Archive for September 22nd, 2009

MLA:Foreign cash won’t help

| 22/09/2009 | 74 Comments

(CNS): Selling off government assets, private finance initiatives and encouraging more development by overseas investors will not provide the answer to the Cayman Islands’ current financial woes, says independent Member of the Legislative Assembly, Ezzard Miller. The North Side representative says he had very real concerns that encouraging outside investors to engage in more development would not benefit Caymanians. Miller stated thathe believes government needs to stop and think about what the cause of the problem is and then discuss solutions that will benefit the people and not foreign developers.

“I remain to be convinced that selling off government assets or encouraging unchecked investment will be of any benefit to the people of these islands,” he said. “We cannot let people just come and simply develop without being sure what it will bring for Caymanians.”

Miller compared the current situation to the early 1990s when, he said, although the economy was nowhere near as dire as it is today, Caymanians were led to believe that the solutions to that slump would be inward investment from overseas, encouraging foreign cash and an increase in the population. “I don’t believe very many Caymanians are that much better off today as a result of that surge in development and growth in numbers than they were at the time.”

He stated that going down that road again would see outside investors making money off the Cayman people with them getting very little in return. He also confirmed that he was still in favour of the rollover policy and would not support policies that would relax the constraints placed on the recruitment of overseas workers or any ideas to make more people Caymanian to grow the population.

Miller noted that encouraging development and population growth had not solved Cayman’s problems then and asked how the same plan likely to solve the problem today. “Of course, if we are going to find some altruistic investors that are going to buy the new government building for a high price and then lease it back to government for a just a few million dollars, well, I can support such a plan, but I don’t think that is likely to happen. Whoever buys any government asset is going to want the lowest possible price to buy and the highest possible rate to rent.”

Miller criticized the idea that PFIs could save government money because, while government would receive a short term injection of cash, down the road it would be paying more. He also said he had real concerns about government ideas to encourage further foreign investment in resorts and hotels. “Our tourism product is already more than 40% under occupied. If we allow people to come and develop more hotels it won’t bring any significant financial gain to Cayman,” he added.

Miller said that the government needed to slow down and ‘”catch its breath” and to think about what the real problems were. He said that the decline in government revenue and increase in government spending was symptomatic of a problem that was not yet defined. Miller stated that he believed everyone was randomly throwing solutions around without understanding the real problem.

Miller said that government needed to raise more revenue through traditional consumptions fees, especially on luxury items, and should consider impact and environmental fees. Before he could support the forthcoming budget, he would want to drill down and see the figures more closely and promised to ask a lot of questions of the leader of government business when the debate got underway.

The LA’s only independent member also questioned why the government wanted to borrow so much money for the 2009/10 year, and said that we need to think about that $372 million sum, which was what had forced us to go to the UK for permission, and asked if we need so much. He suggested simply borrowing enough to cover the anticipated deficit and then freeze all of the projects that required capital.

He also noted that one of the reasons we were in such a difficult position in the first place was not because of the debt or deficit but because of the false restraints we had imposed on ourselves with the Public Management Finance Law, something which Miller has long stated is one of, if not the major problem, behind the country’s current financial mess.

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Payroll safe say officials

| 22/09/2009 | 15 Comments

(CNS): Growing fears among civil servants that September’s payroll will not be met are unfounded, according to government officials. Chief Secretary Donovan Ebanks and Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson both said that they had not "seen or heard anything which would lend credence" to the mounting anxiety in the public sector that salaries may not be paid in full for September. However, fear was growing on Monday that government would not have the cash to pay staff as approval fromthe Foreign and Commonwealth Office for further borrowing by government remained elusive.

Moreover, by Monday evening there was still no word from education officials, who had spent the day in closed-door meetings, addressing the problem of the monthly bill for the schools’ contractor Hunter Jones – one of a number of key government creditors that have not been paid. With so many government contract and supplier bills outstanding and no sign of the UK granting permission for government to access the loan it has negotiated, fears grew among civil servants that this could be the long, dreaded month when government simply does not have the cash to pay salaries.

James Watler, President of the Cayman Islands Civil Service Association, said he had not been given any official word that payroll would not be met but there had been persistent fears since the seriousness of the deficit was announced that government might reach the point where it simply could not pay public sector wages. He also stated that there were no back-up or hardship funds that he was aware of that could help public sector workers if they did not receive their full salaries.

With government coffers stripped bare, civil servants were paid last month and officials have stated that there is no reason to suggest that they will not be paid this month, but many suppliers and contractors are still awaiting payment.

Brent McLean of East End Labour confirmed to CNS that his workers had been laid off from the John Gray school development site in George Town as Hunter Jones, the general contractor, had not been paid by government. McLean did state, however, that so far there had been no layoffs at the school site in Frank Sound.  Meanwhile, although Andro Group workers were still working at John Grey on Monday, one worker told CNS that the firm was expected to be laid off from the site by the end of the week.

On the other hand, most of the contractors working at the new government administration building site on Elgin Avenue do appear to have been paid this month as CNS understand general contractor McAlpine was paid.

Although full details of the current negotiations between Cayman and the UK have yet to be revealed, the UK appears to be still pressing the territory to introduce some form of sustainable taxation plan before it will permit any further borrowing, while the CIG remains adamant that such a step is a step too far.

Full details of how government plans to meet the country’s financial challenges for the year 2009/10 should all be revealed this week when it meets at the Legislative Assembly on Friday. A preview of government intentions is expected on Thursday morning when Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush meets the press before a planned public meeting on Thursday evening.

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Lawyer probes on mistakes at Gareau crime scene

| 22/09/2009 | 0 Comments

(CNS): A number of weaknesses in the RCIPS’s precise preservation of information with regards to evidence collected at the crime scene of Martin Gareau’s murder were revealed today by defence attorney Anthony Akiwumi, as the murder trial of Jose Carillo-Perez entered its second week. Scenes of Crime (SoC) Officer Ronnie Pollard admitted on the witness stand that detail was not his strong point when Akiwumi highlighted various descrepencies and gaps in the officer’s recording of dates, times and areas where crime scene evidence was actually taken from.

“You’d agree it is an important part of your job asa scene of crime officer  to pay attention to detail?” Akiwumi asked the RCIPS officer, who agreed and acknowledged that a disregard for detail was something of a “liability” in his profession.

The court heard how dates on photographs were recorded incorrectly, how Pollard had cited the wrong date for one of his trips to the crime scene in his statement, that there was no note of identification on his evidence log and that he had not given an exact location of the socked foot impression that was taken from the crime scene and compared to that of the defendant.

Pollard was also unable to tell the court the exact area from which he had taken a swab sample that allegedly related to the latent fingerprints which were found at the scene, on which the Crown has placed considerable weight in pointing towards what it says is thedefendant’s guilt.

Aside from the problems concerning contradicting time stamps on Pollard’s crime scene pictures, the failure to note the precise place footprints were taken from for comparison, and the crucial detail of exactly where the swab was taken that the prosecution contents proves the defendants fingerprint was made in blood, Pollard also revealed that he had not been told of possible SoC contamination.

Akiwumi asked Pollard if he knew that the first RCIPS officer on the scene, Bill McLaughlin, and Gareau’s cousins, Gilles and Guy Langlois, had all entered the scene on Tuesday 20 May at the time Gareau’s body was discovered without protective clothing, and Pollard said he had no knowledge of that. When questioned, he admitted that it was an important point that he should have been told about because of the risk of crime scene contamination.

It was also revealed that both the defendant, the victim and the foot impressions taken from the scene were a similar size. However, the court then heard that a size 13 footprint had also been discovered at the crime scene but Pollard had not take a picture of that print and it had not been included in the evidence gathering process.

During the day’s proceedings, Akiwumi also raised objections before the judge, Justice Roy Anderson, regarding certain documents and data being presented by the Crown as evidence relating to documentation of the crime scene, as, he stated, the Crown had not proven provenance of the proposed admissions.

During the probing of Pollard, the defence focused heavily on the swabbing of the latent prints and gained agreement from the SoC officer that the prints were faded and faint. Pollard admitted that he had no way of knowing, when he looked at the prints at the scene, how long those prints had been there.

The case continues tomorrow morning at 10:00am and the Crown still has six witnesses to call before resting its case and passing on to the defence, which has stated it will also be calling further witnesses to the court.  

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