Archive for June 25th, 2014

Archer’s budget cleared without question

| 25/06/2014 | 23 Comments

(CNS): The finance minister was given a free pass by his legislative colleagues on Friday when he was told by the opposition benches that they would not be asking any questions on his appropriations in the budget. The committee members all agreed that they were prepared to trust Marco Archer because, despite being in the job for just over a year, he seems to have engendered considerable support and backing across the political divide. He was described by his colleagues in the Legislative Assembly as “fair, honest, open and transparent” and it was said that he had been as “decent as possible” when it came to allowing questions on appropriations. (Photo Dennie Warren Jr)

Arden McLean, the independent member for East End, said Archer had earned the respect because when people see "hard work and straight forwardness", as was displayed by the minister, they could have faith in his ability to get the job done. “Hard work is always rewarded,” McLean said, as he and other members thanked Archer for his stewardship.

McKeeva Bush, the opposition leader, said that Archer had handled the committee without any political bias, as he also offered his support for a job well done.

The finance minister was clearly surprised and touched by his colleagues' trust in his ability as more accolades came from the government benchesas well. He said that he was not often speechless but "didn't know what to say" and was clearly appreciative that his ministry would be cleared unscathed as he put all of the appropriations to the vote.

Following the committee’s proceedings, Ezzard Miller, the independent member for North Side, told CNS that he believed Archer had done a great job and had given the opposition benches considerable leeway to probe ministers and their staff and hold them accountable for the money they will be spending this coming financial year and what they achieved in the last.

Miller contrasted Archer’s stewardship with that of his predecessor.

“All in all, the chairman handled Finance Committee well and the ministers were also tolerant of our questioning as we looked for answers,” he said as he thanked them all for their tolerance.

“It wasn’t that way under the UDP as the then finance minister was limiting us to two or three questions … This time government allowed the process to be much more open and the public got a much better picture of what going on,” Miller added.

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Report quality challenged

| 25/06/2014 | 34 Comments

(CNS) Updated: Officials from the education ministry have said that they were right to challenge the quality of a report about the standards of teaching in Cayman’s schools and the issues with student behaviour. The existence of a secret but damning report from 2012, which cost the ministry around US$40k, was revealed in Finance Committee Monday when members of the opposition benches asked education bosses about its worrying contents. However, the chief officer has said the original report was called into question as there was a lack of evidence to support the findings and it was altered by a senior evaluator who had been involved in the original inspection.

The inspection and report was commissioned by the education ministry to review the provision for students at risk and those with behavioural challenges.

Education Ministry Chief Officer Mary Rodrigues explained in a release why there were two versions of the 2012 Behaviour Report. She said that there were serious concerns about the quality of the first draft, which were addressed “in a clear and frank manner with the consultant”, who is understood to have been educational expert Dr David Moore.

The government official said that the final version of the report, by a senior evaluator in the ministry who is a 22 year veteran of the education system, ensured that the report met the quality standards set out for all reports. 

“She was the deputylead inspector on the 2012 review and the only other person to have the complete overview besides the consultant. Therefore, it was appropriate in her role to have contributed to finalising the report,” Rodrigues claimed.

“The ministry’s intention in undertaking reviews of this nature is to gather information and identify weaknesses and strengths, based on actual evidence, in order to put in place corrective measures, and not to withhold information from the general public. In this instance the aim was to review the organization and effectiveness of educational and specialist provision for students at risk-including those with behavioural challenges,” she added.

Recognising that there have been a number of problems in schools regarding behaviour and issues with teachers, Rodriues defended the teachers, stating that most “are committed and professional”, and many were commended during the recent graduations.

“Based on the academic achievements our students displayed at the recent graduation ceremonies, this indicates that academic environments are being created that are conducive to effective teaching and learning,” she said.

She did, however, admit that with the behaviour problems in the schools with some students, not all teachers “respond well to negative behaviours” and added, “There are a few who let us down.”

Rodrigues stated that she expected educators to be held to the highest professional standards.

“The tool to achieve this is effective performance management,” she said. “The Ministry and DES have also worked together to create the first set of National Professional Standards for our teachers. These standards make very clear our expectations for our educators. At the same time we have set out expectations for school discipline and student behaviour. The 2012 Behaviour Review notes that most of our students behave well. However, there is a small number who create very significant challenges for our teachers.”

Since taking office, the current education minister, Tara Rivers, commissioned a review of the situation this year by Anita Cornish, senior policy advisor for special needs, who found that tools and resources are not always used effectively and consistently throughout the system in terms of controlling behaviour. Cornish has now issued recommendations, which the officials said are being “aggressively pursued by schools”.

Meanwhile, although none of these reports have yet been released to the public, the ministry stated that the costs of the original review in 2012 were as follows: 

  • Desk Top Review: £7,000
  • On-island site visits and leading and developing a team of educators in field work and observation: £10,500
  • Report writing: £3,500 pounds
  • Travel expense: £1,582.82
  • Subsistence: £1,155

See related story on CNS:

Secret-report-slams-teachers

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Ex-airport board in probe

| 25/06/2014 | 28 Comments

(CNS): As the current airport board comes under fire over allegations of meddling in HR issues, it has emerged that the activities of the previous board are under investigation by the RCIPS Financial Crimes Unit. The board was chaired by Norman Bodden but when he resigned Dick Arch, an owner of one of the businesses at the airport, took over and that board was also accused of staff interference, resulting in at least one law suit, and of serious conflicts. Aside from Arch, other members of the board had business interests at the airport, and despite claims to the contrary, they didn’t always recuse themselves when those issues were discussed and may have even directed policy to benefit their bottom line.

During the Finance Committee hearing the current board, chaired by Kirkland Nixon, came under serious fire from the committee and in particular Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, who was in possession of a number of documents that had been leaked from the airport indicating direct interference with staffing issues.

It seems that the board ordered that the IT manager, who was suspended after pornography was found on his office computer, be reinstated, despite significant evidence pointing to his culpability. It also appears that the board pushed the acting director out of his job while on vacation and as a result was forced to negotiate a hefty pay-off in order to head off a costly law suit. During their evasion of the Finance Committee probes officials from the airport were not entirely forthcoming, leading members of the opposition benches to call for some kind of enquiry.

As he questioned officials last week, Bush was incensed that there seemed to be no real consequences for the employee who was caught with the pornography or the board for wrongly removing the acting director or for the officials to mislead parliament.

While it appears that the current board, which also denied staff interference, did also meddle in HR issues, there are no allegations of conflict or corruption being made against this board.

However, it appears that the previous board, which was appointed by Bush’s former UDP administration and under his responsibility as he was also tourism minister at the time, was in the firing line of the police FCU. The board’s sacking of the financial controller, who is currently pursuing a legal case against government, as well as other interference in employee matters are understood to form part of police probe.

The Anti-corruption Unit also submitted a file to the director of pubic prosections (DPP) regarding potential conflict and abuse of office charges against the board membership, which the public prosecutor's office declined to press. Concerns were raised about the presence of board members at meetings in which their business interests were being discussed, but also accusations that policy was manipulated to assist their private commercial enterprises.

Recent revelations in the trial of the former director and deputy chair of the National Housing Development Trust board highlighted gaps in the anti-corruption law. Edlin Myles was convicted of seven deception offences directly related to his position on that government board but the crown was unable to pursue other charges against him under the anti-corruption law. It is understood that they could not define Myles as a public official because the NHDT board oversees a non-profit making government company.

The poor construct of this law for the Cayman context means that the ACU could face the same problem in any future probe of any government board members. Even if officers find evidence of corruption, they may still be powerless to prosecute as the debate on what constitutes a public official as defined in the current law roles on.

CNS Note: This article was adapted from one posted earlier today to clarify that the ongoing probe of the former board is being conducted by the Financial Crimes Unit and not the Anti-corruption Unit, which has completed its element of the enquiry. 

See related stories on CNS:

Airport board conflicts

Formerairport accountant turns to courts

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