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Premier optimistic for 2015

| 31/12/2014 | 45 Comments

(CNS): The country’s leader spoke about “amazing” opportunities for Cayman in his New Year’s message Tuesday. Premier Alden McLaughlin said his government would continue to build on what he described as it accomplishments over the past year. He said that during 2014 the economy had improved and there was a return of public and investor confidence. Admitting there was lots still to be done, he urged employers to take on more local workers in 2015, even if it meant training them, to help government address the ongoing employment problem among Caymanians. He said that much of the growth in the economy and employment expected next year would depend on development projects by both government and the private sector.

McLaughlin said that the PPM government’s negotiations with Dart to amend the terms of the NRA agreement were on the right track, although after some 18 months of talks there was still no deal for the premier to announce in his New Year message.

“Our discussions continue to be meaningful and productive and I am confident that we are now near the end of this saga,” he stated.

In addition to the much anticipated construction projects which the current administration, like the last, sees as the answer to getting Caymanians back to work, the premier said government would continue to grow and support the main economic pillars of tourism and financial services.

Talking about the need to fight crime and “stamp out the scourge of armed robberies”, he pointed to the importance of creating job opportunities and helping people find work as a major goal of the administration.

“I again appeal to employers and business owners, especially as the economy continues to improve, to give more Caymanians employment opportunities, even if that means that you need to train them. Government is doing its part to create the environment that allows businesses to succeed and to provide educational and training opportunities for potential employees. But we do need greater involvement, investment and commitment to hiring Caymanians from the business community if we are to return to full employment,” McLaughlin urged.

Describing himself as an optimist, the premier said he believes the future of the Cayman Islands is bright.

“The sense of certainty and confidence we felt at the beginning of 2014 continues to gain momentum and is taking us into 2015. We are only going to get better and better,” the premier promised.

He took aim at the press, however, for what he described as the “negativity about all things Cayman and Caymanian that has unfortunately become the stock-in-trade of certain media houses” and said Cayman is still one of the best places in the world in which to live.

“There is much to celebrate about this country. My prayer is that in the New Year, the positive things about Cayman and Caymanians, the things which make us unique and attractive to the rest of the world, could be given even half the prominence in the media as is given to the bad news stories. There is much good in these Islands and its people. It would be good to see it in a news story now and again,” he lamented.

“There is much to be done,” the premier acknowledged, adding that the road ahead will not be all smooth but said he was confident government would meet the challenges head on.

See full speech below.

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80% say no to beneficial ownership register

| 31/12/2014 | 0 Comments

(CNS Business): Government released a report Tuesday on the public consultation it carried out earlier this year regarding how the jurisdiction should tackle the issue of access to who really owns offshore entities registered in the Cayman Islands. The report revealed that over 80% of the people and organizations that responded do not believe Cayman needs a central register with public access and opted for the status quo, leaving the collection of information to the corporate service providers. Most of those who took part in the consultation said a publicly accessible central registry would create a significant financial burden, violate privacy and information security and put the offshore industry at risk. Read more on CNS Business

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CIG renews duty cuts

| 29/12/2014 | 33 Comments

(CNS): Import duty concessions on building materials on all three islands as well as a 100% stamp duty waiver in Cayman Brac have been renewed. Government announced Monday that in an effort to continue to stimulate economic activity, certain duty concessions have been extended for another twelve months to 31 December 2015. This includes the import duty concessionary rate of 12.5 cents per gallon for the importation of motor gasoline to Cayman Brac. People importing building materials to Grand Cayman will continue to pay 15% import duty, while those importing the same materials to the Sister Islands can do so duty free under the ongoing 100% import duty waiver. The 100% stamp duty waiver on land purchases on Cayman Brac has also been renewed.

Making the announcement regarding the twelve month extension, Finance Minister Marco Archer said the extensions were consistent with government’s ongoing efforts to stimulate growth in the economy. "I encourage all developers and other stakeholders to accelerate their construction activity during this further concessionary period," he said.

The normal rate of import duty on motor gasoline is 75 cents per gallon, whilethe normal import duty rate on building material ranges from 17% to 22%.

For the purpose of these concessions, building materials have been defined as physical components and substances, whether solid or liquid, used in the construction, renovation or restoration and forming a permanent part of any building or related structure. Items such as furniture, accessories, electronics and appliances are specifically excluded.

The 100% stamp duty waiver on land purchases on Cayman Brac is for the development of homes and apartments or other physical structures from which a business can operate.

The waiver will be granted to either individuals or legal entities. However, for the concessions to apply the development must be completed within two years of the purchase of the property, otherwise the applicants will be required to either pay the stamp duty in full plus a penalty of 10% of the duty unless an extension is obtained.

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Premier plans to ‘just chill’

| 24/12/2014 | 77 Comments

(CNS): There was no talk of politics, ministers behaving badly, cabinet reshuffles or any reflection of the recent political turmoil and ups and downs of the past year in the premier’s message on Christmas Eve. Alden McLaughlin said he would, however, be enjoying the opportunity provided by the holiday for quiet reflection and the chance to “just chill” with his family and friends. Urging people to be charitable and not get caught up in the commercial aspects and frantic activity of the season, he asked people to take time to experience the “peace that is Christmas, seek out those who are less fortunate and help them share in some small way in the magic of this time of year”.

See premier’s full message attached.

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Poll says Ozzie should go

| 23/12/2014 | 143 Comments

(CNS): The premier’s decision to swap around areas of responsibility to accommodate his party colleague, Osbourne Bodden, and not remove him from Cabinet is unlikely to put an end to the 'Ozziegate' issue. Over 600 votes were cast in the CNS straw poll during the last five days and more than three quarters called for Bodden’s resignation. The outrage about the minister’s behaviour towards his chief officer, Jennifer Ahearn, has not abated and the shuffling of ministries and chief officers by Premier Alden McLaughlin has done nothing to appease the public outcry and calls for the former health minister to resign.  A second poll on CNS indicated that almost half of the voters want to see him replaced by Alva Suckoo.

When asked if Bodden should resign, 78% said that he should go. In a related poll asking who should replace him, 49% backed Suckoo, with Roy McTaggart emerging as the second most popular choice with 19% of the vote. Although not scientific, the online poll gives a snapshot of publicopinion.

During the last week since the revelations that Bodden had publicly and loudly cursed at his chief officer in front of dozens of civil servants, it is the alleged nationalist slur that has caused the most concern. Bodden has not yet denied making the alleged comments deriding Ahearn’s Caymanian status, suggesting she was no more Caymanian than an “f^*#ing piece of driftwood”.

Following a number of stories on this website relating to the incident, there have been almost 1,000 comments posted to CNS, with the vast majority calling for Bodden to go.

Given the ongoing tensions in the community at present between the different expatriate groups, local people are feeling squeezed out of the job market at both ends. They see professional permit holders taking the top jobs in the finance ad related sectors, while cheap imported labour is taking the traditional posts held in construction and allied manual trades at the bottom.

So the stirring of nationalist sentiments, with the popular perception that the PPM is less welcoming to ex-pats than its former political rivals, the UDP, is fuelling further concerns. The public seems to think that the premier should have acted quickly and decisively to remove Bodden, demonstrating an intolerance in his government of such sentiments.

However, the complete silence from all government members about the outburst, coupled with the decision not to force Bodden’s resignation, has not proved popular with the broader public.

The premier has now taken on Bodden’s major ministerial responsibilities and now has direct responsibility for heath as well as environmental health and the controversial dump issue. Meanwhile, Bodden keeps responsibility for youth and sports with the addition from the premier’s portfolio of community affairs but has lost culture to the premier as well.

Not only has McLaughlin now taken on the more controversial portfolio, he has expanded the size of his ministry and is in danger of facing the criticisms that he hurled at the previous premier, McKeeva Bush, for taking on too many major ministries.

When he was opposition leader, the current premier derided Bush as “minister for everything” after he took on finance, development, tourism and financial services as leader of the UDP administration.

McLaughlin has retained his home affairs ministry, which includes the prisons, police and immigration, and has now taken on two more politically sensitive areas in order to protect his Cabinet colleague.

This is a decision that many commenters, not just on CNS but across the local media, say the premier will come to regret. McLaughlin could have turned to several of his backbench MLAs to take on Bodden’s ministry intact, in particular Suckoo, who won the support of the majority of CNS readers.

But the decision has been made, and while the premier may be hoping the matter will go away during the holidays, the populist outcry is unlikely to die down that quickly. The continued silence from Bodden himself as well as the rest of Cabinet about the alleged derogatory comments is not helping.

CNS is still waiting for the gender affairs and labour minister, Tara Rivers, to comment, given that this is a workplace issue involving gender.

Related article:

Cabinet shuffled for Ozzie

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Cabinet shuffled for Ozzie

| 19/12/2014 | 233 Comments

(CNS): There will, it seems, be no resignation by Minister Osbourne Bodden as the premier has shuffled his own ministries around to separate him from his chief officer. Premier Alden McLaughlin has swapped his community affairs ministry with his Cabinet colleague’s health portfolio. In a short statement from his office Friday, officials said that from the start of the New Year the  premier will take responsibility for health, including environmental health, and culture with Jennifer Ahearn as the chief officer. Bodden will then assume responsibility for community affairs, along with youth and sports, with Dorine Whittaker as the chief officer for that ministry.

Roy McTaggart, councillor to the financial services ministry, will also assist with the Ministry of Health and Culture. The premier will retain his Home Affairs portfolio in addition to the responsibilities for health, his office added.

In the very short statement it was said that the administrative detail and “re-arrangements resulting from these decisions” would be handled by the deputy governor as the head of the Civil Service.

No comment was made about Bodden’s tirade against Ahearn in the Government Administration Building last week w,hen he launched a verbal attack that was heard across the entire top floor. It was witnesses by dozens of civil servants and security officers were called to the location. Although there have been no denials that Bodden made derogatory comments about Ahearn’s Caymanian status, it appears there will be no consequences for that.

It was apparent from the statement that despite the public outrage and calls for Bodden’s resignation, the premier is not demanding that his Bodden Town party colleague step down and has found another way to accommodate the workplace problem created by the major bust-up. However, while the reshuffle will succeed in keeping the chief officer and minister apart, it will do nothing to address the widespread public concerns about the manner of the attack and the divisive insults made by a Cabinet member.

The reshuffle will also mean that as well as dealing with the controversies surrounding his home affairs ministry at present, including the ongoing issues relating to police management and the immigration department, McLaughlin will be heading into another potential public firestorm. The premier will now have direct responsibility for overseeing the solution for the country's waste management problem and the George Town dump.

Vote in the CNS polls:

Should Osbourne Bodden resign from cabinet?

Who-should-replace-Bodden?

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Premier welcomes new dawn for US and Cuba

| 19/12/2014 | 17 Comments

(CNS): There were no statements on Thursday from the premier regarding his own internal government relationships as the ‘Ozzigate’ issue rolled on, but Alden McLaughlin did find time to congratulate President Barack Obama for making efforts to restore diplomatic and economic ties between the United States and Cuba. Still coming under increasing pressure to do something about his health minister and long-time PPM colleague and friend on Thursday, the premier’s public attention was on the advantages for local people the complete thawing of the more than fifty year impasse between the two countries would bring.

“The re-establishment of a US embassy on Cuban soil that is being proposed would benefit Caymanians who hold US passports as well as our resident US citizens,” the premier stated. “I expect a further easing of restrictions on US residents traveling to Cuba in the near future. I understand that Cuban President Raul Castro has welcomed the restoration of the relationship with the United States and has said the two countries must live with their differences in a civilized manner. I congratulate both men for beginning to end the chilled relations that have existed between the two countries since 1961,” he added.

Vote in the CNS polls:

Should Osbourne Bodden resign from cabinet?

Who-should-replace-Bodden?

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Ozzie in major row with CO

| 16/12/2014 | 411 Comments

(CNS): Following a number of reports to CNS about a major altercation between the health minister and his chief officer, the premier has now released a short statement indicating that the issue is being addressed. We submitted questions to Minister Osbourne Bodden and his CO Jennifer Ahearn as well as the premier and deputy governor after a number of readers said that the row, witnessed by numerous civil servants, was both shocking and distressing. The scale of the verbal abuse hurled at the chief officer by Bodden over what was understood to be a work-related dispute which took place in the government building was said to be alarming. CNS was also informed that security was called to the incident in the minstry's offices. Ahearn also reported the issue to the deputy governor, who in turn contacted the premier. 

Neither Bodden nor Ahearn have responded to press enquiries but Premier Alden McLaughlin released a short statement from his office Tuesday morning saying: “I do not believe that it is either helpful or appropriate for government to discuss personnel misunderstandings in the press.”

McLaughlin said that when there are strong personalities who are passionate about their work, differences in opinion will occur. “There was such a variance of opinion between Minister Bodden and his Chief Officer, for which the Minister has already apologised in writing to his Chief Officer and the ministry staff,” he said.

The reports to CNS indicated that it was a lot more than a mere disagreement and that there was sustained use of exceptionally foul language by the minister, who had, according to some reports, exhibited a frightening display of temper.

In his statement about what is clearly a serious issue the premier added, “The public can rest assured that the matter is being addressed to ensure that the important work of the Ministry of Health, Sports and Culture is not compromised and the several projects being undertaken by the ministry remain on target.”

He said that both he and Deputy Governor Franz Manderson had taken prompt action when informed about the issue.

Manderson added, “I was contacted by Chief Officer Ahearn concerning this matter and immediately raised the matter with the Honourable Premier in accordance with the Constitution and the Public Service Management Law.” The deputy governor said he was confident the matter is being viewed seriously by the premier and confirmed that there is a plan in place to address the issue going forward.

Details of the dispute have not been released but CNS understands it was triggered following email correspondence between the minister and the CO. Officials have given no further details about the incident and the consequences, if any, for the minister.

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80% default in ‘save’ plan

| 11/12/2014 | 81 Comments

(CNS): The finance minister revealed that around 82% of more than 150 people who were helped by the former UDP government’s 'save the mortgage' plan, financed with Dart cash, have gone on to default again on their homes. During a debate in the Legislative Assembly Monday on a private member's motion brought by the opposition leader asking government to help people who were in danger of losing their homes again, Marco Archer said the previous programme was ineffective. He pointed out that the $2.2 million given to the banks to stop defaults came against the backdrop of a $2.7 million waiver given back to Dart on affordable housingfees and had done almost nothing to address mortgage arrears.

He said that the majority of the people who were assisted with a loan of up to $20,000 from government to save their homes were not only in default with their banks again but also in default on that loan, even though they were interest free and payments could be spread over 50 years. That meant that those who got the full amount were only supposed to pay $33.33 a month back to government but 62% have failed to do so.

Although government said it was willing to consider McKeeva Bush’s motion to help those in the worst situation, Archer pointed out that government believed the 'save the mortgage' plan had failed.

Archer outlined the figures regarding the defaults but did not go into details about the scheme, which had come in for criticism before as there had been no real checks regarding some of the loans that were made. In the Grand Court earlier this year, a woman convicted of stealing some $430,000 from an offshore trust was one of the people who had applied for and successfully received cash from the scheme.

The minister said the government would need to be careful about any kind of fund for mortgages because this time it would have to come from the cash reserves, and giving the looming targets set by the FCO, the government could not just allocate the cash. But he said it would look at alternative options and that government acknowledged the difficulties many people were having meeting their expenses.

Even though government accepted the opposition leader’s motion, Bush made a full frontal attack on the government benches, accusing them of doing nothing at all to help the people and of creating the government’s financial problems in the first place.

He took the finance minister to task for spelling out the weakness of the UDP scheme and told the government to stand up to the FCO and tell them 'no'. He even thought it had led to his arrest, he said, as he referred to his recent trial over the use of his government credit card to get cash in casinos when he was gambling on slot machines.

He accused the PPM government of “spinning its wheels” and doing nothing about the major problem in the country of unemployment. He said that the UDP had helped people to keep their homes with the scheme but government could not make people pay if they did not have the money and they didn’t have the money because they did not have a job, as he blamed the current government for that as well.

Bush said the government benches had “no right to chastise” him because people were in default as they had caused all the trouble in the first place and had no solutions.

Stating that worse was still to come, the opposition leader questioned where the “sweet spot” was that Archer had spoken about recently when he delivered the Strategic Policy Statement.

“I don’t know what it was, but it isn’t sweet; it’s a bitter pill,” Bush added, as he lamented what he said was a lack of action by government to address the significant problems in the community caused by unemployment.

He said that another 120 jobs or more would be lost soon because of the Canadian banks pulling out and locals were not getting new opportunities. When he was premier, Bush said, he had tried to introduce new industries. People had threatened against them, he said, but in time they would come to see he was right about an oil refinery.

PRIVATE MEMBER’S MOTION NO. 11/2014-2015 – EMERGENCY MORTGAGE RELIEF PROGRAM

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JP bill aims to curb potential misuse of power

| 11/12/2014 | 14 Comments

(CNS): Government has passed an amendment to the Summary Jurisdiction Law giving new powers to Cabinet members over Justices of the Peace, their appointment and training, as well as their removal from the post. The bill, presented by Premier and Home Affairs Minister Alden McLaughlin last month, gives Cabinet the power to set the procedure for nomination of JPs, what is required for theirtraining, the arrangements of any tribunal called to hear complaints made against them and the ability to assess “the fitness of a Justice of the Peace to serve” after they reach 70 years of age.  The idea is to set out regulations that will lessen the position’s potential for misuse of power, the premier revealed.

Following the Sandra Catron case, in which a search warrant signed by a JP was thrown out of court, the Progressives-led government said that it needed to change the law to allow for the creation of regulations to address the selection, training and code of conduct for justices of the peace. The Catron case as well as the arrest of a High Court judge during Operation Tempura led to calls for an increase in regulatory capacity over JPs' powers to sign arrest and search warrants.

When he presented the amendments, McLaughlin pointed out that the Bill of Rights requires all public officials to ensure that decisions made are lawful, proportionate, procedurally fair and transparent. He spoke about the need for them to remain impartial and to disclose interests to anyone seeking their services. He said they are not allowed to receive a fee or gifts for those services.

During the debate, Arden McLean (East End) accused the premier of an “affront” to some of those holding the position whom have decades of experience in law, by insinuating they were not capable of carrying out their tasks as JPs. However, he accepted lay JPs did need training. McLean also assured the premier in regards to his remaining silent on the matter, “That not gonna happen.”

North Side member Ezzard Miller, who is a JP, said he was resigning from the role because the government was changing what it was meant to be and people, particularly civil servants, were being appointed for the wrong reasons. He said the training sessions he had attended recently was inadequate and described it as demeaning. Miller said the best way to address the problem relating to warrants is to simply remove their right to sign warrants, as that should be left to magistrates and judges only.

In his response to the debate, McLaughlin said McLean was making “mountains out of molehills” but that in this case there was “not even a molehill”. He derided the comments as McLean getting a “soapbox” to stand on and preach.

He also stressed the importance of such regulations for a position that has in the past been open to misconduct, and told the East End representative that he should really be supporting the measures to ensure the regulation of such a potentially powerful role.

The governor will still be in charge of appointing JPs but within a regulatory framework set out by elected officials. The new powers of Cabinet over this branch of the judiciary will alter the dynamic of the position of JP. As a result, there are some concerns about the ability of the JP’s, in their role as judicial officials, to act independently of the executive. The law provides Cabinet with what has been described as “potentially ambiguous powers over JPs misconduct”.

While this is a legitimate concern, so is the notion of an unaccountable and unregulated body of JPs that could potentially repeat the mistakes and misconduct that Cayman has seen in the past few years.

The bill was carried with 11 ‘ayes’ from the government benches in the face of five ‘noes’ from the opposition and independent members. 

Related article:

Legal blunders could cost public purse dear

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