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The Emperor’s qualifications

| 31/10/2014 | 133 Comments

Once upon a time there existed in the islands that time forgot a thriving opportunity for its people to develop and work in an industry that would welcome visitors to its shores.
These three emeralds in the northwestern Caribbean Sea were inhabited by a hardworking industrious people who had endured and even prospered through various farming and industrial initiatives. Then the need to establish transportation from and to the islands led them to become expert boat builders and seamen.

They even progressed to the great heights of building ships for the United States Navy to use in the Second World War to defeat and turn back the Nazis.

Their skills in seamanship and boat building led to the development of the turtle industry and the establishment of a canning factory for turtle products, some of which were shipped to the European countries and were even reported to have been consumed by Royalty.

These same home grown skills and the advent of Southwell led to many of the men taking to sea for lucrative careers as seamen and in the fifties decade they earned, through hard work, determination and commitment, the reputation of the world’s best seamen. They commanded and crewed the largest supertankers and transported the most dangerous of cargoes across the world’s most treacherous seas and oceans.

The tourism industry grew into a thriving industry and during the years of the greatest expansion every hotel in the Cayman Islands was managed and staffed by friendly ambitious hardworking islanders, who went out of their way to please a guest. The industry was built on relationships between the hotel staff and its guests. Many of our first time visitors returned because of the way they were treated by the friendly islander bartender, waitress or cleaning ladies.

The advent of corporate and brand name hotels led to their demands for qualifications unavailable to the islanders to work in their hotels, and the government’s response to their demands, which was to by allow them to get work permits for persons with qualifications, led to the deliberate exclusion of Caymanians without these Emperor’s qualifications (Emperor's new clothes).

While these persons on work permits may have possessed some types of qualifications on paper based on the needs in their own countries, they had no knowledge of the islanders' way of doing things or the Islanders' work ethic or personality. The guests complained about the changing level of service, the increased cost to provide these persons on work permits and the changing clothes of the Emperor.

The focus of the corporate name brand on profits led to the extraction of the Caymanian flavour and relationship-based tourism to get them in, take their money and send them back home. These Emperor's new attitudes led to blaming the islanders' laid back, respectful, accommodating, helpful attitude as being lazy unreliable and not good for profits (more Emperor’s new clothes).

The friendly island, bartender who would willing tell an entertaining seaman’s tale to ease the troubles of the guest, now his friend, and sometimes slowly invented new rum-based drinks like the mudslide, yellowbird and fluffypussy, were told they were not qualified because they could not and did not juggle bottles of rum or beer (more Emperors new clothes) in a flamboyant way and drip their sweat generated from all these body movements into your beer or mixed drink. The friendly honest islander bartenders were unlikely to inflate their friend’s bill that was now computer generated with other patron’s drinks or double bill for your drinks which could lead to loss of profits

The elected governments of these three emerald islands tried on several occasions to replace these Emperor's new qualifications with home grown qualification for Caymanians, only to have these efforts thwarted and eventually stopped by the corporate and brand name managers, through hirings and terminations in rapid succession  — often because they interacted with the guest against corporate policy.

These hardworking islanders who were used to having to find ways to survive and improve their lot encouraged their children to shift their focus to the fast growing financial industry and abandon the tourism jobs to the work permit holders.

It was not long before these easygoing accommodating islanders were overrun in the financial industry as well and the Emperor’s new qualifications that had been so effective in the tourism sector was introduced into the financial industry.

Political leaders in these emerald isles then abounded their principles of integrity, honesty and interest in the island’s welfare and progress for WIIFM (what is in it for me) philosophy and concentrated on inward investment (more Emperor’s new clothes) to stimulate and grow the economy.

A few brave and barefaced politicians tried to tell the people the Emperor was naked but they were ridiculed by the powers that be and told they were xenophobic and were against development and wrong. They enforced the Emperor’s qualifications on the gullible and corruptible, who were willing to sell out to the handlers of the emperor or just go along and do nothing.

Today the islanders are outnumbered in the work place, the Emperors command the top jobs, own most of the successful business in both the tourism and financial industries.

Crime is rampart and increasing daily. The police force, once all Islanders who understood their physic and behavior, is also overrun by the Emperor's qualifications. Gone is the caring friendly islander police who solved and prevented crime.

Social decay is everywhere as the islanders try to adopt and accept the Emperor's changing new clothes because as the islanders acquire the present emperor’s clothes, the emperor comes out dressed in different new clothes.

Un-employment amongst the islanders is at an all-time high and growing. The younger generation of islanders are getting restless; a revolution is brewing; trouble is coming. The islanders need a Moses to deliver them from the bondage of the Emperors.

From whence will it come? Can they save themselves from extinction?

Wow! Where can these troubled emerald islands be? Could they possibly be the Cayman Islands?

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‘Human Rights’ for murderers?

| 28/10/2014 | 25 Comments

‘Human Rights’ are getting in the way of common sense again. Over the last few years, there has been much debate about the suggestion that those convicted of murder should at some stage in the future be considered for release from prison and reintegration into society.

The most commonly articulated reaction to this is a strong disapproval and demand that ‘life should mean life’, or even a suggestion of a return to the death penalty. Frequently those commenting ask the not unreasonable question ‘What about the victim?’  Blame is regularly laid at the feet of ‘Human Rights’ for demanding the light sentencing of criminals. In the last week this issue has also been discussed in the Legislative Assembly and often these opinions have been articulated there too.

This important debate is sometimes devalued by a fundamental misunderstanding of what the offence of murder entails. Murder is not just one crime – it covers the widest range of offences – and not all of them are of equal seriousness.

If an individual breaks into a house at night and kills several members of the same family that is murder, as is the sadistic killing of a child for sexual gratification, a contract killing, or a terrorist outrage. Few people would suggest that crimes of this nature do not deserve amongst the most severe sentences that society has the power to inflict.

However, the mercy-killing of a loved spouse in agony with terminal cancer who asks ‘Please help me to die’ is also murder. And the man who, defending his family from violence, uses too much force and kills an armed attacker is also a murderer. Again, no rational person would begin to suggest that these individuals should be sentenced in the same way as child murderers and terrorists. A number of people might suggest neither should even go to prison.

Any sentencing regime must take into account all the circumstances of an offence, the victim and the offender – not just the name by which lawyers call it, which may be very different from what the public perceive it to be. Of course consideration must be given to the rights of the victim and their family – ‘Human Rights’ demands that too. But anything that removes the discretion of a sentencing judge to assess the seriousness of a case is likely to result in injustice.

So have the debate. Express your strongly-held and important views. But don’t just blame ‘Human Rights’ – they’re not as far removed from common sense as you might think.

*The Human Rights Commission and the former Human Rights Committee have both reviewed these issues in greater technical detail and their reports can be found on the Commission’s website www.humanrightscommission.ky

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The Big Man Break

| 27/10/2014 | 23 Comments

The Criminal Procedure Code of the Cayman Islands sets out offences which allow the police to arrest people without a warrant and those crimes which are not. It is a useful guide for those UK policemen hell bent on arresting a judge if the government is to avoid paying out millions of dollars. Nearly all offences are in fact arrestable but for a few exceptions.

Public officials arrested for fraud, neglect of official duty or disobedience of lawful duty are specially exempted from arrest and the public humiliation that other citizens have to regularly suffer.

Some public officials are arrested and in one unfortunate incident a policeman was found thereafter hanging from a tree Wilderness Drive. Others may end up on a yacht in the North Sound waiting for their summons to arrive.

There is no official policy on apology or notice of innocence or compensation if you are found innocent after a time before the courts. You have to return to society and endure whispers and the cutting of eyes as you pass by. Just this week a young man who was accused of complicity in murder and his bail objected to by the DPP suddenly found that he was discharged from the Grand Court and all charges dropped. This is also true for a traffic charge or minor offence. This is a frequent occurrence that should be studied to avoid repetition. More effort has to go into decisions on who is to be charged.

The Premier and Minister of Home Affairs has been silent on these matters that affect some of the people and their family that will have a decision at the ballot box.

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Statistics Week Message

| 16/10/2014 | 23 Comments

This week (October 13-17, 2014) is Statistics Week in the Cayman Islands.  This is being held in collaboration with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) which is celebrating the region-wide Statistics Day on October 15, 2014.  This year’s celebration has the theme “Data Revolution for Sustainable Development.”  In many parts of the world, the development of statistics has been recognized as a critical factor in facilitating sustainable economic development.

In the new “information economy,” greater focus is being centered on the generation and use of economic information as a resource, in addition to a greater emphasis being placed on human capital as the principal producer, repository, and disseminator of information. Organizations continually aim to maximize profitability or value for money, and increase the productivity of human resources. To achieve this objective, an even greater reliance is placed on the utilization of sound information. In short, good statistics allied to appropriate government policies, business and individual plans can change things radically for the better.

The rapidly emerging environment of the “information economy” further underpins the importance of statistical offices as   information sources. Although it is not easily recognized, information provided by these agencies can have significant impacts on the lives of people through various uses of their outputs and services. 

Statistics such as the gross domestic product (GDP) influence the way in whichpeople view their country’s economic prospects and challenges.

The more familiar consumer price index (CPI) provides a basis for changes in the compensation paid to workers and pensioners, as well as utility charges.

Macroeconomic statistics also provide a snapshot of the country’s standing in the global economy, which we in the Cayman Islands cannot take for granted in view of our reliance on off-shore markets. Several of these statistics such as GDP per capita and   balance of payments determine in part the government’s sovereign credit ratings and therefore, the interest rates paid by the government and businesses in the global capitalmarket.

In recognition of the challenges posed by the data revolution, as Minister for Finance and Economic Development, I have prioritized a number of changes that seek to further make our official statistics more responsive to the needs of the community in general and policy-makers in particular.  Additional resources are being provided to the Economics and Statistics Office (ESO) for new surveys. Next year, the Household Budget Survey 2015 will be conducted from January to December. This survey will determine the importance or statistical weights of household items that will be included in an updated consumer price index basket which is popularly used for monitoring the cost of living in the Islands.   

Starting next year as well, we will have two Labour Force Surveys (LFS) – in April and October. (The October 2014 LFS, covering all districts of the Cayman Islands, started last Sunday, October 5th, 2014). LFS interviews are now conducted using tablets rather than the previously used paper questionnaires. With this enhanced technology and twice-a-year survey, we can expect more timely labour force statistics in support of employment monitoring and policy-making.

I have also proposed amendments to the Statistics Law aimed at strengthening the flexibility of ESO to respond to emerging data requirements on one hand, and ensuring greater participation of residents to these data collection activities on the other hand.

The official statistics being disseminated by the ESO are not only beneficial to the local community; they have also become assets for raising Cayman’s reputation in the global investment community.  Top-notch global data organizations have recently requested to become data dissemination agents of ESO’s economic indicators to global investors. In light of these requests, there is a need for the ESO to catch up with the data dissemination terms and conditions of the most developed statistical offices in the world such as Statistics Canada. More importantly, such opportunities make it more compelling for every member of the community to invest in official statistics by participating willingly in surveys, and ultimately by using them for everyday decision-making.   

In conclusion, on behalf of my Ministry, I wish to extend our sincere gratitude to all members of the community who have willingly participated in all household and business surveys. Without the information that you provide (and will continue to provide), all efforts to upgrade official statistics will be in vain.  ESO will continue to abide by the provisions of the Law and the   highest professional and ethical standards to respect the confidentiality of your information, as it has done so in the many years of conducting censuses and surveys.  

Thank you and may God bless the celebration of Statistics Week 2014 in the Cayman Islands.
 

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World Mental Health Day

| 10/10/2014 | 29 Comments

Each year on 10th October, the international community encourages stakeholders to talk about their work on mental health issues. A particular concern worldwide is the need to increase access to mental healthcare. Here in the Cayman Islands, which we so often characterise as paradise, we must understand that we face a similar challenge. Those people whom our community knows to be suffering from mental illness are not outliers, who might have avoided their fate by making different lifestyle choices.

While drug use is indeed a risk factor for mental illness, we must remember that addiction is also an illness, from which persons need considerable support and treatment to recover. It can also be a symptom of mental illness, as persons self-medicate. 

Yet there are many other challenges that we all face in our daily lives, which increase the risk of mental illness. Some less well-known pre-disposing factors include:
• Stressful life situations, such as financial problems, a loved one's death or divorce;
• Chronic medical conditions, such as cancer;
• Traumatic experiences, such as military combat or being assaulted;
• Having few healthy relationships; and
• Brain damage as a result of a serious injury, such as a violent blow to the head.

Any these things might impact any of us, or those we love, in a manner that is beyond our control. Were mental illness to result, the best that we could hope for would be prompt access to effective mental healthcare.

This year’s theme focuses on a particular illness— with which our local experts are quite familiar.  In 2010, 110 persons accessing mental health services at the Health Services Authority were found to be “living with schizophrenia”. This represents seven percent of the total figure receiving mental healthcare.

For those who are not aware schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder, characterized by profound disruptions in thinking that affect language, perception, and the sense of self. The 2010 figure was a slight increase over 2006, when 96 patients suffered from schizophrenia.
The World Health Organisation tells us that the disease affects around 26 million people across the world. Despite being treatable, more than half of people with the illness cannot access adequate treatment. Furthermore 90% of people with untreated schizophrenia live in the developing world.

This statistic is especially unfortunate. Although it is a severe mental disorder, which disrupts people’s lives and impedes their functioning, those who suffer from schizophrenia can, with treatment, lead productive lives and be integrated in society.

The Cayman Islands is an extremely small community with limited resources that boasts services on par with the developing world. As such it is paramount that we ensure that we do not become part of the global statistic. 

Government’s duty is to ensure that our citizens and residents who suffer from this and other forms of mental illness have equal access to healthcare and any other essential service they may require. We must also ensure that society employs the same respect for their rights and responsibilities, as it would towards a healthy person. 

For this reason Government launched the Mental Health Commission under the leadership of Dr Marc Lockhart, earlier this year. This group of professionals aims to protect the rights of the persons detained under the Mental Health Law. They will also make recommendations on ways to improve the local mental health system, and engage in advocacy, research and training programmes to reduce stigma and discrimination.

The Commission, Government, service providers, stakeholders and the general public all have a part to play in securing this vision—as those who work in the profession are particularly cognizant.

To this end, the Psychiatric & Behavioural Health Services (PBHS) Unit at the Cayman Islands Hospital has planned a number of activities to raise awareness of mental health concerns.  From panel discussions, to movie screenings, information sessions, a church service and even a tai chi demonstration, PBHS has planned a range of public events to increase awareness of local mental health challenges.

Their goal is to create a society in which regardless of the state of our mental health, we are all assured of access to the best possible care and our continued enjoyment of basic human rights.

This is a worthy vision, that we must all work together to achieve. My Ministry looks forward to continued collaboration with all stakeholders and with the general public to achieve these goals.

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EY report not a fix-all

| 05/10/2014 | 33 Comments

The Ernst & Young report (on the rationalisation of the civil service) has good and bad points and, despite whether or not I like Ezzard Miller, he has a very valid point (referring to Privatization will cost more). The editor of the Cayman Compass and many of the readers on CNS seem to think the content of the EY report will fix all and should be implemented ASAP. Well, as I wrote to the editor of the Compass website, which he/she refused to post,  many should note the following:

Recent research conducted by both academic scholars and business similar to E&Y actual DO NOT suggest that privatization has all the many benefit spoken of. One main argument is that the public sector service would improve because it is profit driven. However, this argument is flawed as recent research has emphasised the role of intrinsic motivation in public sector service. That is, most civil servants are civil servants not because of the wonderful great salary, but because they want to serve “intrinsic motivation”.

Contrary to belief, benefits aren't that great in the civil service/public service. Yes, they have 100% health coverage, but that is only for one health provider, the HSA. If they go elsewhere they pay 100%. And yes, they get full pension contribution, but that is in the absence of cost of living increase, no bonus and no annual increment, even if additional qualification have been earned. There is more to the pension story should someone wish to find out the truth as well.

According to Fehr and Falk, 2002, the standard assumption in economics is that only extrinsic motivation (money) matters: humans respond to the provision of pecuniary incentives. But by ignoring intrinsic motivation, reciprocity and fairness, economics has constrained itself to a narrow subset of human behaviours which may affect our understanding of contractual relationships. When services/companies go private or are outsourced, contract design will play an important role in determining the success of outsourcing arrangements.  Can we really trust the private sector to be fair to public servants, most of whom will be Caymanians?

Another caveat is that some public services may be less suited to outsourcing than others because the expectation that high-powered incentives generate improvements in productive efficiency may be flawed in instances where intrinsic motivation is important.  The fact is the public service provides a SERVICE to the entire country. Neither finance nor tourism do. Reports/studies also suggest that there is some evidence indicating that quality of service may suffer in certain circumstances as a result of outsourcing and that workers may be worse off (at least in terms of their real wage).

When privatizing or outsourcing, there may be savings but the savings may be transitory – although the empirical evidence is thin, there is some evidence to suggest that hold-up is a problem in outsourcing contracts.

Other studies have highlighted the following: READ AND TAKE NOTE

Private equity investors are increasingly banding together so that, either alone or with joint investors, they can privately provide public services. This is because public service incomes tend to be guaranteed by the national or local state and are thus less risky than in the purely private area and, once a long term contract is secured, the provider effectively acquires near monopoly status and the capacity to return very high returns on capital employed. 

This is a point Mr Miller was trying to make

Frequently outsourcing may effectively mean taking over a going concern without having to invest any capital at all, since the equipment and premises and initial staff may be provided by the host undertaking. Providing outsourcing to public services is thus less risky than venture capital, and provides much higher returns than building a company up from scratch.

What does that mean? It means, of course, EY would recommend that public services businesses should be sold/privatized as it would be easy pickings for the private sector to take over because they are buying a business that is already stable in terms of capital investment needed.

In the UK, too, there is evidence that outsourcing can compromise the quality of service and lead to a competitive race to the bottom for both terms and conditions of the employees and for the commitment these staff then have to providing high quality services. The sharpest example of the risks this strategy poses to the public has been the spread of the MRSA (meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria in hospitals where out-sourced contractor cleaning has not been of the same standards as the previous in-house cleaning (Davies, 2010). Another disturbing example from social care has been the very high levels of agency working that occurred in the London Borough of Haringey, adding to the problems of detecting child abuse in two very high profile cases.

More studies on intrinsic motivation: the economic theory behind the drive to outsource public services is based on the concept that the absence of competition means there is little or no incentive on those delivering the services to reduce costs. This assumption underplays the fact that many public service workers bring strong motivation and commitment to their work, often a reason, indeed, why they choose to work in the sector (not my words but taken from empirical study).

One study states that the advocates of outsourcing then argue three indirect benefits: 1) the public sector can concentrate on its ‘core’ business; 2) contracting out services assists with control over their level and quantity; and 3) private providers are more likely to introduce innovation (Domberger, 1998).

Yet the distinction between ‘core’ and ‘non-core’ is open to challenge; the issue of improving output and quality is about good and bad organization and management rather than public and private; and while innovation capacity is notoriously difficult to tie down to any single factor, public funding is undoubtedly one of them. The issue of how people can exercise democratic control over the public services they receive when they are run by private companies whose reach will become increasingly global is not addressed at all.

What was most interesting to read while doing my research was that “there is little evidence to actually prove the 'many' added benefits of outsourcing. (Taken from WLRI Working Paper 11, May 2012, Shared business services outsourcing: Progress at work or work in progress? Steve Jefferys Professor of European Employment Relations)

VERY INTERESTING POINT: Instead of simplifying operations, outsourcingoften introduces complexity, increased cost, and friction into the value chain, requiring more senior management attention and deeper management skills than anticipated. In addition, outsourcing has allowed organizations to transfer financial and operational risk to vendors, but organizations are discovering that their contracts will never fully protect them against customer damage and business losses caused by service disruption (Deloitte Consulting, 2005: 2).

As Danish study stated: Studies analysing the financial advantages of contracting out over longer periods tend to show that the relative advantage of using private companies disappears over time. NO evidence is given at all for the private sector cost reduction claim.

a. One quarter of the empirical studies showed no savings, and the best claim that can be made is that ‘half’ of the services examined showed that range of cost savings. But the real picture is much less clear.

b. The absence of clear measures to demonstrate success of outsourcing is of concern.

The pressures to outsource often arise from a sense of underperformance. Often, however, higher quality outputs and cost savings carried out in-house will result by removing the old managers and involving the staff in reorganizing their work and people interactions. This was also another point Mr. Miller was saying

This is what Deloitte Consulting had to say (Deloitte, 2005):

In today’s economy and labor market, organizations looking for differentiated growth solutions should avoid outsourcing when based solely on cost savings. Many organizations have been compelled to adopt outsourcing to improve their technical, operational, and process management skills. However, companies should outsource only commodity functions to guard against a loss of knowledge and should plan for short-term outsourcing to prevent vendor dependency…

An unfavorable mix of rising costs and increased demand will drive up the cost of outsourcing for organizations and vendors. Weaknesses in operational management will result in more deal failures, prompting organizations to bring more operations back in-house. In the long run, organizations that continue to outsource will experience a loss of bargaining power to vendors as the supply side consolidates.

Something to remember: 6,900 public servants and the effect of the EY report if implemented without careful thought is not about 6,900 individuals but a minimum of 13,800 people inclusive of the elderly and children under 5.

I am not a public servant nor would I want to be, but there is no way I could support the EY report in totality. There are some good points to consider, many of which I have heard the public service themselves put forward over the years.

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World Teachers’ Day

| 03/10/2014 | 26 Comments

"Invest in the Future, invest in Teachers” is the 2014 theme for World Teachers’ Day, which has been celebrated annually on October 5th since 1994.  This day is observed globally with the support of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), as well as Education International (EI), organisations whose core values for education are streamlined with our own.

I am pleased to note that this theme is in line with the focus of the Ministry of Education as we are currently reviewing ways to better improve and more diligently invest in the public education system in our islands.  As leaders in education, it is our duty to ensure that our young minds are given every chance to succeed, not only in the classroom, but in their future careers and lives.

The foundation for that success is what is offered to them in our classrooms today, and directly reflects the time, energy and monetary support invested by our government, our parents and guardians, and specifically, our teachers.

In order to maximise these outcomes, the Ministry of Education has increased our investment in terms of support for our teachers.  For example, Professional Development (PD) opportunities for teachers are of the highest importance to us.  Some of the PD opportunities planned for this year include:

  • The facilitation of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) online training courses, that support their specific school improvement goals
  • Improving teaching and learning in Maths
  • Teaching Assistant Training
  • The New Educators Support and Training (NEST) programme, to support the development of new teachers
  • Linda-mood Bell Training, for Special Education Needs (SEN) support

Providing teachers with the means to have their voices and concerns heard has also been a priority.  Avenues such as the Principal’s Consultative Council and the Teachers’ Forum are ongoing opportunities for teachers to have a greater input in policy development and decision-making within our education systems.

Implemented this year was also a new Student Code of Conduct for high schools, calling for strict and clear-cut guidelines for students on how to conduct themselves while on campus.  This initiative was put forward to empower our teachers to be able to exercise full authority in their classrooms, and I urge all students and parents/guardians to abide carefully by this new code.  Giving our teachers the power and support they require to successfully lead their classes is another way that the Government demonstrates its investment in our educators.

The long term goal of the Ministry is to support an education system that is among the best in the world, and we are committed to doing so.  By empowering our teachers both inside and independent of their classrooms, we are creating a culture that not only treasures its educators, but is constantly improving and therefore raising the standard for education, all while simultaneously addressing the critical needs within our system.

I would like to encourage you all to consider that the return on investment of education is not simply whether students perform in their classrooms, but their long-term commitment to learning, and their ability to contribute meaningfully to our society as adults.  As Greek writer and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis said, “True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.”

On behalf of the Ministry of Education and the Department of Education Services, I wholeheartedly thank every teacher in the Cayman Islands for your daily investment in the future of our country.  We as a nation are grateful for you on your special day, and every day. 

Happy World Teacher’s Day!

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Everything you always wanted to know about Government (but were afraid to ask)

| 26/09/2014 | 7 Comments

One of the things we hear people say all the time at the Information Commissioner’s Office is “if only someone would make an FOI request about that…” – whatever “that” may be. Well, why don’t you? We have all been there: a question sits on your lips, but before you know it you hesitate and daren’t ask. It’s not that the question is not important, and you know a lot of other people want to know the answer too, but in the end you don’t want to cause trouble and drop it.

The theme of this year’s Right to Know Week is “It’s Yours – just Ask”. Government shouldn’t be burdened with trivial questions, but if something is important for you, and you think the answer can be found in records held by government, you should consider making a request under the Freedom of Information Law.

To do so, make your request in writing and deliver or send it to any part of the Public Sector. If possible, you should address your request to one of the Information Managers listed in the official listing of public authorities on the ICO’s website. You can send your request by email, but you do not have to reveal your real name unless you request access to your own personal information, for instance your immigration file. You should receive an acknowledgment within 10 days and a formal response within 30. If you are not satisfied with the response or believe the Law has not been applied correctly, you have the right to seek an internal review, and eventually an appeal to the Information Commissioner.

If you think you are alone, think again. Last year more than 685 FOI requests were made, boosting the total since January 2009 (when the FOI Law came into effect) to above 3,500. This is one of the highest rates of FOI use per capita in the world, if not the highest. One could speculate why FOI is so popular in Cayman – could government be more secretive than elsewhere? Do people feel close to their government and want to know more about what it is doing – and have a say in decisions? Perhaps a bit of both.

The Cayman Islands Government operates both as a national and local government, and therefore holds records that are both of vital importance to the “big picture” growth and development of these Isles, as well as records that have a direct impact on people’s personal lives. As examples of the former, think of all the ministries, and of the latter, Immigration Department, RCIPS, Department of Labour & Pensions, and Health Services Authority. It is no coincidence that all of these entities are amongst the top 10 most
popular recipients of FOI requests, which together account for more than 50% of the requests received by all 90+ public authorities in the Cayman Islands Public Sector: their records are the most relevant for requestors.

If you want to know more about the latest FOI statistics in the Cayman Islands, please visit the website of the Information Commissioner’s Office and look for our Annual Statistics Report 2014.

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Freedomof Information’s first responders

| 26/09/2014 | 1 Comment

The Freedom of Information Law has been in effect now for 5 and a half years and public authorities in the Cayman Islands have fielded over 3,500 requests from the public for all kinds of records. Whether it is questions about how the Turtle Farm is operating, what the future holds for electricity generation in Cayman or the travel expenses of your elected officials, all those requests have had to be acknowledged and processed by someone in government, namely Information Managers (IMs).

The IMs are on the front lines when it comes to meeting the government’s obligations under the FOI Law. As part of Right to Know Week we are highlighting IMs and want to take a moment to recognize the busiest IM in the Cayman Islands, Ms. Petula Twinn, LLB from the Immigration Department. Last year Petula fielded over 140 FOI requests, in addition to her regular duties as the Immigration Appeals Coordinator, and she has had only five cases that were appealed to the ICO in the last 5 years.

Petula recently took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions we had for her.

Tell me how long you have been an FOI Manager and what your feelings are regarding the job so far, i.e. challenges, opportunities etc.

I’ve been the FOI Manager for the Department since the FOI Law came into effect. The first year was challenging as the concept of the public being able to simply request and receive documents/information from a government entity was a new one and required a new way of thinking. Additionally, Immigration was one of the departments to receive the most requests, with the majority of requests made by persons wishing to view their immigration files.

Tell me why you think your public authority receives so many requests per year.

Prior to the FOI Law coming into effect, generally persons were not able to view their immigration files and there was a bit of an ‘air of mystery’ about them. Now that persons have access to their files, many    individuals are eager to view their file to see what it contains. In many instances, I have had applicants view their files and comment that they expected it to be a lot more interesting!

Tell me if FOI has in anyway changed the way your public authority does business and whether those changes have been positive or negative, and in what way.

I think the FOI Law has helped Immigration make a number of positive changes in that the department is now more proactive in providing information to the public. For instance, our website now contains all application forms, along with guidance notes and the current Law. We have a ‘Latest Updates’ which provides important information to the public. This information can include changes to the current Immigration Law and new forms or procedures in submitting applications. Currently, this section provides information on changes pertaining to the English Language Test.

Do you feel that FOI has made your public authority more accountable? If so, how?

Definitely. I think that just knowing that someone can request a document, whether it be a file note, memorandum, minutes from a meeting, a copy of an email, there is a concerted effort in ensuring information is recorded and stored accurately.

If someone asked you for a tip on how to make a good FOI request what would you say to them?

Try to be as specific as possible about the information that you have requested as it helps the FOI Manager identify the records/information that you need.

If your public authority needed someone to take over the FOI Manager duties from you what type of person would you tell your manager to look for? I.e. what type of personality, experience, education etc., should they be looking for?

Based on my experience with FOI, the position requires someone who is objective, naturally helpful and has an open mind. Many times people are not quite sure of the exact document or information that they are seeking and as the FOI Manager, you must be able to ask the appropriate questions in order to determine what an individual is requesting.

In the words of one IM the job they do is “thankless and tireless” but without them it would not be possible for the public to exercise their very important rights to access public records. That is why the Information Commissioner’s Office would like to thank IMs and Deputy IMs across the public sector for their hard work as FOI’s First Responders .

If you would like to know more about the Information Commissioner’s Right to Know Week Activities or the Freedom of information Law please visit our website at www.infocomm.ky or call us on 747-5402.

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Mind Your Own eBusiness

| 21/09/2014 | 17 Comments

The new line of the 21st century now is “there’s no business, like eBusiness” – or at least I like to think so. But, unfortunately the Cayman Islands are still having some difficulty catching up with this global trend and there is certainly not enough opportunities in place locally to educate people on the benefits of starting or expanding a business online.

Sure, having a nice website is one thing, but I am not talking about a website, I am talking about a BUSINESS. There is a huge difference.

With the unemployment rate in the Cayman Islands ever growing, many individuals are now exploring self-employment opportunities for the security of not being fired or laid off, and many are overlooking the amazing advantages of eBusiness.

It doesn’t take a lot of brainwork to see why so many business owners choose or seek the opportunity to operate wholly or partially online, but for anyone questioning such a decision, here are some clear factors:

  • Cost-savings – operating a business or retail outlet online can save many thousands of dollars by way of not requiring rent, utilities, employees, equipment, property maintenance and insurance, janitorial services and so forth
  • Improved client service through greater flexibility – owners ofonline businesses have a lot more flexibility with time and where they operate for all the obvious reasons
  • Global reach – the internet is everywhere, and depending on the business model, a business can reach international customers instantaneously
  • Work from home – this is one of the big reasons individuals choose online business, it allows more time for self and family
  • Increased Productivity – by spending less time and money on running business you will be able to invest more on growing your business and efficiently run and manage your projects.

These are just 5 of the top reasons entrepreneurs are lured in the eCommerce direction, so why is Cayman taking so long to step up to the innovative plate of eCommerce? Is it lack of public education? Definitely not, the local consumers and customers are very familiar with the convenience of businesses who maintain a strong online presence, in fact those are the businesses we remember most; but for some reason many local businesses are still operating the “old-fashioned” way and are expecting to reach “new-fashioned” customers.

Customers and potential customers these days are accustomed to having everything within reach of the internet, love information, love comparing products and services, and tend to navigate towards the businesses that provide the convenience of quickly answering all their potential questions from easy to explore websites versus having to call or stop to find an email address and send the email (after having to draft one of course). 

We cannot blame the businesses for this of course (at least most of the time), because simply put – the opportunities for expanding to eCommerce in Cayman have been vastly limited by lack of proper resources.

For example, the process for obtaining payments online has been barred by the high cost of third party overseas payment processors or tedious bank processes for getting local processing, many business owners have been disappointed by the difficulties of developing and maintaining an ecommerce website, and hiring a web development team to keep any online inventory up-to-date outweighed the benefits for many of Cayman’s local retailers who would love to give their customers the ability to access their stores 24/7 via internet, and let’s not even start one the cost of running the delivery or hiring a courier to deliver any potential orders.

But, with the whole world now recognizing the importance and significance of expanding businesses and services online to the demanding, tech-saavy customers waiting patiently for them to catch up with the time, I would suggest that our islands and their business owners begin exploring, demanding and taking advantage of the eCommerce market arena sooner than later.  

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