Archive for May 18th, 2014

Wreck off coast of Haiti may be Columbus’s flag ship

| 18/05/2014 | 24 Comments

(CNS): As Cayman celebrates Discovery Day, some five centuries after Christopher Columbus allegedly spotted the islands archaeologists believe they may have identified the explorer’s flagship, the Santa Maria. Wrecked in the Caribbean, investigators think the vessel’s long-lost remains are lying at the bottom of the sea off the north coast of Haiti. The experts say that the geographical, underwater topography and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that this wreck is Columbus’ famous flagship, following a recent reconnaissance expedition to the site.The wreck is one that archaeologists have known about for some time but it was other discoveries that have led them to believe that it could very well be the remains of the Santa Maria.

Other archaeologists have suggested the probable location of Columbus’ fort relatively nearby. Armed with information about the fort, one of the USA’s topunderwater archaeological investigators, Barry Clifford was able to use data in Christopher Columbus’ diary to work out where the wreck should be.

Clifford, known for discovering a pirate ship off Cape Cod in 1984, said another factor is the location of the wreckage, in about 15 feet of water near where the crew of the Santa Maria is thought to have built a coastal settlement for crew members of the ship who were left behind after the sinking.

"The circumstantial evidence is overwhelming," Clifford said. He said that he and his son, Brandon, first explored the site and took photos in 2003. They decided to publicize their findings after a follow-up dive and examination of the photos led them to conclude they may have found the Santa Maria.

Clifford, whose exploration of the site is being backed by the History Channel, says he has asked the Haitian government to preserve the area around the wreck. "The next step is a careful, thorough and timely excavation," he said. The Haitian government, he added, had been very helpful and experts were continuing the work to carry out a detailed archaeological excavation of the wreck. So far the team has carried out purely non-invasive survey work at the site – measuring and photographing it.

Salim Succar, a special adviser to Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, said the government will do "all that is needed" to protect the site "while deciding on the best options to feature this discovery."

If the ship is the Santa Maria, it would be the oldest known European shipwreck in the so-called New World and a find of major archaeological significance. But scientists say it's far too early to make any such declaration especially since there is likely to be very little left of the vessel. The ship sank slowly in 1492 and the crew had time to strip it and remove valuable items that would help document the identity of the vessel.

Much, if not all, of the ship's timbers would have broken down or been cosumed by a species of wood-consuming mollusc found in the tropical waters — if it hadn't been carted away by crew members who were left behind and never heard from again.

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CS bill ‘blew’ budget figures

| 18/05/2014 | 78 Comments

(CNS): The hefty personnel costs for the civil service have again been blamed for the delay in government’s plans to deliver an annual budget. The premier said Friday that the LA date was pushed back because of the battle it had to bring the numbers down to fit the limits set by the UK on the CS tab. Speaking at a press conference about the latest phase of the public sector cost cutting exercise, Alden McLaughlin said although the budget submitted to the FCO now meets the parameters, the challenge had been getting it to that point because the limit for government personnel is fixed at $241 million. Faced with a need to fill 174 vacant posts and 17 new jobs, “It just blew the budget by $8.6 milion,” he said.

“We had to get that back in line, not just to get the numbers right … but we have to have some degree of flexibility over the course of the year to fill positions and hire new people, so it means we had to push the numbers down even more. That’s been the great challenge of this budget,” the premier explained.

“On all other fronts … all the numbers came in really, really good. Revenue is up above what we had proposed and expenditure is what we planned and paid down debt …,” he added as he indicated that government’s net debt ratio, cash reserves and other requirements were on track.

The premier said the troubling aspects remained the cost of the civil service and as a result, just over a week away from the anticipated Budget meeting, he said government was still waiting for the OK from London.

Having contracted Ernst and Young to work with the civil service to focus on the possible merger, amalgamation and privatization of public services to enable government to become more efficient, more effective and streamlined without creating major job losses was a major challenge. But, he said, his government was committed to seeing it through.

McLaughlin said there had been an “explosion over the course of the past decade” that had “created immense pressures on expenditure”, which all government had, and would continue to, grapple with.

He said the growth in public sector personnel costs was largely down to the Public Management And Finance Law and the Public Service Management Law, which had required a proliferation in numbers of personnel as each government entity was obligated to take on its own human resource and financial accounting functions from what was once a more centralized system.

That was, he said, “when the numbers exploded through roof” when the laws took effect, during the time the previous PPM government was at the helm, he had conceded.

McLaughlin warned that the attempts to manage costs to date were now unsustainable. The austerity measures, working with huge numbers of vacant posts and other challenges were impacting the delivery of services, such as police, immigration, prison, fire and many more. He explained that the personnel requirements meant government couldn’t give public sector workers the 3.2% cost of living allowance back.

“We think they should get more…but it is because the personnel costs are just too high and we have reached the ceiling,” he said. “It’s not just salaries but the health care …and long term pension commitment,” he added.

McLaughlin pointed out that if the numbers were allowed to continue to grow, the ability of government to pay decent salaries, give raises and provide the generous benefits would be compromised for all government employees. Regardless of who was elected to government, the premier said, the challenge will remain until it is properly addressed.

“What’s going to happen is that benefits will be eroded and decent salaries compromised,” he added, for everyone on the government payroll.

McLaughlin said he was determined to put it right and find the right way to contain costs, preserve benefits and reasonable pay and to stabilize the situation for civil servants who have been faced with uncertainty over the last five years or more over pay, benefits and jobs. He said government was going to create a sustainable civil service that was the right size and able to provide the right services.

Franz Manderson, the deputy governor, explained why phase five of the rationalization process, in which government had enlisted the professional help of EY, was different to many that have gone before.

He said this would examine not just how government could perform the services better but who as well how services can be delivered through mergers and amalgamation, partnering with private sector or privatization. It would also, Manderson said, conclude with “recommendations and a road map for implementation.”

The other factor that the deputy governor noted of specific importance was the political support from the elected arm of government.

“It is Important to know that this exercise is different,” he said adding that he believed it would be a “tremendous success”, not just because of the joined-up approach, with both his office and that of the premier’s committed to the process, but that the elected arm of government would be directing the policy decisions.

“If government wants to privatize or amalgamate it will be my job to make it happened. Once the elected government makes the decisions we will carry them out and make sure staff are treated fairly and equitably,” Manderson added.

Although government has not yet stated what areas are the most likely to be targeted, civil servants and the broader public won’t have to long to wait as the EY’s $155,000 plus expenses review is expected to be completed before the end of June and from that government will begin the process of implementation.

McLaughlin made it clear that there are no preconceived ideas and anything, with the exception of the judiciary, was possible in any public sector entity.

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