Archive for November 1st, 2010

Bush broke law, says Tibbetts

| 01/11/2010 | 56 Comments

(CNS): Full story – The premier has contravened both the law and established practice in choosing the company which will be supplying government’s CI$155 million loan, the leader of the opposition has said. During a national broadcast on Monday night, Kurt Tibbetts raised concerns over the way the premier has, he said, unlawfully overridden the recommendation of advisers in his own ministry, as well as the Central Tenders Committee, when he handpicked the New York firm to provide the money. The PPM leader also asked if the deal really is in the best interests of the country, as claimed by McKeeva Bush, as the premier’s own technical team did not think so.

Calling for full and frank disclosure as to the details of the deal, the opposition leader raised concerns about why the premier had become so closely involved in the awarding of a government contract, especially as his own ministry officials recommended a different bid, which they and the Central Tenders Committee all agreed offered the best valuefor money.

“What is extremely concerning and highly irregular, is that the premier has contravened both the law and established practice in choosing the company which will provide this financing to the government,” Tibbetts told the country. “The premier has unlawfully overridden the recommendation of the advisers in his own ministry, the Ministry of Finance Technical Evaluating team, as well as the decision of the Central Tenders Committee and has handpicked a New York firm to provide this financing.”

Government recently announced that it had secured the financing for a loan of US$185 million to plug the budget gap with Cohen and Company, a firm based in New York. However, it was soon revealed that the company had not been recommended by the CTC and the premier himself had entered into the negotiations regarding the deal. The Public Management and Finance Law requires government to tender all public contracts over CI$250,000 but gives no authority to the premier or any minister to award contracts.

Tibbetts said that the premier had acted unlawfully when he ignored the recommendations from officials and the CTC to award the contract to a joint venture of two local banks, Royal Bank of Canada and FirstCaribbean. He said this was confirmed by the Chairman of the Central Tenders Committee, Ronnie Dunn, who had explained what had happened in an e-mail read out on the Rooster talk show.

“There is no provision in our legislation that I am aware of which allows for the overriding of the CTC decision. And I would invite anyone who knows different to quote that section of the law which allows that,” Dunn had said.

Tibbetts further questioned the premier’s claim that he had acted in the best interests of country and was saving many millions of dollars in interest costs with the selection of Cohen and Company since the interest rate for the deal remained a mystery. “Despite announcing the award of the financing contract to Cohen and Company, the premier has been unable or unwilling to say what the terms of the arrangement are,” Tibbetts stated. “Curiously, it would appear from what the premier has said that the crucially important issue of the interest rate that will be charged on this loan agreement has not yet been agreed and is still being negotiated even after the financing contract has been awarded.”

In addition to what he said was the unlawful nature of the award, Tibbetts raised concerns about whether this deal is really in the best interests of the Cayman Islands as well as the manner in which the firm was singled out for special treatment by the premier in his involvement with the tendering process.

“This is a grave and monumental step for the elected leader of the country to take,” he stated “The first obvious question therefore is, why? The premier says it was to save the country money. But he has not said how. Nor has he explained why he personally went to Cohen and Company’s offices in New York and invited them to make another proposal after the Central Tenders Committee had already decided to award the financing contract to Royal Bank and FirstCaribbean.”

The PPM leader also pointed out that the premier has not explained why other bidders were not invited to engage in negotiations or present other proposals as Cohen and Company had been. “Nor has he told the country why Cohen and Company was singled out for special treatment in this way,” Tibbetts added.

A lot was at stake, he said, as government was borrowing the single largest sum ever and it was critically important that the country gets the best possible deal. He said with so very little in terms of detail being provided about this deal, set against unconfirmed reports that one bid contained a proposal with a 3.5% interest fixed for 15 years with no associated fees, it was difficult to see how the people could be certain the premier’s choice would offer the best deal.

Tibbetts maintained that, despite the premier’s position that the process was less important than getting a good deal, the process was critically important.

“When due process is not followed it opens up the ominous prospect of corruption,” Tibbetts warned. “There are huge reputational implications for the Cayman Islands Government here. It should not be forgotten by the premier in his desire to have his financier of choice that it is the Cayman Islands Government’s reputation for probity and reliability that has made it relatively easy for it to secure financing, even in these hard economic times. The spectre of corruption has the capacity to undermine any government’s reputation, including ratings by Standard and Poors and Moodys.”

He noted that if potential bidders believe that the process of awarding contracts is not fair, predictable and transparent then the attractiveness of this jurisdiction is lost, with potentially dire consequences.

The opposition leader noted that an award to local banks would have also been more beneficial for the local economy, which was now lost.

Calling for full and frank disclosure by the premier of the details and circumstances surrounding the award, Tibbetts said the government needed to explain the reasons why Cohen and Company were singled out and the other bidders excluded. He asked for the disclosure of all documentation related or connected to the tendering process and a report by the attorney general regarding the legality of overriding the decision of the Central Tenders Committee to award the financing contract to Royal Bank of Canada and FirstCaribbean. Tibbetts also said there needed to be a special investigation by the auditor general into the circumstances surrounding the tendering process and the award to Cohen and Company.

Full statement by Kurt Tibbetts

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Opposition fights to be heard

| 01/11/2010 | 15 Comments

(CNS): The role of the Legislative Assembly as a place of democratic debate is being further undermined as a result of government ignoring parliamentary questions, the opposition has claimed. PPM member for George Town, Alden McLaughlin, says government has still not answered more than ten questions submitted by the opposition in the last session as they are required to do under Standing Orders. Aside from rushing through laws and suppressing debate on bills and amendments, he accused government of closing down the opposition’s only other options of querying the workings of government through parliamentary questions and members’ motions. (Photo Dennie Warren Jr)

The former Cabinet member pointed out that the opposition cannot just raise issues at will in the Legislative Assembly, and in order for them to represent the people as an opposition they have to get the topical issues that people want addressed onto the business papers of each legislative session.

“The only time we are permitted wide debate is during the throne or budget speeches, otherwise we are limited in the matters we can raise,” McLaughlin said. “In order to bring matters before the House for debate the opposition must file private members motions or ask parliamentary questions, otherwise the legislature is limited to the government’s agenda.”

With just a few avenues open to them, McLaughlin said government was closing the opposition down by stonewalling, ignoring questions and not placing opposition motions on the business agenda.

“We have over ten questions outstanding from the last meeting which the government should now have answered in writing as they failed to answer them in the Legislative Assembly,” McLaughlin said. With still no written answers on the eve of the next meeting, the opposition had attempted to get the questions placed back on the order paper for this week but it has been turned down because of procedures.

Since government is expected to have followed the rules the Legislative Assembly, Standing Orders are silent on the issue of what the opposition can do when government simply ignores their questions. As a result, the Speaker is obliged to turn to Erskine May, which is the UK’s authoritative work on parliamentary procedures and is what the local legislatures turn to when the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly Standing Orders are silent on a particular issue. That states that, as a rule, a questioner must wait three months to re-submit a parliamentary question.

As the House last met just two month ago, the opposition must wait until the next meeting before the questions which government should already have answered can be resubmitted. The George Town representative said the questions covered a diverse range of important topics, from the current state of government finances, the environmental impact assessment at the port, government money given to churches for hurricane defences, and what has happened to the legal aid report, all of which government will be a liberty to continue to ignore, he noted.

The government was being rewarded for abusing the process, McLaughlin observed, and while the opposition members would bide their time, this was just another example of the government’s contempt for what should be the most important place for debate.

“Technically it is correct that the questions have to wait, but the overriding consideration must be about service to democracy,” he said. “The parliamentary questions are a time honoured method by which the opposition can question the workings of government, but if government doesn’t reply in the Legislative Assembly and then does not, as is expected, submit answers in writing after the sitting then the democratic process is fundamentally undermined.”

McLaughlin said it went further than government simply ignoring the questions; they did not want answer. “This goes to the growing irrelevance of the Legislative Assembly for national debate as the government adjourns to the talk shows,” the opposition member added.

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Tomas strengthens as it heads towards Jamaica

| 01/11/2010 | 8 Comments

(CNS): Update Tuesday morning –  Tropical Storm Tomas was located around 445 miles SE of Kingston, Jamaica at 6am local time on Monday as it began to strengthen again. Maximum sustained winds are now  near 50 mph and Tomas is moving towards the west at 12 mph. Forecasters said a turn towards the west northwest is expected during the next two days and further strengthening is also forecast  the NHC warned. Tomas is farther south in the Caribbean than originally expected, which means the storm may have more time to re-intensify. Tropical storm force winds currently extend outward up to 115 miles from the centre. Tomas became the twelfth hurricane of the Atlantic 2010 season this weekend and is still the 19th storm.

Most forecasters currently have the storm turning towards the north over the next few days before reaching Jamaica. On this forecast path Tomas will not pose a threat to the Cayman Islands, though deviations from that track could occur and residents should still monitor Tomas closely.

Forecasters say Tomas still has the potential to strengthen into a major storm as it moves westward toward Jamaica.

Tomas has torn off roofs, downed power lines and dropped several inches of rain across Barbados, St. Vincent and St. Lucia. Hundreds of people took refuge in shelters at the weekend when winds tore at buildings and rain-soaked hillsides slid across roads.

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Selita brings fashion home to Cayman

| 01/11/2010 | 3 Comments

(CNS): Cayman’s very own supermodel Selita Ebanks will be hosting the islands’ first ever international fashion show this weekend at the Ritz Carlton. Cayman Fashion Solstice is a four day fashion-fest featuring international designers, fashionistas and top models from around the world. Two-time Project Runway finalist and fashion favourite Korto Momolu, hot avant-garde New York designers LaQuan Smith and Indashio, top Guyaneese born designer Roger Gary, renowned couturier Claudia Pegus and Cayman Islands own designers Crown Atelier by Tigerlily Hill and Gabz & Gabz swim & beach wear will be staring on the islands’ catwalk.

The major highlight of the fashion and lifestyle weekend is the highly anticipated Fashion Solstice Gala hosted by Selita on Saturday night at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Ballroom. Top models will be featured from some of the world’s best agencies, including Ford, Elite, Major and RED. Almost 30 Caymanian models will also rock the runway with the international models. An exclusive VIP After-party will follow after the spectacular fashion show.

The fashion extravaganza kicks off on Thursday, 4 November and runs through to Sunday, 7 November an starts with a Culture & Style Welcome Party at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Thursday, November 4, 2010, a Sunset White Fashion Fete where guests are required to wear fabulous white fashions at Osetra Bay on Friday, November 5, 2010; a boat excursion to Cayman’s hottest beach spots on Sunday, November 7, 2010

For more information please visit www.caymanfashionsolstice.com or call (345)946-4882.
 

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Mac to face Bodden Towners at public meeting

| 01/11/2010 | 51 Comments

(CNS): The premier’s press office has announced that McKeeva Bush will be holding the second in his planned series of town hall meetings next week. This time the premier will be meeting with the people of Bodden Town at the Civic Centre on Tuesday evening 2 November, beginning at 8 pm. The official release says the premier will be talking about government finances, what the government is doing to stimulate the economy and get people back to work, helping businesses, and the process involved in the selection of Cohen and Company. After his opening remarks the audience will have the opportunity to ask the premier questions directly. (Photo by Dennie Warren Jr)

During the first meeting hosted by Bush in George Town in September, at the newly renovated historic Peace Hall, the premier berated what he said was the bureaucracy getting in the way of government projects. He said there was a “silent, passive non-compliance” and a “dragging of feet” when people were opposed to government projects.

The premier also faced a considerable number of questions at the last meeting on topics ranging from the cruise port development project and unemployment.

In the wake of the premier’s decision to ignore his ministerial technical team’s advice to award the government financing contract to a joint bid from two local banks, as recommended by the Central Tenders Committee, and choose a foreign financier instead, together with the controversy surrounding the recent bid for the country’s CCTV, the premier is likely to face questions regarding the central tendering process.

The announcement of Joe Imparato’s plans to construct a commercial port in East End may also be another issue likely to be on the minds of the people of Bodden Town, as well as a number of local issues, such as the continued flooding problems in the district.

The second meeting will take place the night before the Legislative Assembly returns for its next meeting, when government is expected to bring a number of bills for amendment, including the tax concessions amendment bill. The country’s legislators will also be debating a number of private members motions and there are more than 14 questions set down by opposition and independent members to be asked of government ministers. 

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Cayman tax sytem unfair, says local recruiter

| 01/11/2010 | 15 Comments

(CNS): During a panel discussion organised by Generation Now a local recruiter pointed out that indirect taxation is unfair on the poorer members of society. In the second of its public forums on controversial topics, the critical thinkers brought together Paul Byles, Anthony Travers, Tom McCallum and Steve McIntosh to discuss the country’s tax system. While Travers, the chair of Cayman Finance, argued that direct taxes would drive away business and economist Byles said they would be too difficult to collect in a mobile population, McCallum of McCallum Consulting said jurisdictions such as Jersey were thriving on direct taxes and recruitment expert McIntosh pointed out that indirect taxes were regressive and created a disconnect between the voters and government accountability.

Aside from being unfair to those at the bottom of the socio-economic pile, since indirect tax systems mean they pay a greater proportion of their earnings to the government coffers, McIntosh, the CEO of CML Offshore recruitment, pointed out that people don’t realise how much tax they pay when they are indirect. “Indirect taxes are regressive and unfair; people on low incomes pay proportionately more than those on higher incomes,” he said. He also wondered whether government would still be building a $9 million hurricane shelter on the Brac if people realized what proportion of their income they actually pay to government coffers.

McCallum, a consultant who assists people with business advice, pointed out what this means for the democratic process. “There is also a big disconnect between the electorate and government. Voters reward politicians for spending money. We do not hold our politicians accountable as we do not feel we are paying.”

Both McIntosh and McCallum suggested  that, without a tax bill or a salary slip where the tax from one’s earnings was clearly indicated, people don’t see the money government is spending as being theirs. People who pay direct taxes and see how much they are paying from their earnings tend to be more critical of government overspending.

However, Travers argued that the very fact that Cayman does not have income or property taxes is why business comes here in the first place and the indirect tax system was fundamental to the success of the Cayman economy. “So tinker with the tax system at your peril,” Travers warned.

Byles, chair of the Development Bank’s board and MD of Focus Consulting, noted that the cost and difficulties of collecting direct taxes with such a mobile tax base would make it prohibitive. The economist and author said that the transient nature of Cayman’s workforce was unique and no other country in the world was dealing with a situation where half its workers were foreign nationals. “Any tax system mostly take two things into account – how easy is it to collect and how easy is it to avoid?” he added.

While there was a clear divide between McCallum and McIntosh on the one hand, who said they wanted to see a broadening of Cayman’s tax base to reduce some indirect taxes and introduce some direct ones, and Byles and Travers, who were both opposed to direct taxes, all four men agreed that government spending was too high and had to come down. Travers, however, said there was some evidence that this current administration was reducing operating expenses and, as a result, Cayman Finance would be advising government to reduce the recent increases in business fees, which he said were a temporary measure.

The debate took place at the Harquail Theatre on Thursday evening and was organised by the local non-profit organisation, Generation Now, a group of people promoting open discussion on the key topics of the day.

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Robbers tie up victims

| 01/11/2010 | 51 Comments

(CNS):  Updated – Police have now confirmed earlier reports on CNS that two men were tied up by armed suspects in the early hours of this morning during a robbery at the Ramada Grand Caymanian on the North Sound. At about 1.30 am Monday two members of staff were inside an office at the Ramada Grand Caymanian, when they were suddenly confronted by two masked men armed with what appeared to be handguns. The robbers tied the men up and left them locked in the office before the suspects entered another office which contained the safe. The victims remained tied up for around two hours before one of the men eventually managed to free himself and raise the alarm.

It was then that they discovered that the robbers had forced open the safe and fled the scene with a sum of cash. Neither of the men at the resort were injured during their ordeal and no shots were fired by the robbers. The first suspect is described as having a dark complexion, 5’6” in height and weighing 200 – 200lbs. He was wearing a black t-shirt, dark blue faded jeans and black and white sneakers. He had a black ski mask covering his face.

The second robber had a slim build and was about 6’ in height. He was wearing a long sleeved hoodie with camouflage pants and white sneakers.

Detective Sergeant Richard Scott who is leading the investigation asked anyone with information to come forward.

“This was a terrifying ordeal for the two men involved – luckily they weren’t injured. Initial indications
are that this was a pre-planned robbery,” the detective said. “It could be that the two suspects had been watching the movements of staff for a few days prior to the actual incident. That’s why I’d be keen to talk to people who saw anything suspicious in the days and nights leading up to the incident, as well as anyone who may have been in the area around the relevant time this morning. The information you have may be vital to the enquiry and I’d ask you to get in touch with us as quickly as possible.”

DS Scott said information can be passed to the Criminal Investigation Department at George Town police
station on 949-4222 or the confidential Crime Stoppers number 800-8477 (TIPS).

This is now the second tourist location to be targeted by robbers following the recent robbery in the heart of Seven Mile Beach at the Grand Cayman Beach Suites last month.

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Tax and fees on LA agenda

| 01/11/2010 | 23 Comments

(CNS): The issue of taxes and fees and their potential reductions will be at the centre of parliamentary business this week when the country’s law makers return to the Legislative Assembly. Government will be bringing a bill to amend the tax concessions law to enlarge the scope of those exempt from taxes to include any entity that government feels is in the national interest. The opposition is also bringing a private member’s motion requesting the reduction in work permit fees and the independent member a motion to require developers who receive duty waivers to purchase the goods through local merchants in order to get those concessions to help boost the local economy. (Photo by Dennie Warren Jr)

The Legislative Assembly resumes on Wednesday, when the government will be seeking support for the tax concessions amendment bill, which will enable the Cabinet to offer duty and fee waivers whenever government considers it to be of benefit to the country. The law will give the Cabinet the power to offer developments such as the proposed medical city, the cruise dock or the commercial port any tax exemptions they see fit.

Meanwhile, on the opposition benches Alden McLaughlin will be presenting a private members motion, seconded by Ezzard Miller, asking government to reduce the work permit fee increases. The third elected member for George Town says in his motion that statistics show a marked decline in the number of work permit holders in the Cayman Islands since the increases were imposed, and with many businesses under financial pressure, just as government has recently reduced the key employee fees, it should now consider reducing the fees for all work-permits.

The North Side representative will also be presenting his own private members motion, supported by East End opposition member, Arden McLean, asking government to require those developers who have been granted a reduction or special waiver of duties to buy the goods they need from local sellers instead of directly importing the goods themselves to ensure the money passes through the local economy.

As well as various other amendments and private members motions, there are some fourteen parliamentary questions tabled by the independent and opposition members to be asked of the premier and Cabinet members, from the current situation with the cruise berthing development and the current status of derelict tourism properties to questions regarding the proposed East End Sea port and the controversial government loan.

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Lawyers move first unit trust from Cayman to Ireland

| 01/11/2010 | 13 Comments

(Fundstrategy): Dillon Eustace has announced what it claims to be the first ever unit trust relocation from the Cayman Islands to Ireland. The Irish law firm says the move was completed on behalf of a major international financial institution and its underlying investor. The re-domiciling has involved a Cayman Islands registered unit trust successfully relocating as an Irish Qualifying Investor Fund. Dillon Eustace expects more fund relocations shortly. It follows the Irish Central Bank’s agreement to facilitate the general relocation of unit trusts. Legislation was recently commenced to streamline the process of re-domiciling of corporate funds to Ireland.

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Haiti cholera deaths above 330 as Tomas approaches

| 01/11/2010 | 0 Comments

(CNN): The death toll from a cholera outbreak in Haiti has risen to more than 330, and officials believe Hurricane Tomas may worsen the situation as it approaches. The number of confirmed cholera cases has climbed to 4,764, with 337 deaths, said Imogen Wall, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Haiti, citing information provided by the Haitian government. Those numbers represent the people that were able to make it to the hospital, she said. Another 200 cases are suspected in the nation’s West Department, or province, she said. Tracking maps show Hurricane Tomas nearing Haiti on Thursday as a Category 3 hurricane.

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