Archive for November 12th, 2009

Ed minister denies owing TJI

Ed minister denies owing TJI

| 12/11/2009 | 23 Comments

(CNS): Following the news today (Thursday 12 November) that Tom Jones International has stopped work on the two government high school development projects again, the Ministry of Education has denied that it is behind on any payments due to the general contractor. Education Minister Rolston Anglin said that the ministry was advised by TJI that it was stopping work as it did not believe that the Cayman Islands government had sufficient funds to complete the projects. However, Anglin said that, as outlined in the budget, government now has the money to meet its obligations for these projects and is surprised by TJI’s actions.

“We have also budgeted contingency funds, in the event that these are necessary to cover any claims made by TJI,” Anglin added. “Sufficient provision has therefore been made for the completion of the projects, and this ongoing commitment has been communicated to TJI. Further, all certified payments due to TJI have been made, and there are currently no outstanding amounts due.”

The minster said that government had also been negotiating in good faith with TJI to provide significant additional funding to assist it and its main sub-contractor in making advance payments. As recently as Tuesday (10 November), he said, the government had been advised by TJI that the documentation to support this additional funding was agreed in principle.

Despite all of this, the general contractor announced his intention yesterday to down tools on both sites, and a number of sub-contractors working on the two projects contacted CNS today to warn of the stoppage.

The minster said that as the government was finalising the latest agreement, it believed it would signal a productive way forward and ensure that the projects would be successfully completed, and so TJI’s action was unexpected.

“We are therefore surprised by TJI’s change in position and its apparent intention to now stop work. I reiterate, however, that the Cayman Islands government is committed to the completion of the schools projects. We are currently considering all our options in our determination to move forward, and if necessary will pursue all remedies available,” Anglin added.

Although no indication was made about what those remedies might be, both school projects are considerably advanced, making it difficult for the government to seek new contractors. With government seeking to reduce the current bill for the schools, moving contractors at such a late stage would be exceptionally costly.

The government does now have a full time project manager in place who has been tasked with resolving the disputed issues over the outstanding claims made by TJI on change orders, which amount to around CI$15million .A spokesperson for the Education Ministry said that David Benoit’s involvement had been expressly welcomed by TJI and he was charting the way forward for both projects. Benoit had been working on the most recent agreement to assist TJI through the provision of additional interim funding for advance payments. The ministry said that it believed Benoit’s work would have established a clear roadmap for the successful completion of both projects. 

CNS has contacted TJI to find out why they have stopped work but the general contractor said it had no comment at this time.

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Jack stops Mac legal aid plan

Jack stops Mac legal aid plan

| 12/11/2009 | 61 Comments

(CNS): In the wake of considerable controversy and opposition from almost all quarters of the legal profession regarding the premier’s move to slash legal aid funding and change the way it is managed, the governor has said the funding must be put back until the proposal has been properly examined. Stuart Jack said a committee would now consider the initiative as proposed by Bush, but in the meantime the current system must be adequately funded. In an unexpected announcement during Finance Committee last month, McKeeva Bush said he was going to change the way legal aid was administered and set up a legal aid clinic under his ministry run by two local lawyers.

Despite the fact that the law had not been changed and that there had been no consultation with the chief justice, who currently manages the legal aid budget, Bush cut $1.5m from the annual allocation of $1.8m.

 In a formal statement on Thursday, 12 November, the governor said the government was entitled to consider how to manage the costs of legal aid as long as human rights requirements were met and stakeholders consulted. Jack said the committee that would examine the premier’s proposal would include representatives of the government, judiciary, legal profession, and the Governor’s Office.

“The government will, in the meantime, ensure that the current scheme administered by the Judicial Administration is adequately funded so that there is no disruption to the administration of justice through the courts. Additional funding is being urgently sought in accordance with the Public Management and Finance Law,” he stated.

However, the original legal aid budget funding was moved to various other ministries, including the premier’s new ‘national leader’s fund’ following the premier’s late night Finance Committee amendment. The entire budget, including the change, was then voted on by the Legislative Assembly, so in order to re-allocate money to the chief justice, government will now have to return to the LA to amend the 2009/10 budget document.

The plan, which Bush pushed through the legislature, had been for local attorneys Theresa Lewis Pitcairn and Steve McField to set up a full service legal aid clinic, which would not only supply legal representation for criminal matters in the courts but would also offer a wide range of legal advice and services. Bush had said that the office would be run for a fraction of the cost of the current legal aid system and offer the people of Cayman more for less.

However, the unexpected announcement and lack of consultation raised significant questions and brought wide opposition from the Human Rights Committee, the Law Society, the Cayman Bar Association, the Criminal Defence Bar Association and the legal profession as a whole. Questions were quickly raised about the constitutionality of the move, as well as concerns that the proposed clinic would be under the premier’s office, how the current legal aid certificates would be funded for ongoing cases, what would happen to the existing legal aid lawyers, and how the clinic proposed to do far more for less.

CNS understands that last week a significant number of representatives from the legal professions met with the chief justice concerning the constitutionality of the changes, their fears and concerns about the lack of clarity and the uncertainty regardinglegal payment. There was talk of ‘downing wigs’ until the issue was properly resolved.

The governor said on Thursday that an effective legal aid system is fundamental to the administration of justice. Access to adequate legal representation and, if necessary, legal aid will be required by the Bill of Rights, which will come into effect in three years time and is already required by the UK’s international human rights obligations that apply to the Cayman Islands.

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Work stops at school sites

Work stops at school sites

| 12/11/2009 | 14 Comments

(CNS): Workers at the two new public high schools have been told to down tools yet again, as the dispute between the government and developer Tom Jones International (TJI) rolls on. CNS understands that work at the John Gray High School has already ground to a halt today (Thursday 12 November) and that workers at the Clifton Hunter site have been told to stop work there from tomorrow. CNS also understands that TJI paid off sub-contractors which does not bode well for a return to work any time soon.

Sources said that once again the general contractor has not been paid by government and this was having a knock-on effect to the sub-contractors.

The two sites have been plagued with disruptions for several months owing to disagreements between the Ministry of Education and TJI over the cost of change orders and overruns on the project. Government has also struggled to pay the developer’s regular invoices recently, given the financial difficulties regarding government revenue. There have also been disputes between TJI and sub-contractors as well as controversies concerning the employment of foreigners over Caymanians. However, Hunter Jones, the owner and managing director of TJI, has denied those allegations and says that the workforce is more than 75% Caymanian.

Last month, Education Minister Rolston Anglin told CNS that, while work was continuing on the site at that time, the dispute was not resolved. His said the $15 million or so claimed by TJI was not settled but he was hopeful that it could be addressed sooner rather than later. “We know that the figure in question is not going to become zero, so it is in the developer’s interest to settle this too. He is going to get something, and the sooner we agree on a realistic figure the sooner the developer will be paid,” Anglin had stated.

He also said that a project manager was expected to be in place at the beginning of November who would be taking over the overall negotiations and day to day running of the two school developments. CNS has contacted the ministry to find out if the new PM has arrived and to request details on what the latest problems are with payment and is awaiting a response.

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Black tie event to help children in need

Black tie event to help children in need

| 12/11/2009 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Two ladies planning to attend the Hedge Fund Care Cayman event this weekend, which is a black tie affair that will raise funds for abused children in the Cayman Islands, have another opportunity to help those in need and look great in the process by purchasing dresses in line with the event’s Cuban theme from Silhouette Ladies Fashion & Accessories. Owner Javana Phillips-Broad (left) says 100% of all funds raised from the sale of the dresses, which were handmade in Seville, Spain, will be sent to Facing Africa, a charity that helps children suffering from the debilitating disease known as NOMA.

The 5th Annual Cayman Islands Open Your Heart to the Children Benefit takes place on Saturday, 14 November, at Grand Old House. This year it will be presented with the flair and romance of our neighbours to the north and has been dubbed “Havana Nights”. Denise Gower, a member of the Board of Directors for Hedge Fund Care Cayman, said that over the past four years this event has raised over US$950,000, all of which was distributed to agencies in the Cayman Islands to help prevent and treat child abuse and neglect in the Cayman Islands.

All 300 tickets for the evening of dinner and entertainment , which went for US$1,000 per person or US$10,000 per table, and have sold out, Gowen said, mostly to professionals from the hedge fund industry. Entertainment will include Cuban music and dance, before, during and after the meal, with entertainers including local musician Gary Ebanks, and the Lions Club has done a fantastic job with the decorations, Gower said.

“The support has been incredible. When we started planning at the beginning of the year we thought it was going to be really challenging to get support but people have been overwhelminglygenerous,” she said, noting in particular Arch Automotive, which has given two cars at cost price, and Kirk Freeport, which has donated many items for the silent auction.

Taking the opportunity to assist in another good cause Phillips-Broad is selling the two dresses (seen left and above) through Silhouettes to raise funds for Facing Africa, a UK registered charity that helps the victims of NOMA, a disease which, if left untreated, devours the entire face and the child remains an outcast within its own family and family tribe.

She says “Silhouette is so pleased to be able to help such a great cause as there can be no better reason to raise monies than for the assistance of the sick and poverty stricken, particularly when those affected are children, the most vulnerable amongst us that require the highest levels of care and protection. As corporate Cayman becomes more aware of its social responsibility, both locally and on an international platform, it is good to be a part of the movement.”

Anyone interested in purchasing one of these unique dress designs should contact Javana at 943 2746 or visit the store at Treasure Island Resort that is open daily.

Facing Africa is actively supported in the Cayman Islands by Stuarts Attorneys, Krys & Associates, dms Management ltd., RBC Wealth Management and Tower Marketing. A marathon will be held on 21 February 2010 in aid of the charity. Corporate groups of five runners, each covering 6 miles are encouraged. Look out for further information in the press as to how to register for this exciting event.

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Rating agency lowers outlook for CUC

Rating agency lowers outlook for CUC

| 12/11/2009 | 14 Comments

(CNS): Following the announcement from Caribbean Utilities Company (CUC) that it had seen improved earnings in the most recent quarter of 2009, the ratings agency Standard & Poor lowered its outlook on the firm to "negative" from "stable" on Tuesday. Citing the weak Cayman economy, S&P said this spelt further trouble for the vertically integrated utility. The agency did, however, affirm its long-term corporate credit and senior unsecured debt ratings on the company.

S&P said the economic recession has hit the Cayman Islands financial and tourist sectors, prompting a government forecast for a 5.7% GDP contraction in the economy for 2009. The economic pressure on CUC could trigger a downgrade, the analysts warned. On the other hand, a quick economic rebound would translate into a "stable" outlook. “The ratings on the utility reflect its market dominance and generally strong financial risk profile. However, the region’s susceptibility to hurricanes and its concentrated economy partially mitigate these positives,” S&P said.

Following the third quarter results, CEO of CUC Richard Hew said he was not expecting much growth over the next year. “We expect to see weak or no growth in sales through 2009 and into 2010. The company has reduced capital and other expenditures to mitigate the impact of flat sales on future financial results,” he said, adding that while the slower economy presented challenges he was confident CUC would meet them and preserve shareholder value.

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More talk on promise of renewable energy

More talk on promise of renewable energy

| 12/11/2009 | 7 Comments

(CNS): Successive governments in the Cayman Islands have continued to talk about developing renewable energy sources but as yet there has been little evidence of action regarding viable options. This latest administration has also joined the ‘talk’ and, following the visit to the Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum held in Montego Bay, Jamaica, last month, Minister of District Administration, Works and Gender Affairs, Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, said the UDP government would pursue renewables as a means of diversifying the islands’ generating sources, reducing energy bills, and minimizing impact on the environment.

“The government is keen on pushing forward a greener more environmentally-friendly Cayman that uses renewable energy more widely,” she said. However, six months after the election the government has not yet mentioned its plans for the National Conservation Bill, which proposes giving real legal protection to minimize negative impact on our environment.

O’Connor-Connolly said that the team attended the conference to gain greater insight into alternative energy sources, including waste-to-energy, solar and wind technology. She said priority areas that would promote the use of renewable energy included promoting solar energy and net metering of local homes, waste-to-energy measures, and hybrid electric cars.

As yet, the necessary amendments to the legislation to allow electric vehicles on Cayman’s roads have not been made. Nevertheless O’Connor-Connolly continued to say that the government would seek to move Cayman away from its dependence on oil.

“These technologies will allow Cayman to become more independent of the inevitable escalating oil prices while promoting cleaner, sustainable energy generation and more jobs for locals in a diversified industry,” she added.

The team included West Bay MLA Cline Glidden, Acting Deputy Permanent Secretary Tristan Hydes and Managing Director of the ERA Philip Thomas.

The Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum was designed to impel renewable energy implementation across the region. 

Among its objectives were to define the regional energy market; pinpoint the bottlenecks in legislation, tariffs, technology, political will and finance and work towards solutions; introduce world class renewable energy technology to the Caribbean, and facilitate long term local and international investment in regional sustainable energy projects.

The forum was also aimed at exploring and encouraging energy conservation strategies across the region.

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