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F….kng Driftwood

| 18/12/2014 | 264 Comments

That’s apparently what Minister Osborne Bodden thinks of you if you are not Caymanian by birthright or parentage, as evidenced by his aggressive verbal abuse of a Caymanian woman working as his chief officer. That’s what he ultimately thinks of approximately half of the Caymanians living in this country. In a single tirade Mr Bodden has threatened to set the country’s diversity back some 25 years.

But what has occurred in the past two days is just as harmful. A next to nothing statement from the premier and even less from the deputy governor suggest that this incident will be regarded as nothing more than a ‘serious-ish’ argument in the office. Requiring no more than a strong apology from the minister for his behavior and platitudes about how ‘tough things can get in the office environment when everyone cares so much about their work’. This response is also 100% sure proof that Mr Bodden’s actions have the support of his cabinet colleagues.

Because if you accept in this case that Mr Bodden’s actions are wrong, then you cannot come to any other conclusion other than that he must immediately tender his resignation. A sitting minister of Cabinet cannot hurl abuse at a woman. He/she cannot make a statement that threatens to divide a population of over 55,000 which has an unusually high percentage of expats. 

And for whats it worth to the premier politically, Mr Bodden’s actions threatens to further deepen the sentiment that his party has a tendency to be more than a little xenophobic; that those ‘paper Caymanians’ should somehow have less rights than the others; that it's time we take our country back from ‘them’, etc. While at the same time benefiting from your ‘driftwood votes’ come election time.

This country has gone through periods where its diversity has been threatened and in all cases it has managed to survive and come back out with some semblance of harmony. There is nothing easy about maintaining harmony on such a small island with a large percentage of expats but the fact that we managed to do so is a key feature of why we remain reasonably successful and safe compared to other countries.

Mr Bodden’s actions are wrong on many levels and deserve a response on many more. For example, the minister with responsibility for gender affairs would be keenly aware that violence against women includes actions that harm women mentally or psychologically, such as Mr Bodden’s tirade against the chief officer. Less than three weeks ago, after penning a viewpoint here on CNS about violence against women, Ms Rivers’s silence is deafening.

Mr Connolly, who went against the grain with such bravery to make a statement on how disappointed he was in the acquittal of the former premier on corruption charges, would do well to go against the grain on this occasion as well and publicly call for Mr Bodden’s resignation. The fact that the removal of Mr Bodden is more likely to result in someone other than Mr Connolly securing the position of minister should not deter Mr Connolly from doing the right thing.

Many of the sitting members of the LA, and in particular those on the government side, will try to hide behind the façade that their leader will take the lead on responding and that they must act united as a group. But the public will not rest this solely at Mr McLaughlin's feet. 

It is already resting not so quietly and growing by the day at the feet of Joey Hew, Alva Suckoo, Moses Kirkconnell, Marco Archer, Tara Rivers, Roy McTaggart, Anthony Eden, and Juliana O'Connor-Connolly (who waspreviously responsible for gender affairs). These members are especially important because they, as the ruling government, have the power to do what is right. The opposition has responded, although their response is at least partially politically motivated. But they are also on the hook and must call for Mr Bodden to do the right thing.

We understand that the governor and deputy governor will always do their best to ‘work’ with the existing political directorate but this issue rests squarely in their domain (security and the civil service). If they believe that Mr Bodden’s actions were wrong, they cannot hope that it quietly blows over with the Christmas breeze. And if they do not act, they should be among the first in line for the criticism.

As for the public, it has shown at least by the many comments online that overwhelmingly it feels Mr Bodden was wrong in his actions and would expect him to step down as a sitting member of what is increasingly difficult to call the Honourable Cabinet. The PPM would do well to listen and act quickly.

In Mr Bodden’s tirade he reportedly told his CO to get the f..k out of his office.

You sir (and without the profanity) should ‘drift’ out of ours.

 

CNS poll 1: Should Osbourne Bodden resign from Cabinet?

CNS poll 2: If Osbourne Bodden resigned or was ousted from the Health Ministry, who should replace him?

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Gas prices unrealistic and unjustified

| 17/12/2014 | 72 Comments

The prices at the retail pumps across Grand Cayman are unrealistic, unjustified and cannot be allowed to continue without intervention from our government. Although I write for myself, I am sure that I echo the sentiments of many who call these Islands home, that I am completely mystified as to how across the United States you can drive up to a gas station and purchase gas at US$2.00 a gallon and we here in Grand Cayman continue to pay CI$5.65 or US$7.06.

We purchase the majority of our fuel from the Gulf States, Texas in particular. In Texas today (December 10th); the average price of gasoline was US$ 2.16 per gallon.

Global oil prices are at levels last seen before the global economic meltdown. However, recent events are placing even more downward pricing pressures on oil prices generally: US domestic increased production; additional capacity coming on stream such as Africa (due to less internal political turmoil and more oil reserve findings) and so far, the oil production from Iraq has not been threatened by the ISIS threat. To further drive prices down, Asia and Europe demand is assessed to be weakening, creating what will likely be another “oil glut” in the New Year.

Some retailers of gasoline have said to me that we have to be mindful when comparing US prices to those in Cayman because of the US government subsidy given for Ethanol production. Well, my research shows that the US government did in fact have such a subsidy but it ended in 2011. Also, the subsidy was to US refineries only.

Our local gasoline suppliers should not be allowed to continually play games with the Caymanian consumers by always throwing up clichéd excuses like “economies of scale”; “global events”; “lagging effect”; “fuel duties” and “irrelevant US retail prices” because the true fact is that 90% of our gasoline that is imported in the Cayman Islands comes from the US Gulf States, predominantly Texas, and today you can buy a gallon of gas in Texas for US$2.16 per gallon. Indeed, since 2012, the price of regular gas (US$/G) has fallen some 40% to some US$2.60 currently.

We in the Cayman Islands have not seen a reduction of that magnitude ever!

The recent reduction of cents per gallon equates only to 0.07%. We can surely demand and expect a better treatment by our local gasoline suppliers than that.

One should also bear in mind that when these large oil companies are entering the marketplace to purchase their allotment of oil supplies, they utilize their profit centers to place their bulk orders. These profit centers are wholly owned subsidiaries of their parent companies and as such they utilize their tremendous purchasing power to ensure that they can secure their individual fuel allocation (based on forecasted demand from their regional counties/ islands that they supply) at discounted prices. This is so because in the real marketplace the more you purchase (in monetary terms) the greater is your leverage to secure lower or most favored prices.

To conclude my letter and hopefully drive my main argument home let me say this:

Once these profit centers (wholly owned subsidiaries of the large oil companies) purchase their fuel allotment, they then in-turn “on-sell” their fuel to their clients. These can be other smaller subsidiaries that are scattered around the world but certainly they will include those in the Cayman Islands.

These larger oil companies have the capacity to even bulk store their fuel and then to “sell/ deliver” to their smaller regional subsidiaries or affiliated companies as and when they demand more supplies. But what is vitally important to always bear in mind is that these regular and random oil deliveries that one sees arriving at our South Sound Terminal are not (I repeat!) not, being purchased at high prices on a spot basis. These are inventory fuel deliveries, made in advance, at the best possible market prices, by these individual “profit centers” or wholly owned subsidiaries of the large oil companies.

In essence, due to their ability to bulk store their own oil inventory, these “profit centers” are actually “selling” to Cayman their own fuel product.

I support the ongoing discussions with south Texas based Navasota Energy, which I firmly believe would result in our own ability to experience long term lower fuel prices by the development of a new bulk fuel storage facility which could be ideally situated in the deep waters in our Eastern district. Failing that, it is my position that government should consider the implementation of price control legislation, which could be invoked as the situation demands, to address what we are currently experiencing.

What I am saying is that we, the general public, in these beloved Cayman Islands are being subjected to modern day “high way robbery” by our local gasoline oil distributors’ and also that based on what has been happening in the global oil and petroleum market, since 2012, the retail prices that we are being subjected to in regards to our local gas prices are “unrealistic” and “unjustified”.

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Human Rights 365

| 10/12/2014 | 38 Comments

The 10th of December commemorates the date on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; a declaration which recognises equality and dignity for all individuals. Today is referred to as International Human Rights Day (IHRD). This year the United Nations has chosen to recognise IHRD through the theme “Human Rights 365” focusing on the need to promote and progress human rights on a daily basis.

A key focus of the United Nations this year is the use of social media and as such the United Nations is promoting IHRD through #rights365.

Human rights in the Cayman Islands are enshrined in Part One of the Cayman Islands Constitution Order 2009 – the Bill of Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities. They are the rights which the Cayman Islands Government commits to providing to the individuals of these islands.

Human rights are not the cause, or solution to, social issues; rather they are certain protected and fundamental rights which all of us are entitled to as human beings. They encompass such important guarantees as the right to life, the right to religious freedom and the right to a fair trial, amongst others. These rights are guaranteed, in various forms, to promote dignity and equality of all. It is through these fundamental rights that a fair and just society is created and democracy is nurtured. It is because of these rights that as individuals we enjoy the quality of life we do in the Cayman Islands.

Nothing is perfect. Human rights get abused just as other parts of the system get abused; but the nurturing and respect for these principles has underpinned the successes of the western liberal democratic model.  Without the government guaranteeing these rights our islands would be in a far less stable and prosperous position today.

Many persons recently celebrated Thanksgiving and many more are about to celebrate religious holidays in the coming weeks.  This is the time of year to count our blessings and be thankful.  It is also perhaps an opportunity to reflect and ask what can I do to play my part in promoting equality and dignity for those around me on a daily basis?

The Human Rights Commission works to review local draft legislation, government policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the Bill of Rights.  Much of this is highly technical work which takes place behind the scenes and is only detailed in the Commission's annual report. So far 2014 has seen the Commission focus on issues such as the protection of privacy, preservation of private and family life, and a reinforcement of the absolute stance against inhuman and degrading treatment. 

The Commission has also been working more publicly to try to promote a better understanding of human rights and to dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding them.

Over the next twelve months we will continue working with the Cayman Islands' government and with local and international organisations to protect these fundamental rights and spread the message of human rights progress and equality – #rights365.

For more information on human rights in the Cayman Islands or to contact the Human Rights Commission visit our website www.humanrightscommission.ky or Facebook page www.facebook.com/cihrc. Educational pamphlets are available at the George Town Hospital, the Courts Offices, George Town Library or the District Administration Building. Alternatively you can call us at 244-3685 or come by our offices at Cayman Corporate Centre on Hospital Road.

 

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The indirect consequences of Ebola

| 09/12/2014 | 5 Comments

10 years ago, I recall desperately seeking home content insurance with the threat of Hurricane Dean looming in our midst. Having experienced the lessons of Hurricane Ivan, all 6 insurance company representatives smiled (some laughed) and told me to come back the next week, (once the storm had passed). 

Whilst Cayman was fortunate to escape the wrath of Dean, the same reaction is being faced now by many emergency response delegates responding to the Ebola crisis. Given the current statistics, insuring health workers and volunteers working in the field is being considered a “Big Ask” and whilst most are covered for general health care and accidents, ‘epidemics’ aren’t often covered under such policies. Hence there are a number of personal risking their lives in the fight against Ebola who have no health insurance. So the question is, “How are we protecting/ supporting our ‘front line’ workers and volunteers, (many of whom are unpaid) in carrying out this heroic task? Are we doing enough?”

If the insurance concerns weren’t enough, many are facing other issues. Whilst these very workers are having a real impact on decreasing the spread of Ebola in West Africa, many who return home having completed their ‘assignment’ are not being treated to the ‘hero’s welcome’ they deserve but to fear, rejection and in some cases, isolation by their friends, family and community.

Having attended the IFRC’s Regional Ebola Preparedness Conference last week in Panama, I heard several stories first hand of Red Cross delegates who had recently been working in Ebola Treatment Centres in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

One in particular commented that returning home was more difficult then the mission itself. Another delegate from Chad was locked up when he returned home only to be ‘sent back’ to Liberia the next day. Others have returned home to “Western civilization” only to be quarantined or rejected and shunned by their communities. By way of example, Martha, on returning home to Spain was hounded by the media after her neighbor ‘exposed’ her.

Despite taking all necessary precautions (testing her temperature twice daily and being closely monitored etc.), she experienced significant adversity as did her roommate who was refused entry to his school for 21 days despite never stepping foot in West Africa. Whilst I thoroughly appreciate the global concerns about Ebola and the need to take precautionary measures, such treatment is fundamentally unjust, disproportionate and will likely reduce delegates’ ability/ willingness to work in affected countries in the future.

On a different note, countries spending significant expenditure to control their borders/ set up internal emergency response structures etc. is somewhat futile if the root of the cause, the affected countries themselves aren’t being substantially invested in (to prevent the further spread of infection).

Furthermore when so many countries are desperately seeking supplies, namely personal protection gear, masks etc, producers of such items simply can’t keep up with the demand. As a consequence, such equipment is becoming increasingly difficult to access, and whilstmany countries can afford to purchase supplies ‘just in case’, priority must undoubtedly be given to those directly affected today. Unfortunately this isn’t necessarily the case.

Whilst I have already mentioned the ‘stigma’ associated with emergency response delegates and volunteers, stigmatization and racial stereotyping of African nationals is also on the rise with the epidemic.

As so eloquently put by one of the responders from Sierra Leone (JP), the battle of the Red Cross is to:

1) Fight the Ebola virus
2) Provide a voice of reason against fear and stigmatization

Similar to the post 9/11 reaction, it appears in some countries that anyone who has a connection with ‘Africa’ is considered a potential threat whilst in reality the affected areas are in West Africa (Sierra Leone/ Liberia/ Guinea/ Mali) and are microscopic given the size of the African continent.

Whilst Ebola outbreaks have been around since 1976, it is still a largely ‘unknown area’, often phrased “Fearabola”. The epidemic is largely one of fear as opposed to direct science and whilst there is a real and direct threat to those living in affected areas (in particular those caring for the sick or carrying out ritualistic burial procedures), the threat to the rest of the world is not as critical as some media outlets would like us believe. There is a real need for us to attempt to understand the reality surrounding Ebola in order to prevent further spread of fear and stigmatization.

In keeping with the theme of ‘Fearabola’, rumours amongst many nationals in affected countries as to the root cause of the epidemic is rife. By way of example, as described to a Red Cross delegate, the reason why Ebola started was because an ‘invisible plane full of witches crashed in West Africa’, others believe that ‘Ebola was spread by rain drops’ or by ‘Aid workers who want to take over the continent’ or ‘who are carrying out experiments and want to use West African nationals to practice on’. Several delegates had been chased away by locals or had their ambulances burnt and Ebola treatment centres (where they worked) sabotaged.

This sounds disturbing from an outsiders perspective, however who can blame a community when one of its’ members gets sick and are taken away by health workers dressed in ‘alien’ suits who refuse to allow them to say an intimate goodbye to a loved one nor bury family members in accordance with their cultural and religious burial practices? Whilst the reputation of aid workers responding to the crisis is slowly improving and understanding is on the rise, there is still distrust/ denial associated with these ‘aliens’, hence why decreasing the spread of Ebola is rife with numerous issues.

As JP stated, the approach by many response agencies in the field has been a ‘public health’ approach but this alone is insufficient. In the 3 countries most greatly affected, there are significant religious, ethnic, cultural and social aspects that we need to engage in in order that a humanitarian response is effective. We need to be working with community leaders, religious entities and other stakeholders who “know” their own people and who are more likely to be listened to then an outsider.

Just food for thought……..

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Cayman Thanksgiving

| 05/12/2014 | 49 Comments

I know that we are in the midst of the busy Christmas season, but it’s time once again for us show our gratitude for our multitude of blessings. Four years ago an innocent child asked her parents why the Cayman Islands did not set aside a specific day to give thanks for allthat we have. After all, she observed, other countries take time to stop, share a meal, fellowship and offer gratitude.

Fortunately for us, that little girl’s parents took her question to heart and set into motion what is becoming a new annual tradition – Cayman Thanksgiving. As was recently announced in the Legislative Assembly by our Minister for Culture, Hon. Osbourne Bodden, Cabinet has agreed to officially recognise the first Sunday in December as Cayman Thanksgiving.

This first Sunday in December, marks the official end of hurricane season; one of the many things for which we can be thankful.

God has spared us the wrath of another atrocious storm this year and for that we are extremely grateful. But there are so many other reasons for us to give thanks.

I believe sometimes we forget, in the grand scheme of things, that Cayman is blessed beyond measure. We hear and read of wars, famine, starvation, crises – well the list goes on – in other countries. Sometimes I believe we have become a country of bickering people. Cayman Thanksgiving is meant for us to stop sniping, reflect and join together for fellowship and a meal. It is also about our Caymanian heritage, which is steeped in food, music, faith and sense of family; it’s what still connects us as a people.

The best way to be thankful, I think, is to use what you have for the greater good.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, he tells us that Jesus finds favour in those who actively care for their fellow man. Beginning in verse 35 Matthew writes “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you invited Me in; naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to visit me”.

Jesus was telling the most righteous among him that whenever they had taken care of their fellow man, they had also cared for Him.

We are called to care for our brothers and sisters and that includes all and sundry who live in and visit the Cayman Islands.

I invite you to begin the celebration of Cayman Thanksgiving on Saturday, 6 December, in Lower Valley where Thanksgiving and Marketon the Grounds have been combined to give us Market and Music at the Grounds at the Agricultural Pavilion. It’s going to be a free day of entertainment and camaraderie. While you are there, get a plate of food, let your children have fun with some of the planned activities, or buy locally grown provisions to create your own Cayman Thanksgiving meal.

Many of our churches will also be holding special Thanksgiving services on Saturday and Sunday. Going to a church service is always a good way to show our thanks.

As many of our traditions in the Cayman Islands go, food is an integral part of the festivities. That includes Cayman Thanksgiving. You can host a dinner, be a guest, prepare traditional Caymanian food or go to any of the restaurants offering a Cayman Thanksgiving-themed dinner.

I said earlier that we have been spared the wrath of another hurricane this season. That means many of us have stocks of hurricane supplies, including non-perishable food. I encourage you to take those supplies to a food bank or fix up a basket of goodies for a family or person in need.

We indeed do have so much to be grateful for in Cayman.

I want to publicly thank Kayci Rose for asking that innocent question of her parents four years ago and for her parents, their friends and the many dedicated volunteers for sharing this vision with the rest of the country, setting into motion one of our newest and most precious traditions.

Please take this weekend to show kindness to each other and show your thanks for all our many blessings.

On behalf of Government, my family and myself, I wish you a happy Cayman Thanksgiving.

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Failing Hannah

| 04/12/2014 | 30 Comments

Local media covered, to some extent, the premiere and success of “Hannah’s Confession”, the play by local award-winning playwright Patricia Marie Bent which debuted at the Harquail Theatre in September and was brought back by popular demand in November. Nearly every news outlet spoke of the excellence of the cast, the well-constructed dialogue and plot, and the realistic portrayal of what goes on in the not so visible corners of “Product Cayman”.

The few outlets that covered the work more extensively touched on the darker themes of the play — domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse, bullying — but did so from a safer distance, favoring to highlight what was described as the “positive message” within it all.

“Hannah’s Confession” was brilliant, not only due to its ability to spotlight these “darker themes” — the willfully ignored or outright downplayed reality of Beloved Isle Cayman — but also by being able to highlight how we, as a society, have failed our children at every turn.  From the family members/“nosy next door neighbours”, to the church, schools, police service, and social services “Hannah’s Confession” lays out in simple ways all the missed opportunities for protection and intervention, distributes the responsibility equally among the different sectors of our community and turns the mirror on its audience for, at the very least, introspection.

What the news outlets failed to cover was that the most jarring, disturbing and outright infuriating aspects of the experience for some audience members were not those that took place on stage and not for lack of content. During a particularly difficult scene, where Hannah’s mother and father (portrayed by the incredible Rita Estevanovich and Michael McLaughlin) end up in a confrontation that quickly turns violent and highlights both actors’ commitment to the role as they realistically portray a no-holds-barred physical fight, the overwhelming audience response was not outrage or shock; it was laughter.

Comedy club laughter.

To clarify: there were numerous parts of the play’s dialogue that were intentionally funny, and the delivery by the actors made them outright hilarious. Yet there was no discernment among a good number of audience members between the comedy and the drama. This was not the only scene that evoked this inappropriate response, among them was also the scene where the mother’s new boyfriend is making overtly sexual passes at the young Hannah, who is clearly uncomfortable.

The inappropriate reaction to seeing sexually abusive behavior towards a child as well as acts of physical violence being perpetrated were not expressed solely by the young people who were watching the play. Adults too, both Caymanians and expats, in various capacities, including educators and other professionals, were among those finding humor in the situation.

Those who left the theatre feeling disconcerted and disgusted have been pondering how to make sense of this experience and more broadly what it means as it pertains to the state of our community.

To attribute this reaction, which members of the cast confirmed were the norm and not the exception, to our immature theatre culture and inability to process anything other than comedies is a far too kind and rose-coloured explanation of what appears to be a much more troubling reality.

On the one hand, perhaps the reality portrayed on stage is in fact so commonplace for those who experience it daily that, in their struggle to keep their head above water, they have lost their ability to empathize with another with similar struggles. It is an utterly indifferent response expressed through statements like: “I get my licks, so why I must feel sorry for you?”, “Das how it go”, “That’s life”, or the myriad of other ways which reaffirm that this type of violence is normal.

On the other hand, perhaps as a community we have become so accustomed to consuming violence in its various forms — in our communities, on TV, at the movies, in our news, via our radio, online and in our games — that we have become truly desensitized to it.

In a world where the brutal beating of a toddler by her Ugandan nanny is captured on film and disseminated so as to attain “viral” status, a man pushing a woman with such force so as to make her lose her footing and fall hard is a meaningless act by comparison. In our mass consumption we have grown increasingly tolerant as violence is now measured comparatively against the great archive of violent acts stored in our psyche.

There may be those who think this is a gross overreaction, but consider this: what message was sent to the young members of the cast, whose ages ranged from 8-16, when emotionally charged, threatening, violent and serious situations were met with such response?

Worse yet, who can guarantee that this cavalier reaction is confined to the theatre?  What of the child who presents with signs of abuse to one of these adults? A mandate to report is not a mandate to empathise, so with what reaction will s/he be greeted?

Those among us who work on trying to raise awareness of issues such as child sexual abuse and domestic violence have long held to the hope that making our population aware is half the battle won. Our belief has been that in helping to publicly assert that these things are happening and helping our people correctly name our problems we will take the most necessary step towards collectively finding a solution for it.

Yet, the cast of “Hannah’s Confession” laid out our problems on a silver platter, with all the trimmings, and provided us with a service next to none. Their last two performances, in fact, took place within the context of a Cayman Islands where six year old Bethany Butler was brutally stabbed multiple times by her mother just weeks prior.  If ever there was a time for the messages to resonate, this should have been it.

And still there was laughter.

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International Day: Persons with disabilities

| 03/12/2014 | 3 Comments

With recent history being made by the passing of the first ever Cayman Islands Disability Policy 2014-2033 we have much to celebrate on this year’s International Day for Persons with Disabilities in the Cayman Islands.This Policy is a huge step in the right direction to “ensuring persons with disabilities live with dignity, are respected, and have the opportunity to participate fully in society”. 

This is the vision of the Policy which encapsulates all that we as a country should aim to achieve as we develop a more accepting and inclusive community for all.

The annual observance of the International Day for Persons with Disabilities was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1992.  This year’s theme is “Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology” which focuses on the role of technology in disaster risk reduction and emergency responses, creating enabling working environments and disability-inclusive sustainable development goals (www.un.org/disabilities). 

The Cayman Islands Disability Policy goals include the need to make technology accessible for persons with disabilities to function in their everyday lives.  Goal 2 in particular, addresses employment and aims at ensuring that persons with disabilities have equal access to employment opportunities.  It also addresses the need for some persons with disabilities to access assistive devices in order to perform their duties. Both the Public and Private sectors are encouraged to support putting in place such accommodations, so that persons with disabilities can have access to the necessary tools required to carry out their work.

Disaster risk reduction is always a top priority in the Cayman Islands, as is seen in our annual preparations for Hurricane Season.  Being safe during natural disasters is taken seriously by our residents, who remember the devastation we experienced during Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Paloma.  Goal 4 Strategy A in the Cayman Islands Disability Policy includes the provision for persons with disabilities in the National Hazard Management Plan, particularly in regard to transportation and shelter accommodations.  We must ensure the safety of all citizens of the country, which of course includes persons with disabilities, who may require more support and assistance.

The entire policy document supports disability-inclusive sustainable development goals.  Persons with disabilities are not separate to our society; they make up a significant number, should have equal rights as everyone else, and should be included in all development goals of the Cayman Islands.  According to the World Health Organisation, over a billion people in the world have some form of disability (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs352/en/).  That is approximately 15% of the World’s population.  In the Cayman Islands, our 2010 Census Report showed that approximately 3,000 people identified themselves as having some form of disability which ranged from physical, mental and intellectual disabilities; however, we know that these numbers are underestimated as the statistical collection framework used for the collection of such data does not sufficiently capture all persons with disabilities within the Cayman Islands currently.

The work of improving the rights of persons with disabilities in the Cayman Islands has taken a significant amount of time and meaningful effort is still needed to create and develop a fully inclusive society for all.  But we are charging forth in the right direction and this work has my support, as well as that of the Cabinet and the Government as a whole. I would like to thank the Policy Steering Committee and all persons who have contributed in some way to protecting and improving the rights of persons with disabilities in the Cayman Islands.

In honour of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I encourage everyone to wear yellow, the recognised colour for celebrating and supporting the day, and get involved in the process.  As we continue to change attitudes towards Persons with Disabilities, to those of respect, appreciation and inclusion in our society, we do well to remember one of the key messages of a Special Olympics International campaign:  “It is not a person’s disabilities, but rather their abilities that are important.”

 

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16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence Campaign

| 25/11/2014 | 20 Comments

Though we are mainly known for tropical weather and beautiful beaches, the Caribbean is also one of the most violent regions in the world and experiences a deplorable level of violence against women and girls. Here in the Cayman Islands we are not spared the evils of gender-based violence, which by definition includes rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, trafficking in women, forced prostitution, sexual harassment and harmful cultural practices.

Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and also the first day of the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence campaign, which runs through 10th December – International Human Rights Day – to reaffirm that women’s rights are human rights. We must respect the dignity of all people and their right to live a life free from violence.

Focusing on violence against women is not to ignore the suffering of boys and men, who are also victims of domestic and sexual violence as well as disproportionate victims of homicide and other violent crimes. However, historical inequities and cultural stereotypes do make women and girls more vulnerable to gender-based violence and at this time of the year we focus on their particular circumstances and needs.

Gender based violence encompasses many difficult topics that are often hard to talk about, especially in public. However, that is exactly what we must do in order to decrease such violence. We have laws on the books and many services and resources available, but until we change our mindset we will never eliminate this scourge.

We cannot separate public and private crime; robberies at our local businesses and murders in our streets are not removed from domestic violence in our homes and sexual assault in our bedrooms. Yet we do not condemn these crimes with the same conviction. We often think victims must have motives to lie about their experiences or that what has occurred is not a crime but rather a private matter between two individuals. Or we may ask what she did to anger her partner, or wonder how much she drank that night.

This social tolerance of violence and victim blaming and shaming is unacceptable. Those who would turn a blind eye to violence or who discriminate against victims of gender-based crimes by treating them differently than they would a person who states that he or she has been burgled or assaulted are not a part of the solution.

Government has a responsibility to keep people safe and the anti-violence legal framework in our nation is strong and progressive. We do recognise that there are areas where implementation and capacity building can be improved and are committed to strengthening our laws and policies, putting mechanisms in place to build more inclusive and supportive structures to enforce them, and also addressing the root causes of these crimes to prevent violence from occurring in the first place.

However, these laws and policies will not work without support from stakeholders and from the general public. As citizens and residents of the Cayman Islands, we must work together for a safer community, and national security must include a focus on making homes, schools, workplaces and social settings safe. Violence against women is systemic, and it has been allowed to flourish in our society as a result of gender inequality. We are therefore all accountable for changing this offensive reality.

The 16 Days of Activism campaign is an organising strategy and an opportunity to renew our commitment to addressing these pervasive abuses that are often unacknowledged, under acknowledged or worse, denied. Violence against women is a public health issue; it has severe negative effects on children who witness and/or are victims of violence; it affects national productivity; and it is an obstacle to social development and true and lasting peace. Violence threatens the physical integrity of women and girls, limits their choices and affects their daily lives.

On this occasion, let us all therefore engage meaningfully in action to address gender-based violence however and wherever we can. I urge you all to join me in considering the ways in which we can challenge the structures which perpetuate gender-based violence, enact positive change and eliminate violence in our Islands. We owe it to our women and girls and also to our men and boys.

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Men’s Day Message

| 19/11/2014 | 35 Comments

In bringing this year’s message for International Men’s Day, I want to focus on our individual selves, because if we don’t take care of ourselves, we won’t be capable of measuring up to this year’s theme of “Working together for men and boys”. If we, as individuals, set priorities and adopt standards that we take into consideration in everything we do, I believe the Cayman Islands would be the envy of the world, not necessarily because of our financial standing, but because we would be seen as a community of values and morals that dictate our daily lives.

This year’s theme was chosen in an effort to encourage greater cooperation in addressing the issues that affect men and boys all over the world.  Six areas of focus – or pillars – were identified for International Men’s Day: Working together to promote positive male role models; celebrate men’s positive contributions; focus on men’s health and well-being; highlight discrimination against males; improve gender relations and improve gender equality; and create a safer, better world.

We know there are men and boys in our community who are living decent and honest lives. I would go so far as to say that those males have clear standards and priorities in their lives.

Society is also being encouraged to celebrate men’s positive contributions to society, community, family,marriage, child care and the environment. We see it daily in the Cayman Islands when males give of themselves by volunteering, take care of their families and nourish their marriages.  

I believe our health and wellbeing are our individual priorities. We must be seen to be taking care of ourselves and seek out help when we need it.

While it is a given that the Cayman Islands society has long been considered male dominated, there is evidence of discrimination here on our shores. That has to end.

It is the sixth pillar – to create a safer, better world – I believe we achieve through our individual actions. And I am not talking about selfish actions. Our individual, human actions can lift someone up or tear them

down. Through them we can be positive male role models, make good stewards to our communities and families and help end discrimination.

Fittingly, this year the Family Resource Centre is encouraging all men in the Cayman Islands to take the CayMAN Pledge, which commits them to improving themselves in all facets of their lives. That in turn strengthens our community and benefits the lives of others who live among us. It is for this reason why I have committed as the country’s Premier to uphold the principles contained in the pledge and I would encourage others to join me as we celebrate International Men’s Day this year.

In closing, I leave you with the words of Tony Award winning actress Phylicia Rashad who said “Everything you do, every thought you have, every word you say creates a memory that you will hold in your body. It's imprinted on you and affects you in subtle ways – ways you are not always aware of. With that in mind, be very conscious and selective”.

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Role of the auditor general

| 12/11/2014 | 22 Comments

The auditor general has come in for much undeserved or un-earned criticism from certain politicians in recent times but I feel duty bound to comment on the two most recent acts by politicians during the last meeting of the Legislative Assembly. The first was the statement by the minister of finance in offering his explanation and/or excuses for the latest bad report tabled by the auditor general on the state of government’s accounts or the lack thereof. The second was the “personal explanation” given by the leader of the opposition, who was the minister of finance for the period reported on by the auditor general.

I believe both of these statements were inappropriate and should not have been allowed by the speaker of the Legislative Assembly.

The auditor general's position and therefore the occupant at the time enjoys certain protections under the Cayman Islands Constitution Order 2009 and he cannot be instructed by anyone, not even the governor and reports only to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Legislative Assembly. The PAC is elected every four years immediately after the swearing in ceremony of the newly elected members of the Legislative Assembly.

In 2013 the most unusual thing happened. Hon. Alden McLaughlin, as premier of the Cayman Islands, nominated the former minister of finance to be a member of the PAC and I understand the other members of the committee later elected him deputy chairman of the PAC.

This has to represent a serious breach of “good governance” best practices, which the PPM government claims to uphold and practice. It has also been reported in the media that the current PAC chairman has written to the leader of the opposition and asked him to resign from the committee, a request that is not grounded in either the Cayman Islands Constitution Order 2009 or the Standing Orders of the Legislative Assembly and has been ignored by the leader of the opposition — and rightly so.

The proper course of action would be for the premier, who nominated him in the first place, or the chairman of the PAC, as a member of the Legislative Assembly, to move a motion in a duly constituted sitting of the Legislative Assembly to remove him and elect another member to the PAC.

Not likely to happen; they are afraid of the leader of the opposition's response to such a motion.

This kind of erosion of the authority and importance of the PAC and the auditor general is unfortunate and is part of the wider erosion of the morals, principles and ethics we should expect and get from elected members of the Legislative Assembly.

The proper procedure and process that is required by Standing Orders in the Legislative Assembly and the Public Management and Finance Law (PMFL) for the handling of the reports of the auditor general is as follows:

*All government entities should close their accounts and submit them to the auditor general for his audit within two months of the end of the financial year.

*The auditor general shall express an opinion on the financial statements he received within two months of receipt of the financial statements to the relative entity and to the Legislative Assembly. Such reports are normally referred to the PAC by the speaker.

*The PAC should review the finding of the auditor general and produce a report independent of the auditor general supporting or rejecting his findings. Said report of the PAC should be forwarded to the Cabinet for government’s response to the findings of the PAC.

*The government should respond to the PAC’s report in what is known as the Government Minute, detailing what their response to each of the findings will be, including an implementation timetable.

*The auditor general’s report, the PAC report and the Government Minute should all be laid on the table together and debated by the members of the Legislative Assembly.

Unfortunately, this procedure and process has been eroded and bastardized over the last decade, firstly with the delays in the entities in submitting their financial statements to the auditor general and the severe decline in the quality and reliability of the financial statements.

The PAC several years back, I believe during the first PPM administration, instead of being timely and genuine in its review of the auditor general's reports made the grave error of allowing the auditor general to release his reports to the media two days after he delivered them to the speaker. This appears to have been a compromise made between the PAC and the auditor general, who was complaining that his reports were being delayed in their release to the public, thereby denying information.

The media circus and sensationalism that surrounded these reports from the auditor general without the review to confirm or reject his findings by the PAC and the total absence of the Government Minute to correct the findings of the auditor general contributed greatly to the erosion of the role of the auditor general and the PAC.

The actual absence of any commitment by government to correct what was obviously going wrong with government accounting for its expenditure belies any sense of confidence by the public that government was actually spending the people’s money in accordance with the annual plan and estimates.

A review of the annual reports laid on the table of the Legislative Assembly, so proudly by ministers in the former UDP and now PPM governments, will show the same problems repeated year after year with none of the recommendations by the auditor general being implemented.

The alarming and concerning headlines in the media that around one billion dollars cannot be properly accounted for in a way that allows the auditor general to issue an unqualified audit statement is just the most recent example of this comedy of errors. The acceptance by those responsible of poor performance and incompetence by those charged to producethese accounts in accordance with the PMFL is rather troubling.

The statement of the minister of finance which quibbled with the figures produced by the auditor general and included the statement of actions taken by his ministry, while inappropriate in the process, should provide some small comfort to us, the general public, that he is making positive steps to correct the situation and hopefully the accounts for 2014/2015 will be much improved.

The excuses included in the “personal explanation” by the former minister of finance provided no comfort to us, the general public, as it comes so late after the facts relating to 2011/2012 accounts for which he was responsible under the PMFL. If staffing was an issue, either of incompetence or shortage in numbers, he had the authority under the law to correct it either by funding additional posts or asking the deputy governor to evaluate their performance and replace them if necessary.

After all, he was at the time premier, the same premier who may have been involved in sending three senior civil servants home on full pay and benefits.

There is and has been for at least five years widespread support and recognition that some revision of the provisions of the PMFL is needed. I hear on the radio that this PPM government has commissioned yet another study of the PMFL and we all wait with baited breath for the amending bill to be presented to the Legislative Assembly and the debate that will follow.

There is an urgent national need to have this mess cleaned up and any proposed solution should not allow for continued excuses and procrastination by the most senior of civil servants, up to and including the governor and deputy governor.

However, there seems to be a disconnect between the administering power, the UK, through the FCO, in appointing the deputy governor to manage the budgeting process, which was and is working fairly well and in accordance with the PMFL, but not putting anyone solely in charge and responsible for the financial statements.

The Strategic Policy Statement (SPS), which has been presented on or before December 1st in every year for which there has been no financial statements, is likely to be presented on time again this year by the PPM administration.

Oh why, oh why, cannot the same chief officers and chief financial officers who prepare the SPS keep the accounts of their expenditure in accordance with their budget projections and authorizations for the same year and present proper financial statements to the auditor general for auditing?

It seems rather routine and simple. They prepare a budget which is approved and expenditure authorized by the Legislative Assembly, from which they get monthly drawdowns for specific expenditures as authorized. But they can’t keep proper records of these expenditures.

Why do the persons in charge continue to release funds if there are no accounting records?

Now, here is a novel idea: do not release month three funds unless the first month is accounted for to trial balance. Is it not required that each minister sign off on the last month’s expenditure before the next month’s funds are released?

This correction will require a paradigm shift by both the political as well as the civil service.
It will require both to move away from what George Kennan observed in 1959: “The tendency today is to achieve administrative arrangements geared completely to the workings of mediocrity – arrangements which, as the saying goes, the least talented can operate and the most intelligent cannot disturb.”

They, both the politicians and the civil service, must assert their given authority, accept responsibility and accountability to do the right thing morally, ethically, principally and legally.
Simply put, when the auditor general reports inadequacies in the financial accounting, ALL must accept their authority and responsibility to correct the inadequacies during the current or at the latest the next financial year

All that is required is the auditor general must audit, make recommendations to improve the accounts, the PAC confirms the recommendations of the auditor general to the government and the government implements the recommendations.

At last, success!

The financial statements are improved and are more reliable the next year and the public has confidence that the money is being spent as intended.

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