Archive for November 4th, 2009

Ida churns up to hurricane status

Ida churns up to hurricane status

| 04/11/2009 | 7 Comments

(CNS): Updated 7:00am. As residents of the Cayman Islands prepare for a long holiday weekend, they may also be preparing for some bad weather as Hurricane Ida makes slow progress through the Caribbean. The 9th storm of the 2009 Atlantic Hurricane Season, Ida formed on Wednesday morning off the coast of Nicaragua. According to the National Hurricane Centre in Miami, Ida is moving at around seven miles per hour and at 7:00an am (EST) on Thursday it had maximum sustained winds of near 75 mph making it a category one storm. Ida has formed close to the one year anniversary of Hurricane Paloma, which devastated Cayman Brac.

As with all late season hurricanes, Ida is likely to be unpredictable in is intensity and path, and although it does not present any immediate threat to the Cayman Islands, a slight change in direction could bring it closer to Cayman on Monday.

At 7:00am (EST) the centre of Ida was located about 60 miles north – north east of Bluefields, Nicaragua moving towards the northwest. The NHC said a gradual turn toward the northwest and a decrease in forward speed was expected over the next couple of days along with a decrease in the storms intensity as it makes landfall. Tropical storm force winds currently extend outward up to 50 miles.

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Health officials warn increase in flu cases coming

Health officials warn increase in flu cases coming

| 04/11/2009 | 7 Comments

(CNS): With news from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) of an unprecedented and early widespread increase in the number of H1N1 flu cases throughout the United States, health officials are expecting a similar pattern here in the Cayman Islands as the colder season approaches.  The Health Service Authority said there will be more serious illness, more hospitalizations and possibly even more deaths than normally occur during the flu season. The HSA added that there had already been more paediatric deaths from H1N1 flu than is usually seen in the entire flu season in the US.

Dr Greg Hoeksema warned the most vulnerable members of the Cayman community that the virus will increase activity during the colder months of December and January.

The HSA is advising residents to get their flu vaccine as soon as possible. The regular seasonal flu vaccine is already available (1600 people have already been vaccinated) and the H1N1 vaccine is expected to arrive within the next couple weeks.

“While the timing, spread and severity of the upcoming flu season are unpredictable, we do know that the H1N1 virus is still circulating in the Cayman Islands,” Dr Hoeksema.  “Fortunately, the majority of patients continue to do well with just home care and isolation; however a very small number of patients get a severe, rapidly progressive illness.”

There are already around double the number of flu cases than for the corresponding period last year in Cayman and to date there have been 105 confirmed H1N1 flu cases

The doctor noted the concerns of the CDC regarding more hospitalizations and deaths this season than during a normal flu season.  “Flu vaccine is by far the single best protection against getting the flu,” he added, emphasizing the fact that the seasonal influenza vaccine provides the best protection available even when the vaccine does not closely match circulating flu strains. Vaccination can also lessen illness severity and flu-related complication, the Doctor said.

The regular flu vaccine is available at the General Practice Clinic at the Cayman Islands Hospital, Faith Hospital in Cayman Brac and all District Health Centres, from 2:00 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The flu vaccine is FREE to all residents and no appointments are necessary.

A dedicated flu clinic will open on Tuesday, 10 November at the GP Clinic at the Cayman Islands Hospital, but it will have a separate entrance and separate waiting area to minimize exposure to other non-flu patients. There will be signs directing people.

Speaking at this morning’s press briefing, Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush said people should go straight to the dedicated clinic if they had symptoms and not use the main entrance of the GP Clinic.

To minimize workplace disruption and ensure that as many persons as possible to get vaccinated the HSA has implemented a workplace vaccination programme for companies with ten or more employees wishing to have the vaccine.  Companies interested in the program should contact the Public Health Department at 244-2648 to register.

Persons at high risk for complications from seasonal influenza and those who live with or care for high-risk persons are particularly encouraged to get the vaccine.  This group includes: Young children 6 months to four years of age; Pregnant women; People 65 years of age and older; Persons of any age with weakened immune systems and those with chronic medical conditions such as heart, kidney and lung diseases and diabetes; People living in nursing homes and other long term care facilities.

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Dart to build cruise berths

Dart to build cruise berths

| 04/11/2009 | 71 Comments

(CNS): Speculation that the Dart Group will be behind the construction of the cruise berthing facilities in George Town Harbour was finally confirmed this morning by the leader of government business. A Memorandum of Understanding is to be signed with DECCO (Dart Enterprises Construction Company) in preparation for the negotiations of the contract. McKeeva Bush said once again that, as a PFI, the project will not cost the Cayman Islands government anything. DECCO, he said, will in turn be negotiating directly with the cruise lines to collect a fee for use of the berthing facilities to cover the costs of the estimated $150 million project. Bush said this was both a unique and urgent development.

“Cabinet approved the selection of DECCO Ltd. as the potential development partner to finance, design and build the cruise-berthing facility and cargo enhancement project,” Bush said at a press briefing on Wednesday morning. The LoGB explained that the cruise lines will also form part of the MOU as they will, in effect, be the client of the developer and the organisations that will ultimately pay for the project through extra fees over and above the passenger tax.

Government is hoping to have the facility operational by 2012 in order to accommodate the new generation of mega cruise ships, which currently do not have the Cayman Islands on their future itineraries.

Cline Glidden, backbench MLA for West Bay who has been spearheading the project in conjunction with the Port Authority Chairman Stefan Baraud, detailed the process. He said everyone on the select committee had independently arrived at the conclusion that DECCO was the best choice. Aside from meeting all the requirement criteria in terms of experience, he also noted that it was the only developer that would not need to seek an external partner to help with the financing. Glidden was one of four politicians on the select committee that narrowed down the twelve ‘expressions of interest’ to four, which were then submitted to Cabinet. However, he said that the four politicians had only one collective vote.

The announcement comes in the wake of considerable controversy about the development of the facilities. Firstly, there have been a number of questions raised about how the selection was made — an issue which the auditor general has said he plans to investigate once a contract is signed — as well as questions over the commitment to do an environmental impact assessment.

Explaining the situation in more detail, Glidden said that an EIA would be done and that there were genuine concerns about the need to protect Seven Mile Beach during and after the development. “The EIA will be done to World Bank Standards,” Glidden promised, adding that it could not start before a developer was selected as the method of construction would influence the environment study.

Speaking to CNS, Glidden said that the cruise lines, the developers and the government would all be wearing their environmental hats when it came to this development as it was in everyone’s interests to protect Seven Mile Beach and South Sound. Now the MOU was signed, the developer would be starting the EIA and was doing so without any guarantee of a successful contract outcome, he said.

Although Glidden said he could not speak for the Cabinet members, who would make the ultimate decision about the facility once the results of the EIA were known and what environmental degredation it would be prepared to sacrifice for the facilities, he suspected any government that wanted to be re-elected would need to protect Seven Mile Beach. He also observed that the cruise lines, and in this case, particularly given his massive investment in Cayman, the developer, would also have an interest in protecting the beach and the environment as a whole.

When it came to the issue of the selection process, Bush emphatically denied that the government had not been transparent about the decision and attacked the auditor general. He said that these were unique circumstances where government had to act fast and accused Dan Duguay of being involved in a conspiracy to undermine Cayman’s economy.

The AG had made it clear that all government projects over $250,000 need to go through CTC regardless of financing arrangements. However, the AG has confirmed that he will only do an audit once a contract has been signed, and given that government has merely entered into an MOU, he said he will, in the meantime, be simply collecting information.

Bush said that, given the developer’s interest and investment in Cayman already, he was an obvious choice. “My concern is that the money stays in this country,” he said. “When we have someone who has roots here as well as the interest and wherewithal to do the project, why would we just take it and give it somebody else?” Bush asked as he justified government’s decision to bypass the Central Tendering Committee.

It was also confirmed that government, DECCO and the cruise lines will, over the next few weeks, negotiate the exact terms of the contract to prepare for signing as soon as possible in order to allow construction to begin within the next few months.

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Moon nominated for award

Moon nominated for award

| 04/11/2009 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Jane Moon from the Cayman Islands Sailing Authority has been nominated by the Cayman Islands Olympic Committee (CIOC) as a candidate for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) “Women and Sport” Award – 2009, which is given to an individual or to an institution in recognition of their outstanding contribution to Women and Sport.. the local Olympic committee says Moon has always encouraged female participation in all aspects of sailing from competition to officiating, to administration and to management of the sport. (Left: Moon receives her diploma from Pres. Donald McLean and VP Lori Powell)

The IOC Women and Sport Awards are awarded annually to promote the advancement of women in sport, a release from CIOC explains. They recognize outstanding achievement and contributions made to develop encourage and strengthen the participation of women and girls at all levels in the sports world. One trophy each is awarded to the National Olympic Committee (NOC) continents of Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania; as well as a trophy at the world level.

Jane  As a competitor Jane has encouraged women into the sport both as crew members and helmspersons, which has been successful both nationally and internationally. As a result there have been many more female sailing competitors in the sport of sailing in the Cayman Islands ranging from the very young to the more mature woman; and on various classes of sail boats.

Jane has organized various seminars and clinics specifically for female sailors at all levels. Many women have taken advantage of this and improved their skills tremendously. Through her role on the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) womens sailing committee she has contributed to the increased participation of women in sailing, in the Olympic Regatta. This includes pushing for the 11th medal which ultimately meant womens fleet racing was included. Jane encouraged more women into the administration of the sport by initiating the womens seat on the ISAF council. She was the first woman appointed as the womens representative on the ISAF council.

Nationally Jane has encouraged more women to join the Executive Committee of the Cayman Islands Sailing club, as well as numerous sub-committees. This has not only resulted in more women being involved in the races, and many all female crews for boats; but also the organization of many more social activities at the club inclusive of members, family and friends. This ultimately results in more promotion and support for the sport and the club in the community.

As a board member of the Cayman Islands Sailing Club in many roles over the years, Jane has been responsible for the press releases to the media for club activities. As many sailing competitions are sponsored by community groups and local companies she always ensured that the local community was aware of club activities and their sponsors with supporting photographs from her collection.

CIOC is proud to have had Jane recognized by the IOC for her accomplishments in Cayman, and CIOC pledges to continue to support Women and Sport in the Cayman Islands through any possible initiative.

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Schools at risk over cuts

Schools at risk over cuts

| 04/11/2009 | 31 Comments

(CNS): The former minister of education has issued a warning that the $100 million school projects could be completely undermined as a result of the drive to shave a few million dollars from the overall budget. The cost cutting exercise that the government is currently engaged in has already seen the Frank Sound Clifton Hunter campus lose its swimming pool and other cuts that save a few hundred thousands dollars but could severely impact the transformation of teaching and learning which Alden McLaughlin says the schools were designed to achieve.

Acknowledging that even his own supporters had questioned him over the cost of the schools, McLaughlin said there were lots of good reasons why the facilities were more expensive than conventional schools, not least being the goal to introduce entirely new methods of education that would make a difference to the outcomes and results students would attain in the Cayman Islands.

“Anyand all amount of evil has been said about me but what we were building were not just schools but community facilities, sporting facilities and hurricane facilities. We carefully thought about this and we were not just building 20th century classroom blocks. We wanted schools for the 21st century to allow a new approach to education to be properly implemented and transform the outcomes for our young people,” he said speaking at Monday night’s PPM National Council meeting.

A look at theconsistent failure over the year of more than 25% of students to gain the average pass rate at the end of their school careers demonstrated, he said, the desperate need to change the system, and that’s what he was aiming for. McLaughlin warned that the current minister’s drive to cut corners and bring the bill down by a few million dollars would see the plan to transform education sacrificed.

“I am gravely worried already about where education is now going,” he added. “When we look at number of poor levels of passes, the inability for students to cope with tertiary education, or the work place we cold not carry on doing the same.”

It was clear, he said, that what people have called the “fancy new schools” by themselves were not enough and the education law had also been implemented to create a new way of delivering education. The schools, however, were designed in tandem to accommodate modern teaching methodologies – project integrated learning, team teaching and other approaches which had been proven to provide better learning for a wider number of students.

McLaughlin also explained that the consequences of cutting out what have been described as some of the "Cadillac items" as well as trying to undermine the design of the schools.

Regarding the $750,000 kitchen, he said it was meant to be a feeder kitchen for the smaller kitchens in each of the academies on the John Gray Campus, as well as one which could be utilized to feed hundreds of people during a hurricane. He explained that by cutting out that kitchen school meals would now have to be prepared off site, an added future expense and inconvenience. During storms there would be difficulties preparing food for those staying in the shelter as well, he noted.

“There is an unwillingness to see the bigger picture about these schools in the determination to demonize Alden McLaughlin,” he said. The decision not to construct the pool at Clifton Hunter to save $500,000 would also perpetuate the inequalities between the districts for students, he observed, noting that is was no coincidence that Cayman’s swimming athletes did not come from East End, Bodden Town or North Side.

“I’ve stopped crying about it not but I am still worried that the whole purpose of the schools is going to be compromised to save a couple of million,” McLaughlin said. “How can they take CI$3million and give it to the premier to spend in what I call his slush fund, but then take the pool way from the young people of the eastern districts?”

The schools, the former minister explained, were well thought out, planned and designed for a specific type of teaching and learning that would finally give all Caymanian students a real chance to achieve. It would be a tragedy, he stated,  if the country were to spend the $100 million plus for these two schools only to find in the end they will not deliver what they were designed for in order to try and save CI$2 or $3 million.

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Budget round two underway

Budget round two underway

| 04/11/2009 | 2 Comments

(CNS): The Cayman Islands government has already begun the preparations for the 2011/12 budget. Even before the 2009/10 has begun to take any effect, the calendar is forcing government officials to start the process of predicting the operational needs for the next fiscal year and to estimate what government is likely to earn in revenue. Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush has acknowledged that the problem of the administration having to work on a another budget so quickly is down to the movement of the general election post Hurricane Ivan, which has not yet been addressed.

The fiscal year runs from June to June, which was designed to accommodate the election of a new government in November, giving any new administration the time to make sensible fiscal planning over a longer period and eliminating the problem of rushed spending plans. However, the cancellation of the November 2004 election in the wake of Hurricane Ivan has shifted the political calendar out of sync with the fiscal one.

At the opening of parliament in the wake of the May elections, independent member for North Side, Ezzard Miller, called on the new government to shift the date back, which would see the current administration either going to the polls early in November 2012 or late in November 2013.

Even though the previous UDP administration had gained an extra 6 months because of Ivan, while in opposition, it was not prepared to see the PPM administration that followed run their administration to November 2009. It will now be down to Bush to sacrifice 6 months from this administration to get the elections back on track as the PPM will be very unlikely to agree to a push back to November 2013 given the UDP’s refusal.  The LoGB has not yet confirmed whether his administration is prepared to make the sacrifice.

Meanwhile, the administration is working on a budget which will represent its strategic policy for the next few years and it is doing so without any knowledge of whether the measures taken in the 2009/2010 have helped or hindered the country’s current economic difficulties.

Chief officers, financial officers and government ministers met at the Westin this week to begin shaping spending plans for 2010/11, which will be presented before the Legislative Assembly on 18 November 2009.

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