Archive for June 9th, 2014

Premier alleges abuse of office by former colleague

| 09/06/2014 | 88 Comments

(CNS): Premier Alden McLaughlin took his former political party colleague Arden McLean to task last week as tensions between the two men continue to increase. Winding up the budget debate on Wednesday evening, McLaughlin accused McLean of abusing his position by using his contribution to the debate to angrily attacked government regarding his nephew, who had been refused a job with the RCIPS as a trainee helicopter pilot. McLaughlin said the independent member for East End had done the House a disservice when he had “chosen to air his family’s laundry” on the floor of the Legislative Assembly.

“I have never heard anyone use their position as an elected member of this House to seek to further a member of his own family. It is an abuse of office,” the premier said, adding that had the Standards in Public Life Bill been in effect, McLean would have fallen foul of that law.

During his contribution last week, McLean had become exceptionally emotional and angry when he related the story of his nephew, who had dreamed of becoming a helicopter pilot ever since he was a young boy, and having gone overseas to study and train, he had applied to the RCIPS to join the air support unit.

However, McLean said he was disregarded as he was told he did not qualify and was given a list of companies to apply to from the ministry. McLean said it was an appalling state of an affairs when a young Caymanian had studied long and hard to follow that dream and qualify in his chosen profession to be turned away by his own country. McLean said that in the end his family member had gone to Jamaica, where the Defence Force there was helping the young pilot with further training and more flying hours.

Talking about the wider problem of young Caymanians being marginalized, McLean spoke of and the need for government to address the issue of those returning from college and training overseas not being able to find opportunities and the vicious circle of employers wanting them to have experience when no employer was prepared to give them a chance to gain experience.

McLean said he hoped his family was not being discriminated against but when he began trying to secure work at home he was rejected. McLean described what happened to his nephew as an abomination. Aware that he is not yet a qualified pilot, Mclean said he could not believe that the RCIPS could not offer him an entry level job where he helped on maintaining the chopper and support work and flew with the pilots to increase his flying time.

The East End member said the budget meant nothing if “our own people are not a part of it”, pointed to the mounting disillusionment of young Caymanians and the pressing need to remove the stumbling blocks placed in front of them.

As he wrapped up the debate, McLaughlin said he had to address the member’s allegations as he said that his nephew was assisted to look at numerous other possibilities, from training with the military in the UK or helping him find a commercial placement. The premier said the vacancy for the helicopter pilot with the RCIPS was for a fully qualified helicopter pilot and McLean’s nephew did not yet have anything close to the flying time required.

McLaughlin read from a lengthy memo which outlined all that the ministry of home affairs had done to try and assist McLean’s young nephew to find a place where he could increase his flying time and work towards joining the air support unit with the RCIPS.

He said that the ministry was also trying to find funding to help Darren McLean increase his flying hours or find training. The premier also said he had been invited by the Unit to join come along and fly as an observer but the RCIPS cannot take him on until his flying hours have increased.

The premier was also clearly angry that McLean had made such a public issue alleging that nothing had been done to help the young McLean in his dream. McLaughlin said the member knew full well that he was not involved in any kind of conspiracy to keep his nephew from his lifelong dream of becoming a helicopter pilot.

“Nothing could be further from truth and he knows in his heart of hearts that it would never cross my mind. He knows my advocacy for young people in this country; he was part of same party and administration as me for years … What he did … was wrong by any measure,” the premier said, adding that government was continuing to assist and he needed to set the record straight as the country was not being told the truth about what had happened.

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Lifestyle diseases focus of 2014 health conference

| 09/06/2014 | 2 Comments

(CNS): The prevalence of chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cancer and heart disease is on the rise in Cayman as it is in most western democracies. As a result the fifth annual national health conference takingplace in November will be focusing on these chronic non-communicable diseases which are plaguing the population. Given the significane of these health problems that can be addressed by a change in lifestyle the Health minister Osbourne Bodden, said organisers hope the conference subject matter will be broad in its reach and appeal to a wide audience as he urged everyone to attend.

“Chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs), i.e. diseases that cannot be transferred from person to person, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, mental health, respiratory disease and obesity, are diseases that are often preventable and the Government is encouraging people to take charge of their lives and live a healthy lifestyle to combat them.  This conference will be of interest to the medical community, the business community and the general public as well.” he said.

This year’s event to be held at The Ritz-Carlton from Thursday 20 November to Saturday 22 November is expected to host international and local healthcare experts and over 600 attendees.

Guests include Dr James Hospedales, Executive Director of CARPHA, the Caribbean Public Health Agency, who will be opening the conference on Thursday evening.  Dr Hospedales will provide a global and Caribbean situational analysis of CNCDs and associated risk factors as well as highlighting some of the global and Caribbean strategies, goals and objectives to combat them.

Lizzette Yearwood, Cayman Islands Health Services Authority CEO and Chairperson of the Healthcare Conference Planning Committee, said as with previous conferences, interactive workshop sessions will be taking place on Friday.

“This year we will be introducing even more workshop sessions,” she said. “We believe these are an important enhancement to the main body of the conference because they allow delegates to become fully involved in the sessions. It is important that delegates don’t just sit and listen to a speaker, but actively ask questions, contribute and interact with others, gaining knowledge that will help improve their own health, that of their family and the wider community. The workshop sessions will offer a more detailed approach to the subject matter, bringing together perspectives from a range of individuals, including healthcare providers, general practitioners, patients, and other stakeholders.”

The conference is free to all delegates as aresult of continued support from many sponsors.

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Seamen benefit reform coming

| 09/06/2014 | 49 Comments

(CNS): The premier has signalled that the Progressives will be examining the criteria and circumstances under which benefits are given to veterans and ex-servicemen. The issue was raised when Finance Committee examined the Community Affairs Ministry Friday and voted on several line items that amount to many millions of dollars given in welfare, poor relief and benefit payments to various different groups. Government is expecting to help around 1,000 families during the course of this budget year temporarily with food vouchers, rent, school, lunches and other welfare support but a significant sum is paid to seamen and veterans or their widows, none of which is means tested. Over 70 seamen are waiting to get on the list, which has some 800 recipients already on it.

Government is spending over $6.2 million in direct benefit payments to Caymanians or their surviving widows who served at sea, fought in either of the world wars or served in the Trinidad Navy. The payment of around $500 is paid to those who qualify, regardless of their income, and some elderly seamen and veterans are poor and in need but there are now concerns that some of those receiving benefits are not. However, there are 700 ex-seamen still waiting to get on the list but cannot because government does not have the resources to add new beneficiaries.

The extent of support that government pays to people in need was revealed during the scrutiny of both the output groups to manage the diverse range of welfare, benefits and support that government gives to the elderly, families in need and other indigents and the transfer payments.

There were questions regarding the number of veterans and seaman Cayman still has receiving benefits, which by its very nature was expected to decline over the years, but because many of the men who fought in the war or served at sea have younger widows the numbers have not begun to decline as anticipated.

Arden McLean said the policy of paying any man who had been to sea regardless of his financial circumstances was a badly thought out policy and had been introduced to help politicians in the late 1990s win an election.

However, Premier Alden McLaughlin, who is also the home and community affairs minister, said that his government would be examining the criteria and the circumstances surrounding these benefits and that the subject was expected to be discussed by caucus as the cost was escalating.

McLaughlin said Cabinet was already considering some recommendations and over the next few months some decisions would be made about the climbing costs and growing waiting list. He said people only come off the seamen of veterans list if they move overseas or die. Even then, much younger widows are still entitled to the benefit payment. As of 31 May, he said, more than 800 were getting payments while 793 people were on the waiting list. He pointed out that as more ex-seamen reach 60, that list grows and the government did not have the means to increase the budget for benefits.

Captain Eugene Ebanks said it was unfair when those in need, some of whom had been on the list for several years, were not getting anything when others who are not so badly off were.

With the Community Affairs Ministry also dealing with an increase in the need for permanent recipients of benefits, such as the elderly, disabled and indigent Caymanians, as well as families seeking temporary poor relief, the amount of welfares government has to hand out is increasing.

While some MLAs were clearly concerned about the amount of welfare being paid out of a cash-strapped public purse, others pointed out that it was an illustration of how bad things had become for many people.

Arden McLean, the independent member for East End, said it was a clear signal that “a lot of people are hurting and coming to government for assistance”, a sentiment shared by veteran politician and PPM backbencher Anthony Eden.

“I have never seen so many people hurting in my entire life. During my political career it has never been this bad. It’s rough, rough out there,” Eden said, as he warned that something had to happen to prevent people from turning to violence.

The rising levels of the support needed in the community also led to a number of questions about how Cayman was dealing with its aging population.

The premier signalled that he was examining the re-introduction of liens on the homes and assets of the elderly who were in long term residential care or were on government benefits. McLaughlin said that too many families were expecting to inherit property from the elderly parents and were blocking the sale of land of homes to pay for their care. McLaughlin said many, older Caymanians have such assets but they do not have cash so government was picking up the tab.

He said one of the challenges, because of the advance in the social services system and health care, was a common belief of children that their parents' property shouldn’t be signed over to government. McLaughlin said the last government had abandoned the lien process but the amount of money government advances to people who have assets was growing. He explained that when they then pass on, the children inherit the property but the government is left out of pocket.

He said there were concerns about the elderly whose families were not taking care of them when they can’t take care of themselves and can’t afford to stay at the Pines, which although partially supported by government, is a private rest home. He said government had to find a way to help the elderly live in dignity.

Community Affairs Chief Officer Dorine Whittaker said that this financial year was the year that the ministry would be examining the elderly and their circumstance more closely. Government, she told the committee, has gradually been collecting data and information about the circumstances of Cayman’s elderly population and consulting with them about how they are living.

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Garden party returns for queen’s local birthday bash

| 09/06/2014 | 15 Comments

(CNS): Following the formal Queen’s Birthday parade this weekend, officials said that the traditional garden party in the grounds of Government House will be back this year. Held on the front lawn at the governor’s residence the party will follow the awards ceremony at 10:15am on Saturday. The event provides an opportunity for locals to dress up in their finery and guest attending in shorts and flip flops will be turned away but hats are optional. The party is open to the public with musical entertainment and light refreshments available. “It is my pleasure to reintroduce the Garden Party at Government House as part of this year’s Queen’s Birthday celebrations,” said the governor, Helen Kilpatrick.

The Cayman Islands celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday in June each year when senior uniformed services officers, youth service organisations and the police band take part in a parade in front of the Legislative Assembly at 9am, 14 June

The programme also includes the presentation of honours to previously announced recipients: Dr Saratchandra (Sarath) de Alwis-Seneviratne and Thomas M. Wood. Those in attendance will also learn the names of the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours recipients, and the Duke of Edinburgh scheme awardees.

For more information, contact Protocol Office Coordinator Meloney Syms at 244-3612.

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Jail costs $64K per inmate

| 09/06/2014 | 46 Comments

(CNS): The controversial head cost of keeping people locked up at HMP Northward each year, was revealed at $64,231 per prisoner during the Finance Committee meeting on Thursday, when the director of prisons answered the questions about this year’s budget for the local prison system. Despite a slight decrease in the budget for housing inmates this year compared to last, the government will be spending over $9.7 million on keeping them in jail and over $7.2 million on support services. Neil Lavis, the prison boss, confirmed that there are currently 175 men and 15 women behind bars. Some of the prison budget allocations this financial year will also be spent on improving security and the rundown facilities.

Although some costs areincreasing as a result of security upgrades, among other issues, Lavis has already cut some costs as he said feeding prisoners each day had gone down from $6 per day for three meals to just over $4.17 per day as he said the food bought by the prison was also supplemented by food grown on the prison farm.

Despite the prevailing misconception that Northward is more like a hotel that a prison, it is in fact in a terrible condition, with many parts of the prison old and run down. It was given an exceptional poor report after the most recent UK prison inspection.

Lavis said around $1.3 million will be spent in the coming financial year to upgrade the prison not just on improving the facilities but mostly on improving security. He explained that money will be spent on improving the CCTV system and the control room where the cameras will be monitored. He said more cameras would be installed to watch the perimeter fence and they would now be monitored around the clock.

The fence, which is currently rated as only a category three barrier, will also be improved. Lavis said an eight foot barrier of concrete, with a chain link top going up to 18 feet, will be erected around the internal perimeter fence to stop prisoners from cutting through the wire.
The prison director said that he and his team were doing their best to address the drug smuggling problem at the prison but he reminded the MLAs that drugs are smuggled into every prison in the world and it was a difficult battle to win.

He said that counselling was also being provided to prisoners to try and reduce the demand for drugs. Although there are no formal detox programmes at Northward, Lavis said that prisoners were not commonly addicted to hard drugs such as heroine requiring that type of rehabilitation or the replacement therapy associated with that addition,. He said the main drug of choice for inmates at Northward was ganja.

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400 waiting on PR decision

| 09/06/2014 | 26 Comments

(CNS): The immigration chief has revealed that over 200 people who applied for permanent residency before the law changed are still waiting on a decision and another 200 or so applications have been received by the board since the law changed. Meanwhile, the relatively newly appointed board is also working through 300 applications for Caymanian status. During the Finance Committee meeting on Thursday, when legislators were dealing with the premier’s Home Affairs Ministry, Alden McLaughlin said that despite what appeared to be a significant backlog things had improved.

He said that the decision to allow people who held term limit exemption permits to remain with the change to the immigration law had nothing to do with the figures. McLaughlin said the 200 applications made after the law was changed regarding extension permit holders were not all TLEPS. The figure represents all permit holders who had passed seven years and were still in Cayman as a result of having been granted key employee status under the old system or a number of other circumstances.

Although the boards are working through some forty applications per week, which McLaughlin described as "pretty good going”, each one requires careful consideration as this isn’t just about a permit for a job but whether these people can stay in Cayman for the rest of their lives.

Acknowledging that it was not ideal, he said they were doing the best they could, but given that the backlog when the PPM government took office was over 1000, he said they had made pretty good progress.

Linda Evans, the chief immigration officer, explained that the board is currently working through the old applications and as yet none of the applications made since the application process became more stringent last October have been considered.

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