Archive for October 29th, 2010

Miss Cayman takes on the world in China

| 29/10/2010 | 11 Comments

(CNS): The whole of the Cayman Islands will be hoping that Cristin Alexander will stand out in the world crowd of beauty queens on Saturday during the finals of the Miss World pageant in China. At 6 feet tall the 23 year old psychology graduate has already made her mark and has taken part in the beachwear semi-finals and the finals of the sportswoman contest as well. Cristin has also done remarkably well in the people’s choice hosted by the Missosology website where she has reached fourth place with 9% of the worldwide vote. The beauty queen was also part of a small group of contestants who launched the Sanya Open Beach Volleyball Championships this week.

A member of the Cayman volley ball team Cristin met up with a number of former competitors in the sport at the event. “It’s so strange to see them here,’ she said. “It’s the meeting of two very different worlds for me. I’m really excited to be part of this event.”

The Miss World contest will air this Saturday, 30 October at 9am local time when 115 contestants will take to the stage live for the 60th anniversary pageant. The show will be broadcast to over 180 countries and will be watched by more than a billion people.
Regardless of where Miss Cayman Islands places in the finals however she will no doubt return home on Monday to a warm welcome after her month long visit to China. She will be arriving home at 8:20 p.m. on Cayman Airways flight # 109.
 

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No plan yet to deal with green iguanas

| 29/10/2010 | 85 Comments

(CNS): While the law protecting a growing pest on the island – the green iguana – was amended in the Legislative Assembly 1 March to allow the invasive species to be controlled, eight months later the Department of Agriculture has still not produced a management plan to deal with them or any instructions for the public on how to humanely remove them from private properties. Yesterday, residents at King’s Court Britannia were appalled to see eight green iguanas that had been stunned and their legs bound behind their backs with duct tape and left in the sun, after which they may have been transported to the Yacht Club and released. Today, sources told CNS, iguanas on the Phase II Britannia property are undergoing the same treatment.

Since the law changed people are free to catch and kill green iguanas, but Mat DaCosta-Cottam, Manager – Terrestrial Ecology Unit of the DoE, told CNS that the department strongly urges people not to relocate the animals elsewhere. “It’s just a waste of time and exacerbates the problem,” he said. “There is no good place to release them and no reason to. If you’re catching an iguana on your property that means you’ve identified it as a nuisance, so by releasing them you are simply passing on the nuisance to someone else.”

He said that although the green iguana has been identified as a public nuisance and an environmental problem, no government department is mandated with dealing with them. “The onus is on property owners to take appropriate measures if they wish to remove iguanas from their land. While the iguanas a no longer protected, they should be treated humanely, and cruelty to the animals is not acceptable,” DaCosta-Cottam said.

He said the DoE gets calls every day from people about the green iguanas, and while it is not known how many there are on Grand Cayman, he believes there may be hundreds of thousands now and there have been reports that the greens have made an appearance on Cayman Brac as well.

On Thursday the King’s Court Britannia residents found the reptiles with their legs tightly bound at about 1:15pm. They said the animals were picked up around 2:30 and they were told that they would be taken to the Yacht Club for release. The Department of Agriculture animal welfare officer was called because the residents thought the method of dealing with the iguanas was cruel, but the fate of the creatures will not apparently be investigated.

Director of Agriculture Adrian Estwick told CNS that the officer “saw and spoke to complainant who stated that he convinced ‘some young lads’ to release the iguanas”. The officer was shown the pieces of tape on the ground that were used to bind the iguanas. “These so-called ‘young lads’ were not there and my officer does not have any information on them. It is assumed that the iguanas were released as they were only signs of duct tape there when the officer arrived on the scene at 2:56 pm on Thursday 28 October.”

In response to CNS questions, Estwick said that the management plan for dealing with the green iguanas, which is still in draft stage and will involve the DoE, “will address managing the over population of green iguanas in the Cayman Islands,” but did not provide a timeline for its completion or any further details.

Meanwhile, one segment of the indigenous population has found a way to deal with the pest. This local Racer (grass snake) was spotted at the Ritz this week, trying to snack on one.
  Related article: Green Iguana days numbered

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AG probes tender process

| 29/10/2010 | 19 Comments

(CNS): The system by which government secures goods and services is to be reviewed by the Auditor General’s Office as a result of issues revealed during the bidding process for the National Closed Circuit Television contract. Alastair Swarbrick said on Friday that he had decided to take a closer look at the central tendering and procurement process as there were concerns that it was not achieving value for money for the public purse. Despite claims by the premier that it was as a result of difficulties he encountered when trying to secure government’s loan of $155 million that he had instructed the audit office to examine the tendering process, the auditor general said the decision follows audit work he had undertaken regarding the CCTV contract.

“As a result of a request by the governor, a discussion with the premier, and audit work I have recently commenced on the National Closed Circuit Television tendering process, I have decided to conduct a wider scope audit of the government’s procurement process at this time,” said Swarbrick in a statement released by his office on Friday morning. “There have been concerns raised that the current procurement process followed by the Cayman Islands Government does not obtain results that ensure the best value for money. Therefore, the audit will focus on this aspect and other areas of the procurement process.”

He added that the audit would commence immediately and would be reported to the Legislative Assembly early in 2011, and he said he would discuss the results of the audit once the report was public.

The central tendering process was brought sharply into the spotlight this week when it was revealed that the premier had elected to bypass recommendations from his own ministerial technical team which had been approved by the Central Tenders Committee over the deal to supply government with long term financing of CI$155 million.

In an address to the nation on Wednesday evening, in which McKeeva Bush justified his decisionbecause he said it would offer greater value for money and save the country millions of dollars, he suggested that the tending process was flawed. He said it did not allow for negotiation and this was why he was seeking to address the way tendering currently works.

“What this experience has taught me is that the tendering process needs to be revamped. With the support of my ministerial colleagues, I have already asked for the auditor general’s assistance in making recommendations for changes to the tendering process that will result in a more efficient, modern and sensible process,” he said.

At present the process of tendering involves both the technocrats in the ministry wishing to procure those goods or services and the Central Tenders Committee, but not the ministers or other elected officials involved in the policy decision.

Following the deadline on the request for proposals, the technical team from the government agency in question and the CTC meet to open the bids. The technical team and CTC make a preliminary examination of each of the bids that has been submitted, ensuring they are valid and have met the basic criteria.

Following that, the agency’s technicians then go away and examine the bids more closely and choose which one they feel best suits the needs of the job/service/goods required and which offers the best value for money. They then write a report justifying their choice, which is examined by the CTC, who vote on whether to agree or disagree with the technicians. If the CTC agrees with the technical team, the contract is awarded. If not, the technical team is asked to re-examine all the bids and try again or the process can be re-tendered.

It is not clear what the questions were that caused the AG concern regarding the CCTV bid but it is understood there were some delays in the process.

Questions have also been raised in the wider community about outside interference with the bids and that the way in which requests for proposals are written has the potential to be skewed towards a specific potential bidder.

The Commission for Standards in Public Life (CSPL) created under the Constitution has already stated that the central tendering process will be one of its priority areas as called for under the Constitution and that it would also be examining contracts which fall outside the remit of CTC (those worth less than $250,000) and how those public contracts are awarded. The CSPL, however, has indicated that it needs supporting legislation if it is to successfully call into question the way a particular contract has been awarded.

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Most accounts late again

| 29/10/2010 | 18 Comments

(CNS): Following a freedom of information request submitted by CNS in September, the Auditor General’s Office has now revealed that less than half of the government entities obligated to summit their annual accounts to the office by 31 August managed to do so. Despite extra cash from the public purse on accountants to help with the backlog, freeing financial officers to focus on making the reporting deadlines for this year’s accounts, 21 of the 37 entities failed to make the legal deadline. Although CNS had requested a full breakdown of which government entities had made the 31 August date, which was refused, after mediation the AG agreed to reveal that six of the 12 ministries and portfolios had made the deadline and 10 of the 25 statutory authorities.

The auditor general said, however, that he would make no comment about the quality of the financial statements that had been submitted for the financial year that ended 30 June 2010, as that would be provided in the Auditor General’s Annual Report planned for release in late December.

He pointed out that the Public Management and Finance Law requires every government ministry, portfolio and statutory authority or government company to submit their annual financial statements to the Office of the Auditor General by 31 August.

“The submission of financial statements for audit on a timely basis is a key element of ensuring good accountability for government finances. For me to do my job properly, I expect all entities to submit their draft financial statements to my Office by the due date,” Swarbrick said in a statement with the release. “I cannot make any comments about the quality of the submissions made and continue to work on the backlog of financial statements before starting the audits of the 2009/10 submissions.”

He also pointed out that the list stating which entities made the deadline and which did not referred only to this financial year’s accounts and not the continuing backlog which his office is still dealing with.

“These numbers take no account of how far each entity has progressed with their backlog of submitting financial statements to the Legislative Assembly,” Swarbrick added.

The AG’s office also noted that the accounts for the audit office itself, which are given to private sector accounts Pricewaterhousecoopers for independent audit, were done so on time.

Ezzard Miller, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee had said recently that he was pleasantly surprised that most entities had submitted their accounts within a week or so of the deadline. Following a closed door meeting of the committee in early September, Miller said that financial officers throughout the public sector were finally beginning to make headway with government’s long overdue accounts.

He said that his 30 September deadline for the backlog to be addressed was missed but things were improving. “It appears that things are going very well and I was pleasantly surprised,” Miller said. “We didn’t make the 30 September deadline to have the backlog completed but, to be honest; it was far more of a target than a deadline. I never had any great expectations that it would be achieved but it was something to work towards.”

The government has been wrestling with a backlog of financial reports for over five years. The last time an annual audited report of government accounts was completed was for the financial year 2003/04. Since then, government entities have failed to meet the requirements of the Public Management and Finance Law and have not been submitting accounts to the AG’s office. The delinquency problem was brought to public attention by the former auditor general, Dan Duguay, in a special report entitled "The State of financial accountability reporting", dated April 2008.

The issue became a bone of contention for senior public servants, with everything from Hurricane Ivan to the PMF law itself being blamed for the problem. It also became a hot issue during the election, with candidates promising to get the accounts sorted out if they were elected.

The North Side independent MLA, who was voted chair of PAC in the wake of the election in May 2009, said that from the start he hoped that he would be able to get the public accounts back in order and have at least two full annual government reports before the end of his term as chair of the committee.

“All being well, we are set to have the 2010/11 accounts done in accordance with the Public Management and Finance Law,” he said. “The PAC and the AG’s office has spent time working on a clear format for accounts submissions and how financials are presented to the AG. As everyone now knows what is expected, we are on a more sound footing for future account keeping.”

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Cruise lines sail away from the Caribbean

| 29/10/2010 | 35 Comments

(The Star): It’s the biggest recent development in cruising. In the spring and summer of 2011, four major cruise lines—Norwegian, Princess, Celebrity and Holland America—won’t be sailing from ports in Florida to and through the Caribbean. All the cruises of those lines that were once operated from Florida to that tropical sea will have been shifted to European waters and other oceans of the world. Not a one will leave from Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Cape Canaveral, Tampa and the like. Although Holland America ceased sailing in summer to the Caribbean several seasons ago, its repeat decision to pass up the Caribbean in the spring/summer of 2011 is another confirmation of the trend.

Left to sail the Caribbean from Florida will be those two giant (6,000 passengers apiece) vessels of Royal Caribbean (the Oasis and the Allure—they really will be too big to go anywhere else); two older ships of Royal Caribbean; and a handful of older vessels of Carnival Cruises.

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National count on track say ESO officials

| 29/10/2010 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Despite the heavy rains which threatened to delay the project at the start the economics and statistics office said that three weeks in to Census 201o the national count is on track to finish mid November as expected. Director Maria Zingapan said everyone in the Cayman Islands would be counted before the project was finished. Officials also added that they were happy with the response and feedback enumerators were getting from the public but asked people to make appointments with enumerators when they had missed them if they were out.

“We are happy with progress, and with the fact that we are receiving so much positive feedback,” said Census Manager Elizabeth Talbert who asked residents to help speed up the process by responding to the census calling cards left by their enumerators. “Census workers spend many hours returning to households a second or third time and sometimes even more. It will help greatly if people call the enumerators to make appointments.”

On the other hand people have been calling the office to make sure that hey get counted. “We receive calls from people reminding us that they’re still waiting to be counted,” Zingapan said. “However, enumerators will be pounding the streets until mid-November, working to reach all households in accordance with a well-designed plan.”

The former Cayman Islands Monetary Authority chairman Timothy Ridley revealed that he’d already been counted and all had gone very well.

“I was counted this weekend by a charming and efficient lady. All went smoothly and I found nothing intrusive or offensive about the questions. I congratulate the Census 2010 team on a job well done!” Ridley declared

The results of the survey will be used to inform future government policy but one of the departments likely to benefit most from the information will be the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Director Deanna Look Loy said the data will help fill some gaps in knowledge for organizing crisis aid as well as effective social planning and organising crisis aid,” she said.
Other studies such as surveys normally use representative samples which indicate trends but Look Loy said we lack the full picture and that can be a problem. Cayman was brought face-to-face with the consequences of incomplete information in the aftermath of both hurricanes Ivan and Paloma.
“The post-Ivan situation saw us scrambling for facts. We particularly lacked data on housing and occupants. For example, we didn’t know who was insured and who was not. We likewise didn’t know the number of persons in households, their makeup or their needs, Look Loy said. “International agencies require such data to use in dispatching aid. If it’s readily available we can also assess more quickly who needs what.”
As the hurricanes proved, data collection becomes even more challenging after storms because things are so much more chaotic. “Following Paloma for instance, we had to send staff over to the Brac every day to collect needed information. The infrastructure was so devastated they couldn’t stay over, a drain on both funds and staff resources,” The DCFS added.
The census will also reveal the numbers of persons who are likely to seek public shelter when flooding occurs, enabling more effective shelter management. “Census data will definitely enable us to stay ahead of the game when managing national crises.”
As national development and planning also rely on correct information the census will assist with social welfare resource planning and budgets. “Being armed with the right information, such as up-to-date poverty indicators will allow us to fine tune our departmental budget, especially with regard to programming,” Look Loy revealed.
She explained that while the DCFS does maintain an indigent/disabled data base, that information was developed mostly through family, self, community and social worker referrals and doesn’t cover the entire population. “The census data will give us specifics regarding the numbers who will likely need our assistance, enabling us tobe more proactive.”

 

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MLAs say no to port

| 29/10/2010 | 48 Comments

(CNS): Both the East End and North Side representatives have made their opposition to the proposed commercial port known again this week, following the announcement by Joseph Imparato that he had submitted his port design to government. Arden McLean and Ezzard Miller continue to question the real motive behind the proposed development, insisting that it is merely a way for the property developer to access what is thought to be around $150 million worth of high quality fill on his land. Opposition member and former cabinet minister McLean warned that not only would it completely change the character of his district for the worse, it could cost the public purse millions to build the necessary roads.

Miller also told CNS that he had considerable scepticism over the development due to Imparato’s failure to show any business plan for the proposed port, which, the developer has said, he will hand to government. Miller said that when he met with Imparato, the developer had made it clear that he would be making his money on the sale of the marl and that rock would be sold overseas.

“He has no business plan, no shipping partners, and if the idea of a port in East End was so lucrative, why would he be handing it to government?” Miller asked. He further pointed to various trends in the commercial port and home berthing market which indicate clearly that Cayman is not the right place and also described Imperato as disingenuous for using the term “hydrocarbons” in his public releases.

“Does he think that Caymanians who spent some fifty years as merchant seamen don’t know what hydrocarbons are?” Miller queried, pointing out that East End was not the place for oil and gas storage.

Miller also noted that government was in the process of developing two finger piers in George Town that would serve just as well for home cruise port business. Miler pointed out it would be difficult to persuade the cruiseindustry that home porting for cruise ships would work in Cayman in the first place given the majority of business comes from the US and the increased costs of flying passengers to Cayman to board their ships. And even if the industry could be persuaded, he said, they would obviously want to use the George Town piers.

Miller said there was absolutely no commercial sense in any of the plans related to the port and the proposals was merely a disguise for the quarry.

Arden McLean said he would be holding a series of meetings with his constituents starting on Monday 8 November at the civic centre in East End, where he would be spelling out to the people why he opposed the development and getting their feedback.

“This will not offer any short term benefit to the people of East End as there will be very few jobs available at the start of the project,” McLean stated. The East End representative is also convinced that the motivation for the project is merely to quarry what he believes is at a conservative estimate more than $150 million of marl, which is both accessible and easy to export. He has concerns that the people of East End will be left with a large hole in their district that government cannot afford to utilise.

McLean also questioned the idea that Imparato wanted to ringfence the project with a special corporation and change the law, akin to how a project at London Docklands in the UK was developed, which would enable him to circumvent local permit laws. McLean warned that if that was allowed to happen, then it would be very unlikely that East Enders would benefit from the project at all.

The East End representative pointed out that while Imparato may be willing to build the basic infrastructure for a commercial dock, he would not be building the associated upland elements on government’s adjacent land, nor would he be constructing the roads and this would all fall to the public purse, which he estimated could be close to $100 milllion.

As the former public works minister, McLean said estimates he received when he was in office to extend the East West arterial just to Bodden Town would have cost government over $22 million for one lane each way. He said taking a four lane road, as would be needed for the containers all the way to East End, would not only be an environmental disaster it would also be very costly.

With some of the islands’ most important dive sites in the area where the developer plans to place the port, along with the channel that will have to be built, McLean said there were many environmental concerns. He also said he would need to see far more detailed plans about the impact the project could have during a hurricane and on the local water lens.

“When you pay a private company to do your environmental impact assessment then they are going to give you the kind of assessment you want to get,” McLean noted, expressing his concern that if the project was allowed to go ahead it would change thecharacter of East End forever and not, he felt, for the better with little gain to his constituents.

Imparato confirmed what had long been speculation regarding his East End port with an official release on Wednesday, when he said he intended to build a commercial port in the High Rock area of the district. East End Seaport will, according to the proposal, include a cargo facility, cruise ship home port, transhipment of containerised cargo, a luxury mega yacht marina and a hydrocarbon storage facility, though he said there would be no oil refinery.

For more details see East End port plans official

Vote in the CNS poll: Are you in favour of the East End Seaport?

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Tropical Storm Shary forms south of Bermuda

| 29/10/2010 | 2 Comments

(CNS): Updated – Bermuda was issued with a tropical storm watch last night when the season’s 18th storm formed 350 miles south of the island around 11pm. On Friday afternoon at 1pm local time the NHC said Tropical Storm Shary was 155 miles SSW of Bermuda and heading towards it at 12 mph. Shary is expected to pass near or to the east of Bermuda tonight. Maximum sustained winds are around 60 mph with higher gusts. Meanwhile, a strong tropical wave located about 275 miles east-southeast of the southern windward islands which would be likely to head towards the Cayman area was becoming much better organized the NHC revealed giving it a 90% chance of becoming a storm.

The forecasters warned that environmental conditions are conducive for a tropical depression or a tropical storm to form during the next day or so and the the system is moving west-northwestward at 15 to 20 mph.

 Go to NHC

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Despair of Pakistan’s forgotten flood victims

| 29/10/2010 | 0 Comments

(BBC): Liaqat Babar, a farmer in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh, sees just one escape from the hunger, loss and torment inflicted by the recent catastrophic floods. Suicide. "When I see my kids, I feel like killing myself," he says. "We are powerless. We just keep quiet and ask God for death." Three months after the flooding which affected 20 million people and one fifth of the country, Liaqat has no home, no hope and no answers for his six children. "They are crying for food, " he says. "I tell them God will send someone very kind, and I send them to sleep. In the morning they ask again for food, and I say again that God will send someone."

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