Archive for June 11th, 2014

Chamber boss calls for CS heads to roll

| 11/06/2014 | 0 Comments

(CNS Business): The Chamber of Commerce president has called for heads to roll in connection with the revelations regarding the abuse of public cash in the auditor general’s latest report. Speaking on behalf of the Chamber Council and the business community members, Johann Moxamsaid there needed to be disciplinary action taken to show that the incompetence and dereliction of duty exposed in the report about the lavish, lax spending on travel and hospitality should not be condoned by the public or ignored by civil service bosses. He said, as the Chamber has long suspected, both civil servants and ministers have shown a complete disregard for safeguarding the public purse. Read more on CNS Business

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Explosives found in West Bay

| 11/06/2014 | 1 Comment

(CNS): Police have revealed that they are currently undertaking an investigation after finding what they believe to be explosives in West Bay. In a short statement released Wednesday evening, an RCIPS spokesperson said a 25-year-old man had been arrested in connection with the discovery. The suspected explosives were recovered during an early morning operation in the district on Wednesday. Police did not say exactly where the raid, involving the Drugs and Serious Crime Task Force (D&SCTF) and the Uniform Support Group (USG), took place or what the circumstances were which led to the operation.

Police said that the items were recovered from residential premises and safely removed to a secure location with the assistance of Cayman Islands Fire Service, National Roads Authority and the RCIPS Scenes of Crimes team but they did not state what type of explosives were involved, the quantity or for what purpose they believe the material was intended.

The operation happened at 6:45am and the arrested man is understood to still be in police custody.

The RCIPS spokesperson said the investigation is ongoing and appealed to anyone who may have  information in relation to the enquiry to contact  Detective Ross Johnson at 3261909 or call crimestoppers at 800 (TIPS) 8477.

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Teen burglar suspect caught with stolen goods

| 11/06/2014 | 0 Comments

(CNS): An 18-year-old boy from West Bay has been charged with burglary following his arrest yesterday in the district, the RCIPS has confirmed. The teenager was arrested in connection with a burglary in the Windsor Park area of George Town, which police said had taken place last month. Officers said that during the apprehension of the suspect the stolen goods from that break-in were recovered from the teenager's West Bay home. He is scheduled to appear in Summary Court today.

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Who is running this show?

| 11/06/2014 | 14 Comments

Every morning as I drive into town (usually on the Newlands Bypass and along South Sound), my mood instantly flips from “ok” to “not so ok” once I make the turn onto the bypass. The last couple of days I have actually grown almost irate when I see the ineptness, lack of motivation and pride that are so publicly on display by some of our government departments. In this case, I am speaking about the Department of Environmental Health (DEH) and National Roads Authority (NRA).

Let me explain. Anyone who drives on the Newlands Bypass on a regular basis can observe the ever increasing amount of litter that is tossed along the way — this is where my mood usually flips from “ok” to “not so ok”. We all (well, at least many of us) acknowledge that littering shouldn’t happen in the first instance; however, this is not the topic of my viewpoint.

Last week the NRA began to cut the bush and grass along the Newland Bypass. The result is that whilst the bypass looked bad before (given all the litter tossed around), it looked now like a garbage truck had driven down the road with the back wide open, having lost half of its load on the way to town. Why? Because any garbage and/or litter along the road has now been shredded into a million pieces.

The annoying part is that this is something that could be so very easily avoided — coordinate with DEH; have DEH either walk the road right before the bush/grass gets cut to pick up all garbage or immediately after the cut. Simple! Instead, once the NRA has done their bit, they wash their hands off any responsibility, and for the DEH, the hope seems to be that any breeze may blow the litter somewhere else and so in time there will be less to pick up.

Another issue is the lack of enforcement by the NRA of proper maintenance of the roundabouts which are sponsored and landscaped by various companies. Just look at the state of the roundabout at Grand Harbor and the islets (or whatever they are called) next to the roundabout, which are constantly completely overgrown by bush and at some stage even have three feet tall wild tamarind trees growing in them.

Then there is the issue with the DEH-placed garbage bins. Why is it that at every turn there is an overflowing DEH garbage bin? Whether it is in town after several cruise ships have been in port, the parking lot across from Dairy Queen, the bin at the South Sound Boat Ramp, and the list goes on and on. Surely by now the DEH must know which areas are more frequented and therefore require more regular emptying of the bins. I dare not raise the question why there are no recycling bins placed around town, all public buildings, hotels, vacation rental properties etc.

If someone has the crazy idea to blame the lack of enforcement and coordination on staffing or budget issues, I suggest the NRA and DEH seriously consider utilizing some of those people who have been ordered to do hours and hours of community service, as it would require very little supervision to have someone walk along the roads and beaches to pick up garbage or to empty the garbage bins. If they haven’t been cleaned, no credit is given towards the community service – simple!

I know the issues I have set out above are for many insignificant in comparison to other recent headlines, especially considering that the dump issue and creation of a recycling centre has yet to be resolved; however, nothing screams more “third world country” than overflowing garbage bins and litter lined roads and beaches.

The only conclusion I can come to is that complacency must be one hell of a thing because I know that if I would so openlydemonstrate such a lack of teamwork, lack of motivation at my job and the unwillingness to think outside the box, my boss would have made it very clear to me by now that my performance is less than impressive, and I would have felt the consequences for my inactions a long time ago.

Is it really so hard to try and think of the bigger picture and have some pride in what you are doing? People working at those departments and the people charged with running those departments must be driving on the same roads I do and therefore should be observing the same issues I (and many others) see.

I guess it is just easier not to bother.

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Cops investigating after hours ‘sex romps’ at club

| 11/06/2014 | 129 Comments

(CNS): The RCIPs confirmed Wednesday morning that officers are making enquiries in connection with a complaint regarding inappropriate behaviour taking place at a George Town licensed premises. Although police officials have limited their comments on the issue, CNS understands that the complaint was made directly to the policecommissioner and involved exceptionally provocative pictures allegedly taken by the management of Elements nightclub at an after-hours party. The pictures show young semi-clad women who appear to be engaging in simulated sex romps in the club.

The pictures were taken on smartphones and were posted on various social networking sites, including Instagram and Facebook, on a number of different pages.

Although the issue of the whether the pictures fall foul of the country’s obscene publications laws remains open to question, as the women appear to be acting out rather than committing sex acts, the fact that licensed premises are holding private parties after licensing hours, especially on a Saturday, is a breach of the licensing laws.

 

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BOTs cleared for travel across Europe visa free

| 11/06/2014 | 10 Comments

(CNS): British Overseas Territories subjects can now travel to twenty-six European countries visa free. The new access is as a result of changes in the European Union’s travel regulations regarding countries surrounding and what are known as the Schengen states, not all of which are EU members but who have lifted travel restrictions across their relevant borders. The freedom of movement is now extended to British Overseas Citizens (BOCs), British Protected Persons (BPPs), and British Subjects (BS). The countries are located all across Europe, from Estonia to Greece, providing the opportunity for OT Citizens to travel freely from country to country on vacation or business.

The countries include Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. In addition the visa concession applies to Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus.

Officials explained that citizens who hold either a full British passport, or a BOTC, BOC, BPP or BS passport will have visa free access to the Schengen Area. This applies to both current passports and the proposed new machine-readable passports. Arriving passengers may be asked to confirm sufficient funds available for the duration of their stay and to show a return or onward ticket.

However travellers are advised to still check the entry requirements of the country or destination before confirming travel plans. The visa concession covers visits only for a maximum duration of 90 days in a 180 day period. It does not cover employment or study – in which instances the appropriate visa must be obtained prior to travelling.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom and Ireland, while both EU member states, don’t participate in the borders and visas aspects of the Schengen agreement and continue to operate border controls with other EU members.

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ACC to look at travel audit

| 11/06/2014 | 57 Comments

(CNS): Following the damning revelations in the Office of the Auditor General’s latest review of government finances, a spokesperson for the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has said that members will be taking a look at the findings. In his latest report, which was made public Monday, Alastair Swarbrick, the government’s auditor, found a catalogue of mismanagement regarding government spending by both politicians and civil servants on travel and hospitality. In a tab totalling what could be as much as $10 million over three years during the UDP administration, Swarbrick found issues that go well beyond accounting incompetence and look more like abuse.

He pointed to incidences where officials claimed expenses twice, once from travel advances and then again on credit card charges, where no receipts were submitted to justify travel expense claims, which were nevertheless paid by financial officers, and cases where ministers and senior civil servants signed off on their own expense claims.

There were also costly unsubstantiated charges for hotel rooms in Cayman Brac for the executive aide of the deputy premier at the time, and pricey parties that appeared to have no connection to government business.

The two ministries on which the audit focused in the report of the three year period between 2009 and 2012 were the ministries of finance and tourism, headed by the former premier McKeeva Bush, and district administration and works, headed by his former deputy, UDPminister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, who after joining the PPM last year now sits in the speaker’s chair.

Swarbrick had indicated at a press briefing on Monday that the ACC, of which he is a member, was aware of his report but that he had not reported any of his findings to the police. CNS contacted the ACC Tuesday and a spokesperson confirmed that the committee “was aware of the ongoing work of the auditor general in relation to this matter and will be considering the findings contained in the report at its next meeting.”

According to Swarbrick’s report, there does appear to be a plenty for the ACC to consider.
In one example given by Swarbrick, $32,000 of public money, a year’s salary for many people, was given to just one senior civil servant from the ministry of district administration, but was written off as that top level government boss never justified the expenses.

“This practice results in the risk that expenditures could have been incurred for non-business purposes,” Swarbrick stated.

One area of obvious concern in the report is what appears to be the abuse of government credit cards. Swarbrick found at least $458,000 in travel and hospitality expenditures that wasn’t supported by receipts or any other formal documentation spent on credit cards used by ministers and senior officials.

“It was unclear whether the expenditures had any business purpose. We also confirmed that one former minister effectively self-approved the payment of transactions incurred on their credit card which amounted to approximately $71,000 ,” the auditor stated in his report. “The general practice of submitting travel claims with no receipts constituted a significant control weakness and represented a significant risk for abuse by senior government officials and ministers.”

Another flagrant abuse of government credit cards was the practice of government credit card holders charging expenditures to their cards that were already covered by their per diem allowance.

“Due to poor record keeping and lack of financial records, we were unable to determine the true extent of this type of occurrence,” he wrote. “We believe these control weakness and disregard for ensuring the probity of financial transactions is a fundamental failure of the respective COs and CFOs to discharge their duties in accordance with the PMFL and Regulations,” Swarbrick added.

Swarbrick said he found a significant number of transactions that not only did not represent good value for money but looked like misuse.

Looking at expenditure on ground transportation, the audit office found expenditures incurred through an overseas branch of the Department of Tourism of almost $400,000 paid between January 2009 and September 2012 to two ground transportation companies for the use of limousines, vans and SUVs. “We noted that spending increased each year of the review period; from $147,000 in 2010 to $162,000 in 2012.”

Despite this increasing expense, Swarbrick found no control over these procurements, no contracts were in place, no business purpose was documented and there was no evidence of the intended purpose and in some cases the services were being used while people were on personal leave.

The audit office was also concerned about the widely varying rates of per diems for meals and other daily expenses incurred by ministers and senior officials travelling on business. In particular Swarbrick highlights that, regardless of where she travelled, the deputy premier at the time and minister for district administration was given a daily rate of $250.

“Although there are no rules in relation to ministers’ per-diems in the regulations, the amount of $250 per day regardless of location cannot be deemed reasonable because it exceeds the $200 per day specified in the Personnel Regulations (2011 Revision),” Swarbrick stated.

In items that Swarbrick lists as being of particular concern was almost $40,000 which was spent on accommodation at a hotel in Cayman Brac for O’Connor-Connolly’s executive aide; $10,000 wasted on holding accommodation for a TV show for the minister of finance and tourism that never happened, and over $5,000 spent on rentals for prayer meetings in West Bay by the same ministry, headed up by former premier McKeeva Bush. The auditor also listed more than $3,300 on a birthday party for Bush and one closed door lunch at a private room in the Ritz costing $1,500.

In the conclusion of the report, Swarbrick states that he was not able to determine how bad things really are because of the poor record keeping by everyone involved.

“While we have identified a number of examples in this report, we were unable to quantify how much the government mishandled or wasted during the period reviewed, or how much abuse occurred,” he said.

See report below.

See related story here

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Radio host charged on assault

| 11/06/2014 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Local radio host Austin Harris (41) has been charged with common assault in connection with an incident at a house party in Governor’s Harbour earlier this year. The radio personality on Rooster’s popular morning talk show, Crosstalk, was charged Tuesday and bailed by police to appear in court on 24 June. Harris was temporarily removed from the radio waves in the wake of his arrest in connection with the alleged attack on a female friend, and replaced by Ellio Solomon. However, Randy Merren, the owner of Hurley’s Entertainment, which broadcasts Rooster, confirmed Wednesday morning that he was standing by his host and that Harris would remain on air.

Harris was arrested in March after he went to the police station following reports made that he had allegedly hit a woman at a social gathering at a private home on 9 March, which turned into a much larger fracas as people at the party intervened and reportedly pulled Harris from his alleged victim.

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HSA plans open blood day to boost supply

| 11/06/2014 | 32 Comments

(CNS) Updated with HSA statement: The Cayman Islands Health Services Authority is encouraging the community to come out to the hospital on Saturday to give blood. The blood bank is almost always in need of support from donors in order to save lives, and to mark the 11th World Blood Donor Day on 14 June it is hoping to recruit new donors. However, because of remaining concerns about vCJD transmission (known as 'mad cow's disease') in the UK between 1980 and 1996, the HSA is still not accepting blood from anyone who lived in the UK at that time for more than three months.

The HSA issued the following statement after enquiries by CNS about the situation regarding donations from UK nationals and former residents:

"The Cayman Islands Health Service Authority follows the recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO)/Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and AABB (American Association of Blood Banks) who recommend that measures be taken to prevent the transmission of vCJD for anyone who lived in the UK, or visited for more than three months, between 1980 and 1996.

"The UK Blood Services has lifted some restrictions so they are able to receive blood donations within their own country, however, they still have to take a number of precautions when screening donors." 

However for those whose blood is in the clear, donations will be accepted from 9:00am – 5:00pm on Saturday and there will be an information booth, a place for people to register and refreshments available. 

A single unit of donated blood can save up to three lives and this year’s theme is about saving blood to save the lives of mothers. For more details see the attached flyer.

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