Archive for February 13th, 2014

Local passports to retain country’s name

Local passports to retain country’s name

| 13/02/2014 | 67 Comments

(CNS): Fears that Cayman passports would lose their unique identity have been alleviated, the premier has stated, following discussions with the UK’s passport officials. Following announcements that the British were repatriating the production and issuance of its overseas territories' passports to make them bio-metric, concerns were raised that the OT passports would no longer identify the territory the holders came from. However, Alden McLaughlin said he was given assurances that those issued to Cayman Islands residents would continue to bear the country’s name.

“They will be bespoke passports, meaning the country’s name will still be on the front cover,” McLaughlin said. “I feel a bit more comfortable about that,” he added, after he had been particularly concerned about the implications of what many saw as a retrograde step in Cayman’s move towards more autonomy and the modernisation of its relationship with the UK.

The Cayman Islands authorities will also retain control of passport applications and distribution and the ability to produce emergency passports locally. The country has about two years’ of stock for emergency passports.

Once the UK begins printing OT passports, Cayman passport applicants will enter their information here and it will be transmitted to the UK using secure technology. The passports will then be printed in the UK and returned to the Cayman Islands Passport Office where they will be distributed.

Last year the UK set a deadline of December 2014 for the repatriation of passport printing for all overseas territories. The UK-printed passports will be biometric. Passports issued in the Cayman Islands do not have the biometric features.

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Work underway to upgrade sports facilities on Brac

Work underway to upgrade sports facilities on Brac

| 13/02/2014 | 28 Comments

(CNS): The tourism minister is hopeful that Cayman Brac can also benefit from the sport tourism boom. From CONCACAF tournaments and beach volleyball to ultra-marathons and international kite surfing contests, Grand Cayman is attracting competitors, officials and fans in variety of sports but Moses Kirkconnell is also pushing through upgrades in his Sister Islands constituency, with improvements to the Brac playing field which will enable international football matches to be played there. The minister responsible for district administration and tourism has around a half million dollars allocated for the upgrades in the 2013/14 budget.

The contract to construct three changing room buildings, a cistern and a parking area was tendered in December and has been awarded to locally-based Dixon Construction. Building works are expected to finish in June 2014

Kirkconnell said the new amenities were necessary for the creation of sports tourism-related opportunities and were an important part of the government’s vision for stimulating economic growth in the Sister Islands.

“The PPM government has an established record of sports development which includes the installation of the FIFA-certified artificial turf surface at the Cayman Brac Playing Field, portable fencing, temporary bleachers, tents, flag poles and shelters, which have all been provided and future works will include one additional changing room to bring the total number to four,” he said. “These enhancements have opened up a myriad of opportunities for Cayman Brac, including the ability to host CONCACAF and other international tournaments in the future.”

The minister confirmed that construction of an entry road to the facility and the provision of an IAAF Athletics Track will be undertaken as part of future development plans.

Work completed to date includes FIFA-standard sports complex lighting, which allows teams to practice beyond early evening and matches to be played after dark. The four pole perimeter system is currently angled to provide 800 lux illumination, which closely replicates daylight and is preferred by television broadcast networks, officials said.

“I am very excited about the upgrades at the playing field and view the funding to provide these amenities as a necessary investment and a great community service,” Kirkconnell said. “The new buildings and enhancements will significantly improve the atmosphere at games and will hopefully encourage more spectators to watch the matches and come out to support their family members and friends."

Around $550,000 was allocated in FY13/14 budget to complete contract payments on the playing field lights as well as to improve the facility, install fencing, bleachers, tents, flag poles, officials and team shelters and FIFA goal posts.

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Planes unaffected by smoky conditions

Planes unaffected by smoky conditions

| 13/02/2014 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Although the smoke coming from the George Town dump caused some minor discomfort to people around the airport for a couple of hours today, officials from the Cayman Islands Airports Authority (CIAA) confirmed that flight operations were not affected. Although there was reduced visibility, flights took off and landed as normal. The afternoon rain helped to minimize the smoke that was billowing towards the airport area and as a preventative measure the CIAA used ventilation fans to enhance the circulation of air in the check-in concourse. They also closed some of the doors in an effort to prevent smoke from entering that area.

Facial masks were made available to airport staff but inspections of the terminal and consultation with airport partners led to the determination by the airport authority that with only a faint smell of smoke it was not unbearable for employees or passengers.

However, the CIAA said it would continue to closely monitor the situation in consultation with the Fire Service.

Meanwhile, CUC closed its doors to customers at the North Sound offices as a result of the massive amount of smoke around the industrial area and the Water Authority closed early. The Cayman international School, which is located very close to the landfill, was closed from this morning and Hope Academy at Grand Harbour also closed as a result of the shifting winds that began driving smoke east.

The fire service has confirmed it could still be a few more days before the fire is completely extinguished but it is now contained and controlled by fire crews.

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Archer takes C4C to task

Archer takes C4C to task

| 13/02/2014 | 78 Comments

(CNS): The finance minister has said that it is now “undeniable that public finances are improving”, as he hit back at the recent over-simplistic view from the Coalition for Cayman of what they believe is government’s poor performance when it comes to cutting back on public spending. In a lengthy response sent to the media, Marco Archer took the group to task over their criticisms of government’s record so far and made some important criticisms of his own about the failures of the private sector employers that have left government to pick up the tab on inadequate pay, pension and health benefits. Archer also said government wouldn’t balance the budget on the backs of the poor and the elderly.

Going through the C4C’s recent assessment of the budget, which was published in a paid-for advertorial in the Compass last week and sent to CNS and other media at the weekend, Archer made some interesting observations about the C4C’s demands that civil service benefits needed to line up with the private sector.

The minister questioned whether the C4C had any study or empirical evidence that the benefits provided by private sector employers were enough to “allow their employees to retire with dignity and not become dependent on government” or that the healthcare coverage allowed "their employees to access needed care without government assistance?” 

Archer pointed out that some of the government expenditures that C4C is criticised were as a result of its moral responsibility to local people who were in difficulty, stemming from their employers' focus solely on minimizing costs and increasing profits without adequate regard for their employees and their future needs.

“At the end of the day, C4C should be realistic; not everyone can take care of themselves. If they plan to run a government that doesn’t take into consideration the most vulnerable of our society, then they have a very bleak outlook for human kind,” Archer said of the political group that many see as being a special interest group representing Cayman’s wealthier local business owners.

“In all societies there will be those who need government assistance to exist,” Archer noted in his response. “It’s something this government realises and even more, understands and fully intends to taper these benefits with welfare to work programmes as the economy continues to improve.”

He admitted that government spending as much as $18 million annually to provide overseas medical care for people who are deemed medically indigent was a significant sum but he noted why they needed the help.

“Many of those people worked their entire lives but were not provided with sufficient benefits to take care of themselves in their retirement years,” he said, adding that government had a moral and a financial obligation to care for these people.

“The Progressives government will continue to examine ways to reduce public sector costs,” he stated, but said it would do so with due regard to the consequences of those actions.

The finance minister said government, too, believes in a hand up as opposed to a hand out, but said it could not "balance the budget solely on the backs of the poor and the elderly.”

Social reform, Archer pointed out, is a multifaceted effort with intervention in several areas and it was not addressed by simply cutting off assistance to those in need.

The minister also noted the contradictions made by the C4C in their assessment of the budget and where they believed government was going wrong.

The C4C told government it needs to make provision for the unfunded liabilities it faced from pensions and health care for civil servant pensioners and to replace the budget cuts for the financial sector and tourism. At the same time it called for government to roll back fees. It also called for a massive reduction in the civil service headcount while acknowledging the damage to the economy the mass civil service lay-offs they are calling for would do, not just to the individuals who lose their jobs but to the wider economy.

“The Progressives government has been in office for a mere 8 months, yet the recommendation is to collect less revenue by rolling back fees, whilst simultaneously increasing the expenditure on Tourism and Financial Services. This is an amazing recommendation by the C4C, which we are sure is not one that the proponents employ in their own businesses,” Archer said in his lengthy response to the C4C critics.

“Government is grounded in reality and fully intends to make good on its promises of first stabilising finances and then rolling back certain fees,” he added as he pointed out it would be done systematically without  putting the country in an unsustainable position of further deficits.

“It should be noted that the government managed to use only CI$2 million of the approved CI$44 million overdraft facility in the 2013/14 fiscal year. Therefore, it is undeniable that public finances are improving, costs are being reduced, cash reserves are growing. Continued prudence is what is required; not magical equations, rhetoric and grandstanding,” he added.

See Archer’s full response to the C4C’s criticisms of government’s management of public finances.

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Chef found guilty in jealousy-fuelled brawl

Chef found guilty in jealousy-fuelled brawl

| 13/02/2014 | 11 Comments

(CNS): The executive sous chef at a local restaurant in Camana Bay has been found guilty of wounding after he broke a man’s jaw during a brawl at a gas station on the West Bay Road last year. Visiting judge Justice Malcolm Swift found that Michael Joseph Fischetti had punched Edenis Miguel Rives hard enough to knock him out and break his jaw, even though the man was trying to get away. Fischetti was convicted following a three day judge-alone trial before Justice Swift last week in connection with the incident, which took place in the early hours of 16 March last year, when the jealous chef over-reacted after he saw his girlfriend embrace male friends at the gas station in greeting.

The judge described the meeting, which was seen by the court on the gas station’s  CCTV footage, as “quite harmless and normal” but Fischetti, who was waiting outside in a taxi for his girlfriend, didn’t see it that way and told the police after his arrest that the man was “grabbing on my girlfriend”. The judge said the defendant completely misread the situation and was provoked into a jealous reaction. He quickly made his way inside, where he confronted the man he was later to punch so hard he broke his jaw.

“I am completely satisfied that Mr Fischetti brought this whole unhappy situation about andwas entirely responsible for causing the brawl which ensued,” the judge said in his verdict.

The men all began arguing in the gas station as Fischetti was said by witnesses to have hurled allegations at the two men who had greeted his girlfriend and threatened to kill them. This triggered a fight as the complainant’s cousin punched the chef; the men and others around them piled outside the gas station store, while the melee continued both in front of and away from TV cameras, with the men throwing punches.

At some point, however, the CCTV records Rives backing away from Fischetti, as the chef ran across the forecourt towards him. The fight continued out of the view of the CCTV but according to witnesses Fischetti pursued the complainant and finally caught up with him to land the critical blow, which is said to have knocked Rives out cold and broken his jaw.

Although Fishcetti had claimed self-defence during his police interview, he did not give evidence from the dock, relying on the account he gave after his arrest that he had been punched by people in the fight and he was hitting out at anyone to defend himself.

However, given the CCTV evidence and that of other witnesses, the judge disagreed. He found that Fischetti provoked the fight with his jealous reaction and, despite being hit himself, his pursuit of Rives across the forecourt could not amount to self-defence as the danger was over. A threat no longer exists, the judge noted, "when the person is running away.”

“I saw the defendant on the CCTV chasing a retreating complainant. He was in hot pursuit,” the judge said. “I am satisfied that by this time the defendant had lost his self-control and was intending to hit the complainant,” he added as he delivered his guilty verdict.

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Weather assists fire crews

Weather assists fire crews

| 13/02/2014 | 17 Comments

(CNS): A switch in the wind direction and a little welcome rain all helped in the battle of the dump fire Thursday morning, when crews were able to work upwind of the smoke coming off the fire, which continues to blaze deep under the surface of Mount Trashmore. Weather conditions were in the fire fighters' favour and after battling throughout the night to keep the dump saturated, crews were able to control the blaze. Acting fire chief Rosworth McLaughlin explained that his men would spend Thursday attempting to penetrate beneath the surface and dampen the internal blaze. The crews are working in tandem with the Department of Environmental Health (DEH) to turn the rubbish and saturate deep inside the mountain of garbage.

Although the chief fire officer expected it would still take a few days to put the fire out, he was confident that with the prevailing winds his men would be able to tackle the fire much more safely and therefore contain the internal blaze until they could extinguish it. Having tapped into wells at the site, the fire fighters have a water source, and withmore than 20 men on site at Mount Trashmore round the clock and some ten pieces of equipment, the fire service is using all available resources.

With the smoke blowing away from George Town east across the North Sound, the picture from the deck of the five cruise ships in port Thursday was a significant improvement on the image of Cayman left on the mind’s eye of some 14,000 visitors on Wednesday. Nevertheless, the fire serves as a stark reminder to government that it must act more quickly in its efforts to deal with the current dump and the future of waste-management on Grand Cayman as well as the Sister Islands.

Minister Osbourne Bodden has made it clear that it will be two years before a full waste-management programme is in place because government’s hands are tied by the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility agreement with the UK. However, Bodden is committed to finding the money to repair and replace excavators and other essential equipment at the dump so that the team there can better manage the landfill.

As a result of budget cuts, there has been no money for aggregate to mix in with the garbage to help compact and seal it in, making it more vulnerable to ignition and fires as intense as the one still burning. In addition, the equipment owned by the DEH is old and in need of repair and replacement, all of which has been hindering the staff’s ability to manage the tons of waste coming on to the site each day.

Earlier this morning Cayman international School was closed to students and CUC also closed its North Sound office due to the thick smoke that continued to come from the dump throughout the day.

A statement from government officials at 2pm said there was no imminent threat to any buildings or homes and the fire was well away from where the tyres are kept, which were not at risk of igniting. The government confirmed that fire crews will stay on site on a shift basis until the fire is totally extinguished, which is likely to take a few more days.

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School closes in face of smoke

School closes in face of smoke

| 13/02/2014 | 85 Comments

(CNS): The Cayman International School closed its doors to students today as winds drove the smoke from the still blazing George Town dump fire across the school campus and towards Camana Bay. Fire officers were still battling the blaze on Thursday morning, more than 24 hours after a fire started deep inside Grand Cayman’s landfill yesterday. Despite their best efforts, firefighters have still only managed to contain about 50% of the internal blaze, which keeps re-igniting across the main areas of mount Trashmore. All off duty personnel have been called into work to maintain the round the clock fire-fight. The general public is advised to avoid the area as much as possible as a result of the thick smoke billowing from the ongoing blaze. 

Officials said that further updates would be forthcoming during the day as crews try to get better control of the internal blaze.

Check back for updates later today.

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