Archive for April 29th, 2014

Dart Road deal at a standstill

| 29/04/2014 | 111 Comments

(CNS): The Cayman Islands Premier has confirmed that there has been no progress at all between government and the islands' largest developer over the outstanding deal between it, Dart Realty and the NRA. Asked at a press briefing on Monday what was happening with the negotiations regarding the 2011 NRA deal, Alden McLaughlin stated clearly that there was simply "no progress". Planning Minister Kurt Tibbetts added that one side was not trying to see things from the other's perspective but neither he nor the premier were able to say what this means for the partially executed deal and the concessions originally negotiated in it relating to duty and future accommodation tax.

The deal has been at an impasse for around a year after talks between the minority government, led by Juliana O'Connor following the UDP government's collapse, and Dart broke down in May 2013 ahead of the general election. Dart had managed to get the closure of one part of the West Bay Road between Public Beach and Raleigh Quay gazetted before the negotiations stalled but the remaining stretch of the West Bay Road up to the old Yacht Drive junction has not yet been gazetted and remains in public hands.

Dart has pressed ahead with the redevelopment of the former Courtyard Marriott site. It is building a five-star resort, which is expected to open under the San Francisco-based Kimpton brand next year. The closure and handover of the stretch of West Bay Road by the site of the hotel is sufficient to give the new resort the beach front that the developer had wanted.

It is not necessarily in Dart's interest to continue negotiating with the current administration to get the remaining stretch of the West Bay Road gazetted as it is not pertinent to the developer’s immediate interests. But the existing deal signed more than three years ago, which was reverted to when the previous agreements failed, affords the developer significant duty concessions and the controversial 50% accommodation tax, which the company appears unwilling to give up.

The PPM stated during the election campaign that it would try and renegotiate some kind of access or through-route along the old West Bay Road if the party was returned to office but almost immediately the PPM announced that the road closure was a done deal and there was nothing it could do. However, Kurt Tibbetts said that the government would continue to talk with Dart over the 50% accommodation tax concession as he said that was unacceptable.

As well as depriving the public purse of half of the room tax collected by Dart at the new hotel for ten years following the opening, it would also extend to any accommodation, developed, bought or otherwise acquired by the Dart Group, for the next thirty years. Tibbetts had stated that the generous concession was also presenting challenges for government in talks with other developers looking to potentially invest in Cayman as he said were all asking for the same concession.

However almost a year later there has been no movement at all in talks between the parties, even though Dart had agreed to negotiate the details of the NRA deal following its review by an independent consultant.

There had been two further re-negotiations with the developer following the December dealsigned by McKeeva Bush when he was premier and leader of the last UDP government. The re-negotiations had mostly concerned the location of the land swaps and cash payments to government in exchange for divestment of the West Bay Road, turning not only the hotel site into beach front property but much more land that Dart had acquired north of Public Beach as well, increasing its value significantly.

However, neither of these amended agreements was ever formally signed and when the interim government attempted to change the second amendment, Dart put an end to the talks and said it was reverting back to the original signed December deal — abandoning the two previous amendments.Since then there have been no agreed changes to the original agreement, even though PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was tasked with conducting the independent review, had recommended re-balancing some areas of the deal in order to give better value to the public purse.

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Joey jailed for over 2 years

| 29/04/2014 | 71 Comments

CNS): The former MD of the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) has been handed a two year and three month jail sentence by Grand Court judge, Justice Charles Quin. Joey Ebanks recently made a full and frank confession about stealing some $140,000 from the ERA and from the Apple store in order to fund what was revealed as a more than two decades long crack cocaine addiction. Based on the chief justice's sentencing guidelines, the findings of the Court of Appeal and circumstances of the case, Justice Quin said the appropriate starting point was three years to run concurrently on the nine counts of obtaining property by deception, which was reduced by 25% as a result of Ebanks' very public guilty plea in January.

Ebanks was convicted of 17 counts of various fraud and theft related offenses that included over $50,000 stolen from the local Apple store and more than $80,000 from the ERA over a six month period when he headed up the public authority.

Nine of the seventeen counts concerned obtaining property by deception, while others related to obtaining money transfers by deception, making documents without authority, forgery and transferring criminal property. Ebanks had forged signatures of board members and colleagues at the ERA on cheques for alleged expenses as well as at the Mac store, where he bought iPads and iPhones with those cheques and on the ERA's account at the store. He then passed those devices on to others in exchange for cash and drugs.

The court also found that, given Ebanks' financial situation as a result of his long-term drug addition, on which he spent all of his ill-gotten gains, it was unrealistic to impose any kind of compensation order.

The judge did state, however, that he was impressed by the full and frank public admission Ebanks has made, not just to his crimes but his crack-cocaine addiction, which has resulted in his financial ruin. Ebanks is now bankrupt, with debts exceeding half a million dollars and the bank is in the process of repossessing his home.

Justice Quin said Ebanks' public and unequivocal confession, especially given his public image and involvement in political life in Cayman, was impressive but he noted his concerns over the fact that he had been addicted to crack for more than twenty years.

According to the social enquiry report, Ebanks had managed to cover up his serious addiction from most people except for those from whom he bought the illegal drugs. The long term addiction, however, and the eventual criminal behavior to finance that habit, followed by Ebanks' public admissions, has had a devastating impact on his family. And while his wife of thirty years and two of his four children have stood by him, there is some rift between the other two.

The judge raised his concern over Ebanks' long drug addiction and said he hoped that during his time in jail he would be rehabilitated. He said that should he remain drug free and, once released from jail, keep away from previous drug associates, there is no reason to believe he would ever before the courts again.

Ebanks has openly and publicly declared himself as a born again Christian and since his religious commitment in January he has given up drinking and smoking and has taken full responsibility for his crimes and previous addiction. Ebanks stated through his attorney during his sentencing hearing that he was a liar, a thief and a drug addict and his crimes should not be "sugar coated" or excuses made for him as he had made those decisions and no one else was to blame.

Ebanks, who was remanded in custody last month, left the dock to return to the cells and to serve the rest of his sentence in what appeared to be good spirits.

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Teen missing in Mexico reunited with family

| 29/04/2014 | 7 Comments

(CNS): What appears to have been a difficult and sensitive case of a missing teenager for both the police and the local family involved has been resolved with the safe return of the 15 year old boy  from Mexico. The teenager had been missing since January of this year and although the local press and police were aware the alarm had not been raised locally as a result of what weredescribed as delicate circumstances by the boys family in Cayman. The boy had gone to Mexico on a vacation with a relative but when he did not return at the beginning of the year and began sending text messages that gave the family cause for concern they contacted the police.

Working with the immigration department, the deputy governor’s Office, Interpol, the US and the RCIPS said the Mexican authorities repatriated the boy this weekend. The boy who is now 15 but was 14 when he was reported missing arrived in Cayman on Monday 28 April when he was safely  reunited with his mother in good health.

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Failure to lead on education

| 29/04/2014 | 52 Comments

Everyone says it: ‘the children are our future’, ‘education is the “key”’, ‘better to teach a man how to fish than to feed him’, etc. It all boils down to the same widely accepted set of conclusions: that education is arguable the most important aspect of a society’s development, success and progression. That education is the best value-for-money investment a country could make towards reduced poverty and enriched livelihoods of its people; that education is one of the easiest ways to target the issue of unemployment.

But the constant failure of the Cayman Islands to address its deficiencies in the country’s education system is not just ironic and worrying in the above context, it's completely baffling.

Politician after politician has made strong campaign promises to fix the education system in the Cayman Islands only to leave office with that system being perceived as worse off than they found it.

Why?

For sure, no one should underestimate the extent of work required to address education in this country. Finance, the role and quality of teachers, parents, curriculum and a range of other factors all impact the extent to which this country will ever experience ‘success’ in our education system.

But we should expect to see an improvement. At a minimum we should expect to see a clear effort to make positive changes towards our ultimate goal. And we absolutely must expect honesty when politicians promise positive changes. (That may be somewhat naïve but we should still expect it.)

Politicians continue to fail to lead on education because they refuse to do the simple things or answer a few key questions:

  • What are the skills being demanded now in the Cayman Islands labour market, and what are the ones projected in the future?
  • How is our current curriculum catering to that current and future need?
  • When was the last time we carried out an assessment of the extent to which our education system was delivering what we need it to deliver?
  • Why is the system so intensely politicized, either by the intrusion of politicians or parents?
  • Why do we have strategy after strategy being 'fine-tuned' by successive administrations to no true end/result?
  • What are our leaders doing to make us all believe (so intensely) that education is not truly a priority of the government?

It may take forever to get answers to such questions. In the meantime the people can conclude from widely accepted anecdotal evidence that:

  • The quality of high school graduates, particularly from the public schools, falls far short of that being demanded by the private sector.
  • The government then 'helps' to take up the slack by employing some of these students.
  • UCCI, the local government owned community college, is barely respected in the private sector, with possibly a few exceptions.
  • There are almost 20,000 work permit holders and while many of these are low skilled workers, there are likely several thousand middle to high wage earning jobs that Caymanians would have access to if they were better prepared by our education system.
  • The substandard education continues to impact our democracy because far too many voters continue to be too easily manipulated by politicians who get through their election campaigns with almost no discussion on policy or what they will do to address the country’s issues.
  • Behavioural issues which have existed in the schools for the best part of two decades have only gotten worse with each new political administration.
  • The government has made a significant investment into the physical facilities in the public sector education system. It now needs to urgently make a similar investment into the quality of the teachers and the actual curriculum (by answering some of the questions listed above), so that the former investment is not a complete waste of public funds.

Our leaders, it seems, spend an inordinate amount of time researching options and having back to back meetings. We would like for them to make the assessment, speak with the stakeholders and make decisions on what actions to take. Then take those actions with urgency.

Are we all just being too naïve in expecting that? Or are they failing us?

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Employers urged to report workplace crime

| 29/04/2014 | 0 Comments

(CNS Business): As the number of workplace crime cases reported to the police unit in recent years has increased, concerns are being raised by politicians, the Chamber of Commerce and some employers that not all businesses are reporting their suspicions about staff. In the last two months CNS has learned of a dozen different cases where private sector employees in positions of trust have been dismissed as a result of suspicions over potential work place theft, mismanagement of finances and even sexual harassment of colleagues but only one or two cases have been reported to the police, leaving them free to move on and repeat their offences. Read more on CNS Business

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