Archive for June 13th, 2014

West Bay man denies attempted murder charge

| 13/06/2014 | 0 Comments

(CNS): A 43-year-old West Bay man appeared in Grand Court on Friday and denied trying to kill a 62-year-old man in an incident which took place in the district on 2 June. Mark Jackson pleaded not guilty to one count of attempted murder and a second count of wounding with intent. Jackson was bailed by the judge to return to court in February next year for what is expected to be a five day trial. Jackson denies the allegations and is claiming self-defence regarding an alleged machete attack during a dispute at Rainbow Lane. Ronald Baxter Wright received a number of chop wounds and was taken to the hospital in George Town for emergency surgery.

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Tennis Fest for 10&U coming up

| 13/06/2014 | 0 Comments

(TFCI): Young tennis players will get a chance for some friendly competition next weekend at PwC's first 10&U tennis fest. The fun event will be held at the CIS courts at Camana Bay on Saturday 21 June, starting at 8am. The fest is designed for players who can hold a rally and have a little experience under their belts.  The event is organised by the Tennis Federation of the Cayman Islands; director and coach is Noel Watkins. For more information, call Noel on 547-6257 or email:contact@caymantennisacademy.com 

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Social housing plan on horizon

| 13/06/2014 | 64 Comments

(CNS): As a result of what is now becoming a significant problem in Cayman, government is looking at developing a social housing policy for people with no hope of buying their own home but cannot afford private sector rentals. With families living in the old affordable housing units in West Bay that have been condemned needing to be provided with new homes, government is faced with a real challenge. Most of the people living in them are not in a position to get a mortgage so government will be required to find a solution for those tenants and former owners. However, Kurt Tibbetts, the minster responsible, indicated this week that the problem is wider and Cabinet neededs to consider a social housing initiative.

In West Bay many of the 25 families living in the remaining National Housing Development Trust homes, built in 2004, will not be able to transition into the new, much more costly homes that the Trust is now going to build. Many of the tenants are already behind on their mortgages because of economic difficulties, illness or because they are elderly. Several are too old to get bigger loans to upgrade to the new houses, which are considerably less affordable.

Planning Minister Tibbetts has stated that although these old houses are condemned and will be torn down, the tenants will have to be provided with somewhere to go if they cannot qualify for a new replacement Housing Trust home.

Talking about the issues surrounding the National housing Development Trust in Finance Committee this week, Tibbetts said the biggest problem regarding the remaining old affordable homes was one of safety.

“The buildings have been condemned and an assessment is being done and we need a policy decision,” he said. “We are going to be faced with a situation where we will have to be looking at some type of social programme with regards to living quarters for some individuals,” he said, adding that everyone would like to find best solution and that he had given a commitment to the people at the site not to render them homeless.

The minister said there had been some misunderstandings about the assessments being carried out by officials from Children and Family Services. “It’s not about getting them out; it’s about the homes, but pretty soon they are going to have to be removed as the homes are in such a state of disrepair they will be forced to go,” he said and indicated that the houses were literally crumbling around the existing tenants.

He said government realized that the families could not leave the homes without having somewhere to go. “That’s the challenge government faces,” Tibbetts said. “We might not be able to deal with it all at one time and it may have to be phased, but we must get started on it.”

There are currently 32 of the original affordable homes left standing that were built in 2004 and all have been deemed unfit. He said the people living in the homes were in varying circumstances: some were owners, others were on lease to own schemes, some just renting. The minster pointed out that if there was a hurricane, every one of them would have to be moved to a shelter and those homes would be destroyed.

“Where will we put these people when the shelter closes?” he asked.

Government had to deal with the matter, he stressed, as he pointed towards a new policy dealing social housing and stated that a report was being done to see what action could be taken. He said government was giving consideration to the possibility of building multi-family dwellings but he said government had to be careful and not turnit into "something we don’t want to happen".

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Jamaica to decriminalize ganja use

| 13/06/2014 | 111 Comments

(CNS): The Jamaican government plans to decriminalise possession of small amounts of ganja under a more “enlightened approach” to drug laws, officials said Thursday. Mark Golding, the country’s justice minister, said cabinet had approved a policy to decriminalise possession and use of the drug for religious, medicinal and scientific purposes. Although people can still be fined via a ticketing infraction, it will no longer be a criminal offence to have up to two ounces or to smoke ganja in private. Golding said legislation would be drafted to provide a path for people to get criminal records expunged if they have been convicted under the current laws.

“Too many of our young people have ended up with criminal convictions after being caught with a 'spliff,' something that has affected their ability to do things like get jobs and get visas to travel overseas," he said in a major shift in policy.

The news from Jamaica is reflective of a growing global change in attitude to the drug, which is being increasingly acknowledged for its medicinal and almost miraculous curative properties in some case.

A local campaign in Cayman to legalize its use for medicinal purposes in Cayman has attracted considerable support from the public but so far politicians are refusing to even discuss the possibility of relaxing the local zero tolerance policies.

Meanwhile, in the United States, while federal laws have not been relaxed, several states are decriminalizing the drug for both recreational as well as medicinal purposes. Now Cayman’s closest neighbour is about to change its policies.

Possession of two ounces or less will become a non-arrestable infraction attracting a monetary penalty outside the court system and which does not give rise to a criminal record. The Jamaican government also plans to amend the law so possession of ganja for religious purposes or for therapeutic purposes under a medical prescription would also be decriminalized.

“The objective is to provide a more enlightened approach to dealing with possession of small quantities and smoking, while still meeting the ends of justice,” Golding said, adding that it would help ease the burden on Jamaica’s significantly overloaded court system and also help the country’s young men.

“A conviction for possession or use of ganja results in a criminal record, which often precludes the offender from engaging certain employment, impacts his ability to get visas to travel overseas, and generally limits his life prospects,” he said. “This is a serious human rights issue, supporting the cry for reform to our laws in this area.”

The same issue also impacts many Caymanians who struggle to find work because of past ganja convictions.

Golding said that the imposition of harsh penalties has not been an effective deterrent to smoking ganja, and its use is prevalent in Jamaica, and despite the concerns about teenagers and health risks from smoking, he said prohibition had served to enhance the mystique of the forbidden activity, encouraging adolescent use. Government will now change its approach and focus on public education to discourage ganja use by minors and vulnerable people.

The justice minister said government needed to position itself as an “important player as the world increasingly recognizes and calls for the benefits of medical marijuana and industrial hemp.”

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DG watching travel costs

| 13/06/2014 | 28 Comments

(CNS): The deputy governor has said he is carefully monitoring travel and hospitality costs and has already called for an internal audit to see how, after one year, the new travel policy is working. Franz Manderson said government will be vigilant in detecting any deficiencies and pursuing appropriate consequences. Although there has been considerable outcry from the public about the past infringements that have gone unpunished, going forward the civil service boss is promising more accountability against the backdrop of much stricter financial management across the public sector.

“To help sustain real change in the institutional culture, there needs to be timely and regular monitoring of travel expenditures. On the one-year anniversary of the new Travel Policy, I have called upon Internal Audit to assess compliance now that we have recognised policies and procedures in place,” Manderson said. “I await these results to better assess the impact of the current travel policy. In the interim, chief officers and I, as facilitated by the Portfolio of the Civil Service, will next consider a policy to govern official hospitality expenditures.” 

In a statement following the auditor general’s damning report revealing that as much as $10 million could have been spent on travel and hospitality by government officials between 2009 and 2012, with very little accountability and almost certainly considerable abuse, Manderson said things had already changed.

Many of the eleven recommendations in the audit have either been implemented or are in the process of implementation, he said, adding that the audit represented an “historical snapshot, prior to the adoption of the new travel policy” and he was keen to determine whether there have now been positive changes to “the financial management processes and institutional culture” since it was adopted last summer. 

“The government will be vigilant in detecting any deficiencies and pursuing appropriate consequences for the same,” the deputy governor warned. “The recent travel audit demonstrates the extent to which accountability systems failed us in years past. I’m optimistic that our focused efforts to correct this situation will yield improved results.”

Manderson noted that improving government’s financial performance and raising accountability is a continual process, as he defended public sector workers. Government, he said, had set the tone for strict financial management and civil servants have responded to the call, having helped to achieve a surplus forecasted to exceed $100 million in contrast to the significant deficits incurred in previous years.

It was in late 2012 that the deputy governor asked  the Portfolio of the Civil Service to develop a travel policy to address what he had perceived as significant deficiencies in the Cayman Islands Government’s internal controls relating to travel. It was evident that there was no uniformity in the approach individual agencies pursued to manage travel expenditures, and seemingly no consequence for failure to comply where such minimal standards existed. 

The policy adopted last July tackles the identified loopholes Manderson stated. It sets one policy framework which applies to all civil servants, regardless of their seniority or the particular agency where they work as well as elected officials. It restricts the use of travel advances, which were identified in Alastair Swarbrick’s report as being open to serious abuse. Instead, travelling government officials will rely on a published schedule of per diem limits which vary by jurisdiction.

The policy simplifies reporting methodologies to provide more cost effective and consistent reporting. Above all and probably one of the most important considerations to alleviate public concern about the abuse is that managers must now consider whether the travel is necessary at all or whether the business objective can be achieved as effectively through alternative means.

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