members and said that jurisprudence was evolving and as such there would always be a need to amend laws to ensure constitutional compatibility.

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Alden to face HARDtalk

| 29/01/2014 | 97 Comments

(CNS): Although the Cayman Islands premier recently accused the local media of wanting to take "pot shots" at government when he made it clear that regular press briefings are now a thing of the past, Alden McLaughlin is, however, set to make an appearance on one of the BBC’s flagship interview programmes, where he is likely to face more than pot shots. Leaving for London on Friday evening for a conference on combating global corruption, where he is delivering a keynote address next week, the premier will also be taping an interview for HARDtalk with host Stephen Sackur (left), following an invitation to talk about Cayman’s tax haven label, among other issues.

In a release from his office McLaughlin said he was “humbled to have been asked to appear on HARDtalk to tell not only Cayman’s story, but that of the other overseas territories,” as it is understood he will be the first OT leader to appear on the show and face Sackur’s pointed questions.

“It’s a pretty big stage,” said thepremier. “It’s my honour to represent the Cayman Islands and the overseas territories. We all have a good story to tell,” he added.

Topics to be discussed include Cayman’s status as an international finance centre, the use of the term “tax haven”, international efforts to curb tax avoidance, banking regulation in the Cayman Islands and reported recent tensions between Caymanians and the expat community.

While in London, the premier, who will be travelling with the Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose and Senior Political Advisor Roy Tatum, also plans to meet with officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The main purpose of the visit, however, is for McLaughlin to deliver an address at the corruption conference hosted by Chatham House, "Combating Global Corruption: Shared Standards and Common Practice", which is being held on Monday and Tuesday, 3-4 February. McLaughlin will address Session Five of the conference, "Recovering the Proceeds of Corruption".

The premier said he was delighted to accept the Chatham House invitation and for the opportunity to tell the world of the successes of the Cayman Islands on the global financial stage.

“It’s rare that a leader of a UK territory has the opportunity to address anti-corruption initiatives from a global perspective,” McLaughlin added.

This conference will examine action to tackle global corruption and consider the role of governments and businesses. Participants and speakers will critically assess current and emerging international efforts and consider their consequences for future business practice and governance.

Chatham House is home to the Royal Institute for International affairs, an independent think tank and organisation that analyzes, informs and influences debate on the hope for a prosperous and secure world for all. Engaging governments, the private sector, civil society and members about developments in international affairs, it produces analysis of critical global, regional and country-specific challenges and opportunities and puts forward possible solutions on the world stage.

Other keynote speakers at the conference include Angel Gurria, Secretary General for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; Dr Mo Ibrahim, Founder and Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation; and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance, Nigeria.

During the absence of McLaughlin and Rose, Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell will be the acting premier and Robert Lewis will act as the cabinet secretary.

Officials said McLaughlin will depart on Friday, 31 January, but did not state when he is expected to return. The interview with the BBC will take place on Tuesday but no date has been confirmed for when the show will air.

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3rd fuel supplier considered

| 29/01/2014 | 30 Comments

(CNS): Government appears to be in preliminary discussions regarding the possibility of a third fuel supplier for the island to enable CUC to source cheaper diesel. Kurt Tibbetts told his legislative colleagues that government believes competition would provide the best avenue for addressing the problem of high fuel costs, and although there was nothing yet to report, the possibility of allowing CUC to find a cheaper supplier and to facilitate a new terminal and moorings was under discussion. The revelations came during question time in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday when the planning minister confirmed that ESSO's Caribbean assets, including those in Cayman, have been sold to Simpson Oil Ltd (SOL).

Following the question about the change of ownership of Exxon Mobil-ESSO posed by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, Tibbetts explained that the government had learned only as a matter of rumour that the company was being sold. When the chief petroleum inspector checked the website, he discovered that SOL had acquired Exxon-Esso's Cayman assets. He then called the firm, which confirmed the deal had been finalized earlier this month and it was now in the legal process of making the necessary changes and applications to the Trade and Business Licensing Board.

Tibbetts confirmed that government had not been informed about the sale and no one here was advised of the transaction until the CPI asked.

This sale comes in the wake of the sale of Chevron-Texaco to Rubis and will see the branding at ESSO stations changed to SOL in the coming weeks in the same way that Texaco was transferred to Rubis.

Answering further questions from both Bush and the member for East End, Arden McLean, about price and competition, Tibbetts revealed that government had met with both Rubis and Esso, now SOL, and had engaged in myriad discussion on a number of different issues.

When it came to price, he said government understood there were no simple solutions but a policy decision had been taken that competition would be the best way to address prices for the benefit of the public. He said government was now looking "earnestly" at how that can happen beyond the existing competition between the two firms and pointed to CUC.

"I can't disclose any specific details as those details don't exist yet," he said, noting that a huge part of the fuel consumed on Grand Cayman was used by CUC. He implied that was where government was considering expanding competition. He confirmed that within reasonable terms, government was prepared to allow CUC to purchase diesel elsewhere if interested parties were identified.

The minister also stated that as the current mooring, distribution equipment and terminal is owned by one of the two existing oil companies, government would not stand in the way of a new facility if it was required.

Following the legislative session, CNS contacted CUC for comment about the revelations from Tibbetts but the president, Richard Hew, gave nothing away. Pointing to the trend globally of big oil companies concentrating on exploration, extraction and refining of oil and moving out of terminal operations, retailing and marketing the terminals, he said that the retail operations locally have now also been sold to regional operators.

“CUC anticipates continued reliable service and competitive pricing from both companies,” he said referring to SOL and Rubis. “As to whether it would make sense to have more fuel providers on island, this would be a commercial decision taken by any potential provider looking at cost to setup infrastructure and to operate against the potential price and volume of fuel sales on the island,” he said, indicating that any new oil terminal or supply line would be paid for by the supplier rather than CUC.

With few details coming from either government or CUC on the possibility of expanding competition in the oil industry for such a small jurisdiction, there may be no cause for concern. But the idea of encouraging more fossil fuel consumption may prove to be at odds with other government efforts to move to greener alternative fuels.

Answering further questions about the oil companies’ responsibilities for environmental issues relating to spills and potential contamination, Tibbetts said that the change in name of the local companies control license held by ESSO, which would be transferred to SOL, was not necessarily a time when government could renegotiate the terms of the licence. He explained that the licence held by ESSO, which will pass to SOL, is almost identical to that held by Rubis and it would not be possible to re-negotiate one without putting the other at an unfair advantage.

He did state, however, that the CPI was keeping a close eye on the possibility for spills and environmental damage.

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Burglars steal West Bay Fire Station puppy

| 29/01/2014 | 52 Comments

Cayman Islands News(CNS): A five month old Rottweiler puppy was stolen from the West Bay Fire Station during a break-in this weekend when staff were on call and local police are asking for help from the community to locate the young dog, known as Rambo. He was stolen from his cage within station on Saturday, 25 January, sometime between 10am and 1:15pm, when Rambo's owner was away from the station. The puppy is black and brown with a short tail and black markings running through the brown down to his paws. He has some very curly hair on his back close to his tail and was wearing a black nylon collar at the time of the theft.

His owners say that he is very friendly and they are extremely distressed by the theft. They are keen to get Rambo back as quickly as possible, an RCIPS spokesperson stated in a release about the missing fire station pet.

Cayman Islands News

Detective Constable Emma Twydell is appealing for anyone who was in the area of the fire station last Saturday, and saw anything suspicious, to come forward. She is also keen to hear about anyone who has recently acquired a Rottweiler puppy or from anyone who has been offered a puppy for sale.

Information can be passed to DC Twydell at West Bay CID on 3241970 or by email emma.twydell@rcips.ky.

The picture above is of Rambo at just four weeks old the picture posted right is an image of another Rottweiler of the right age and a similar appearance to Rambo as the owners have not yet been able to supply an up to date image.
 

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Developers seek free tyres for golf course

| 29/01/2014 | 0 Comments

(CNS Business): While the Cayman Islands government is looking for proposals from qualified parties to purchase and remove the growing mountain of used tyres which have accumulated at the landfills on Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands, developers behind a proposed massive mixed-use project in the eastern districts are hoping to get them for free. Government recently began the hunt for a firm that will be able to remove and recycle the tyres at its three landfills and earn some much needed cash for the public purse at the same time. However, the investors behind the Ironwood project in Frank Sound want the tyres for their proposed golf course. Read more on CNS Business

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Ethics bill placed on LA agenda

| 29/01/2014 | 11 Comments

(CNS):Following the revelations in the auditor general’s most recent reports that there is a failure among government departments, and in particular its statutory authorities and government companies, regarding ethics and values, the passage of the Standards in Public Life bill will come as a rude awakening for some board members and government employees. The bill is set down on today’s agenda, when members of the Legislative Assembly meet at the country’s parliament to debate this as well as two police bills. The long awaited ethics law will raise the bar for everyone who has a part to play in government. Replacing the Register of Interest Law, it will widen the net of public officers who will need to disclose their interests.

All public officers holding the post of heads of departments, sections and units or more senior positions plus those acting in those positions, as well as board members of statutory authorities, government companies and constitutionally created commissions, candidates nominated for election, and both elected and official members will all need to declare their interests.

“This bill ensures that conflicts of interests are properly addressed,” said Alden McLaughlin, the premier of the Cayman Islands. “I think this is a very important piece of legislation and part of the infrastructure of good governance.”

Divided into eight parts dealing with standards in public life, conflicts of interest, register of interest, powers of investigations, and the appointment, responsibilities and compensation of boards, the bill formerly adopts the seven principles of public life, known as the Nolan Principles.

This required public servants to follow principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

“The bill is needed to ensure businesses and investors who want to do business in the Cayman Islands that persons in public life are held to the highest standards; therefore, reducing the opportunity for corruption,” McLaughlin said in a release from his office on the eve of the legislation coming before the Assembly.

Certain of passage, the law has been in the works for some four years after the 2009 Constitution established a Commission for Standards in Public Lifeto supervise the operation of registers and to investigate breaches of established standards in public life. The law, once passed, will enable that commission to meet its constitutional mandate.

“It’s taken a long time to come, but this administration is determined that we pass this legislation to ensure good governance in the Cayman Islands,” McLaughlin added.
The bill will require that within 90 days of assuming office and annually thereafter anyone with any responsibility in public life to declare their income, assets and liabilities, not just for themselves now but for connected people and family members.

In the case of candidates for elections, the declaration must be made before filing nomination papers. Annual declarations will be made within 30 days of the last day of June, beginning on 30 June, 2014, and will be available for public inspection at the Commission Secretariat. It is anticipated that the Commission will also make them available via its website.

This will be a huge improvement on the current situation regarding political representatives. While they do fill in forms that are filed at the Legislative Assembly, anyone wishing to see must make an appointment and no one is allowed to make any copies of the documents contained in the file.

The bill also covers the appointment of board members to ensure that they have the skills, knowledge and integrity to carry out the duties required of the position in a highly competent and politically neutral manner and that they also avoid any direct conflicts. Members of boards will be required to include in a declaration any interest where there is a possible or perceived conflict with their function on the relevant board.

Outlining how to handle conflicts that arise during the course of a meeting or a person in public life’s day-to-day work, the bill also allows for the removal of board members in instances where it is unsuitable for that person to continue to serve or a conflict of interest has arisen that would bring disrepute to the board.

Once passed, the law will give the commission powers of investigation over people suspected of  breaching the law, based on the commission’s own initiative or from allegations made to the commission. The commission will be able to summon witnesses, require the production of reports, documents, etc, and take any other such necessary actions needed. Another important factor is the lawful protection of whistle-blowers, as detailed in the Freedom of Information Law.

It will be an offence to refuse to make a declaration, file a false declaration or fail to provide or provide false information to the commission during an enquiry. The bill allows for fines ranging from $100 a day to $50,000 and/or terms of imprisonment of two years depending on the breach. A member of the Legislative Assembly may be suspended from sitting and voting if ordered by the Assembly for a breach of the bill.

See bill attached

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UK charity warns of more risks over GM mosquitos

| 29/01/2014 | 11 Comments

(CNS): Plans to release millions of GM mosquitoes in Panama, produced by the UK-based Oxitec, which released the lab created insects in Grand Cayman several years ago, have been criticised by the UK-based NGO GeneWatch as they say the public has not been informed about the risks. Not unlike the projectin the Cayman Islands, where the modified male mosquitoes were released in East End with little explanation to residents, GeneWatch said no information about the possible downsides of the experiments has been provided to the people living where the insects are due to be released next month. While Oxitec has denied any risk, the NGO said it now has documents that show this is untrue.

GeneWatch has also released a draft risk assessment, which was provided by Oxitec to the US Department of Agriculture in 2011, which has not previously been published, showing that the company itself admits there are risks.

These include the risks that more invasive Asian Tiger (Aedes albopictus) mosquitoes move into the area, and that the number of cases of potentially fatal Dengue Haemorraghic Fever (DHF) could possibly increase.

“Local people in Panama must be asked for their fully informed consent before these experiments begin,” said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK. “This means the risks must not be hidden by the company. People must be able to discuss the pros and cons of these experiments and have a right to have their say.”

None of the residents in East End were consulted when the local Mosquito Research and Control Unit in Grand Cayman teamed up with the Oxford-based firm to release the test tube mosquitoes here, and though the experiment was not secret, none of the possible risks associated with introducing a modified insect into the local environment were revealed.

Oxitec’s GM Aedes aegypti mosquitoes have been genetically programmed to die at the larval stage. They are bred in the lab in the presence of an antidote to the genetic killing mechanism, then vast numbers of males are released into the environment so they outnumber the wild males and mate with wild females. Because most of the offspring die before adulthood, this is intended to reduce the wild population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry the tropical disease dengue fever.

Cayman was Oxitec's first open release experiment of GM mosquitoes in 2009-10, followed by a smaller experiment in Malaysia in 2010-11. Larger-scale experiments began in Brazil in February 2011 and are ongoing.

“Despite repeated claims of success made by Oxitec in the press, no results from the Brazil experiments have yet been published in scientific journals,” GeneWatch said in a release. “Impacts on dengue fever have not been measured or reported.”

Wallace said that mosquitoes are part of a complex system, which includes other mosquito species, the viruses they carry and the humans they bite.

“Local people should be aware that releasing large numbers of GM mosquitoes can pose risks to their health and the environment. They also need to know who will be liable if anything goes wrong – will Oxitec take responsibility for any problems, or just walk away?” she asked.

GeneWatch said local people should be told about the risks acknowledged in a draft risk assessment submitted by Oxitec to the USDA, which includes the impact on mosquito populations in general and the possibility that mosquito numbers in areas neighbouring the trials could increase, the impact on dengue fever as no evidence supports a reduction in the fever, and the accidental release of biting females.

The survival and spread of the GM mosquitoes' offspring and their interaction with existing and different mosquitoes is also a risk.

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Joey admits drugs charges

| 29/01/2014 | 32 Comments

(CNS): Following his admissions regarding seventeen charges relating to theft, forgery and deception on Friday, the former Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) director, Joey Ebanks, has now also admitted to taking cocaine. In another about face following earlier denials, Ebanks pleaded guilty in Summary Court on Tuesday to drug consumption charges. When he was originally arrested regarding the theft allegations relating to his time as the managing director of the ERA, when he pilfered over $100,000 worth of iPads, iPhones and cash, he was also accused of cocaine use and possession of related paraphernalia. Having come clean in Grand Court, Ebanks has also admitted the drug offences.

According to reports on Cayman27, after submitting his new pleas, Ebanks, who remains on bail, told reporters that he had found God, which was why he changed his pleas. Ebanks had, however, always claimed strong Christian faith, which he emphasised during the recent election campaign when he ran as an independent candidate for North Side, especially on his paid-to-air evening talk show, which ran for several weeks ahead of the national vote.

Ebanks had also spent a considerable amount of time on his Facebook page, which has since disappeared, claiming his innocence and accusing the authorities and others of conspiring against him because, he claimed, he had evidence of corruption in high places. Ebanks had originally implied that the positive drug test against him had been fixed and insisted he would demonstrate that he was an innocent victim caught up in a high level conspiracy.

Ebanks is expected to be sentenced in March in connection with all of the charges he has now admitted.

No stranger to controversy, Ebanks had already faced the finger of suspicion regarding financial issues at the Cayman Turtle Farm when he was the MD there before the 2009 General Elections. However, the authorities failed to take action over the irregularities highlighted by the Office of the Auditor General. 

Ebanks ran for political office in North Side in 2009 with the PPM but lost to Ezzard Miller. However, after the elections he switched political allegiance and began courting the UDP and was later given another public sector post with the top job at the ERA.

He is accused of embezzling money by claiming false travel expenses, forging signatures on cheques and purchasing almost $70,000 worth of iPads and iPhones with public money, which he has admitted were passed on to others.

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