Archive for November 10th, 2010

Kurt resigns PPM’s top job

| 10/11/2010 | 115 Comments

(CNS): Full storyThe opposition leader and head of the People’s Progressive Movement has announced his intention to resign from both roles early next year. Kurt Tibbetts revealed that he will be stepping down from the top job in his party and on the opposition front bench once a new leader is elected at the party’s conference next year. Tibbetts will not be leaving the political scene and will be continuing on as an MLA and member of the party but he is moving aside, leaving the top spot open for one of his political colleagues. Any of the four PPM serving MLAs may run for the leadership but the two candidates likely to be vying for the job will be Alden McLaughlin and Arden McLean.

The former leader of government business made the announcement at a televised press briefing on Wednesday afternoon at the PPM’s headquarters but would not be drawn on who he believed should be the party’s next leader. The veteran politician stated diplomatically that any one of his four colleagues was up to the job.

Tibbetts, who has served in the Legislative Assembly since 1992, said that once the new leader, along with a deputy leader and a party general secretary, was elected he would be there to offer support but would allow what he called the new blood of the party to take the PPM forward and would not impose on them. “I have always been a firm believer in succession planning and now the PPM needs new blood at the top, new people to lead the movement and carry out its mission. From time to time every organization needs a change of leadership to foster growth and allow for continuity and the PPM is no exception,” he said.

Tibbetts revealed that in the wake of the election defeat of the PPM in May 2009 he had told his party colleagues he would not be leading the PPM into the 2013 elections. However, he said that was not the time for him to step down in the immediate aftermath of the election. He explained that in order to follow the party’s constitutional process and give the party enough time to develop its new leadership it was now time for him to step aside and let that process begin.

“The PPM’s constitution calls for the election of a new leader to be done at a conference in which all PPM members participate in the election process,” he said. “Not less than 60 days notice must be given to the membership for this conference to take place. The PPM executive has decided that a conference of the party will be convened for this specific purpose and will be held early next year.”

He explained that he would remain as political leader of the PPM and of the opposition until the new leadership is elected.

“There will be no time when the party does not have a functioning Leader. Only when a new leader has been elected will I step down. Once a new leader has been elected, I will cease to be the political leader of the PPM, and I will also cease to be leader of the opposition," Tibbetts emphasised.

Even after the new leader is chosen he said he would still continue to be a member of the parliamentary group of the PPM and an elected member of the Legislative Assembly, and to serve his constituency and the country as the first elected member of George Town.

“I will continue to be an active member of the PPM and sit on its councils. Most importantly, I will continue to play my part in helping the PPM to achieve its mission. This is as important to me today as it has ever been. Nothing will change, except that someone else will shoulder the leadership responsibilities. My love for my country and my people, and especially my love for the people of George Town, remains steadfast. No one need question that.” Tibbetts stated.

The notice period will give the membership time to think about the new leadership, Tibbetts noted, and for the district councils of the PPM to convene, discuss the matters and decide on their nominee. At the party conference, in addition to the new party leader, a deputy leader and a general secretary will also be elected. The posts of political leader and deputy will have to be filled by elected members of the Legislative Assembly but the general secretary may be held by any PPM member.

Six months after the new leadership team is elected, there will be another conference where other officers of the organization will be elected or re-elected and decisions made on the way forward for the next general elections, which Tibbetts said the PPM would win.

Looking back over his leadership of the PPM, he said that when the party was in office it had given the country the right kind of government, as it had promised. “We also pressed for improvements in our Constitution and laws, many of them designed to reduce the risk of bad government. We succeeded despite the opposition of the UDP and its leader. Thanks to our efforts there is now greater transparency, greater protection through legislation like the Freedom of Information Law and, because of the new constitution, in the last resort voters have the power to demand a referendum.”

He said the party now needed to devote more time and effort to the public image of the PPM. “There have always been people who are against the party system – mostly I think because of how the party system is perceived in other countries – also because some think it is the cause of the confrontation between elected representatives, and they would like to see cooperation instead,” he said

However, he pointed out that the confrontation between MLAs comes from the constitution, and the division of government and opposition. “We need to convince enough people that, without parties, voters have no idea what sort of government, or which leader, they are voting for. I think the election in 2009 taught quite a lot of voters what we were trying to get across,” he added, saying the party must still listen to the voters learn lessons.

“In 2009 voters said they wanted a change in government. I do not think they were necessarily looking to appoint Mr Bush as the country’s leader, nor do I think they were giving a thumbs-down to me personally or my Cabinet colleagues – all but one of whom were re-elected. Many used their votes to say they would like to see some new faces in the LA,” Tibbetts observed.

The PPM outgoing leader said people were taken in by the UDP line thatthe previous administration had caused the country’s economic problems.

“With leadership comes accountability so I take full responsibility,” he said. “There is much work for us to do. Once the new leadership team is elected, they will then have ample time to develop the new road map which will take us to victory in the next elections. “

He said it was time for everyone who wanted to give the country good government, not just those who are already members or supporters of the PPM but also those who regard themselves as independents, to join forces. “We have always been an inclusive movement, and now is the time for good people to join forces for the right reasons,” Tibbetts said.

The PPM will be holding an open national meeting at the Sea Farers Hall on Thursday at 7:30pm
 

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Local man pleads not guilty to gun running

| 10/11/2010 | 0 Comments

(CNS): The crown opened its case on Tuesday against Caymanian, Joseph Hurlston who has been charged with the importation of a firearm and has elected a judge alone trial. Hurlston is accused of bringing a weapon into the Cayman Islands via a canoe from Jamaica following his arrest in East End earlier this year. The court heard that in the early hours of Tuesday 20 April police on operation in the area had observed a group of men acting suspiciously on the beach. Soon after officers came across two men walking along Austin Connolly Drive who seemed to be wet. The men ran off after police approached them and the defendant was seen to throw something in to the bushes, police said, where they later recovered a firearm.

During the original operation five Caymanian men and one Jamaican man were arrested. Hurlston is the only defendant to face trial in relation to the incident which police described as an extensive operation at the time. Officers involved said that they had recovered a substantial quantity of ganja along with cocaine and hash oil as well as three firearms.

It is believed when the men were intercepted they had abandoned their boat which sank as they tried to make a landing on the local shoreline.  The marine unit later found the capsized canoe more firearms and the residue of its illicit cargo. A police officer who was aboard the police boat Tornado told the court that a back pack he had recovered from the ocean near where the canoe had capsized the police discovered a handgun along with Hurlston’s British passport his Cayman divers license, his CNB bank card a gps device and a travel itinerary for a trip to Jamaica.

The trial is expected to continue till Thursday.
 

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Canadian airline touches down in Cayman

| 10/11/2010 | 3 Comments

(CNS): The first ever direct WestJet Airlines Jet flight from Toronto, touched down at Owen Roberts last week to a personal welcome from the country’s premier and other officials. Government has had a partnership with the airline in its sights for several years as a significant number of visitors to the Cayman Islands come from Canada. “We are absolutely delighted to welcome WestJet Airlines to the Cayman Islands and look forward to a fruitful and strategic relationship for a long time to come,” McKeeva Bush said at a reception held at the airport for WestJet executives, local dignitaries and the media.

“This flight marks an important beginning for our tourism plans for the Canadian market. The Department of Tourism’s strategic plan calls for greater outreach in Canada, which essentially means we needed an additional airline partner to help us grow our market share, particularly from Western Canada,” Bush added. “I am proud to say that in WestJet, we have found a partner that is reliable, safe, cost-effective and guest-oriented to enhance our marketing efforts.”

After a traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony the Cayman Islands government and WestJet exchanged gifts with Cayman presenting the airline with a model replica of a jet liner carved by a local artisan from Caymanite.

“To say we are excited about having WestJet Airlines flying to Grand Cayman is an understatement,” said Paul Minich, country manager for the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism in Canada. “WestJet has a solid reputation built on quality customer service and attractive fares. Not surprisingly, Canadians are already seeing fares to Grand Cayman becoming much more competitive heading into this winter season so we are anticipating a very healthy uptick in our visitor arrivals.”

Minich also noted that WestJet enables the destination to better market itself to Western Canadians, many of whom are brand loyal to the airline.

“A full quarter of our Canadian visitors come from Western Canada and this new relationship represents a real opportunity for us to grow that number even further,” said Minich.

WestJet’s regularly scheduled service to Grand Cayman from Toronto will see the carrier flying three times per week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. The service compliments already existing direct and connecting flights via major gateways in the U.S.

WestJet offers scheduled service throughout its 71-city North American and Caribbean network. Inducted into Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures Hall of Fame and named one of Canada’s best employers, WestJet pioneered low-cost flying in Canada. WestJet offers increased legroom, leather seats and live seatback television provided by Bell TV on its modern fleet of 90 Boeing Next-Generation 737 aircraft. With future confirmed deliveries for an additional 45 aircraft through 2017, WestJet strives to be one of the five most successful international airlines in the world.
 

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5-day work permits coming, says CIO

| 10/11/2010 | 19 Comments

(CNS): Senior Immigration Department staff finished a round of public meetings in the one district where the chief immigration officer does not have control of immigration. While CIO Linda Evans headed a panel held on Cayman Brac, District Commissioner Ernie Scott, who was also at the meeting, heads the department on the Sister Islands. Although she does not have oversight on the Brac, Evans laid out some of the improvements that are being made in customer service within the department, including five-day work permits given on entry, and greater use of technology to make the department more efficient.

Evans explained that the planned five-day work permits will be acquired at the airport on entry and will allow companies to access people outside the jurisdiction quickly. She said the person would arrive by invitation of a local company, would fill out a form at the airport and pay a fee for a 5-day non-renewable permit.

Another significant change to be implemented in boarder control is the requirement by immigration for airlines to supply an electronic manifest, which they will be able to use to scan a database for undesirables leaving and entering the jurisdiction, and could also screen for children in custody disputes.

A backlog of 1500 work permit applications has been reduced to 6,000, the CIO reported, while the turnaround for business staffing plans is now down to three or four weeks.

Explaining some of the improvements taking place in the Immigration Department to improve service and turnaround times, the CIO said they were embracing the use of technology. Starting with a pilot group this week they would approving licences by email, she said. The department is also working on improving online access so that employers can see the status of applications. If they are deferred they can see what was missing and if they are refused they can see why.

Staff will also be scanning active files – about 30,000 out of the total of some 126,000 files – so that they could be accessed electronically, starting in the coming weeks with work permit files, which would have the greatest impact. The department does not have the funding to complete the process but they were hoping to get enough in the next budget to finish, Evans said.

Figures for the Sister Islands, supplied by staff at the Brac office at the meeting since they are not apparently held by staff on Grand Cayman, revealed that between 1 January and 1 November 2010 the Immigration Board for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman processed 324 annual work permits, nine of which were refused. During this time period, the Sister Islands board also processed 281 temporary permits, eight of which were refused. Trade and Business licences are processed in Grand Cayman, and immigration received 144 applications from the Sister Islands, Brac staff said.

Senior Immigration Officer Roger Scott, who reports to District Commissioner Scott rather than CIO Evans, noted that status and permanent residency applications from the Brac are also processed in Grand Cayman and that the cultural tests also have to be done there.

Assistant Chief in the Enforcement and Intelligence Division, Jeremy Scott, said they rely on members of the community to inform them of breaches in immigration law. All anonymous reports are confidential and can be made on the new hotline (1-800-534 2546) or email address (legalim@gov.ky).

Scott said that between 1 July 2009 and 30 June 2010, the division made 108 arrests, of which 72% were male and 28% female, for a range of offenses, including illegal employment, altering documents, working without a permit, obstructing law enforcers and making false statements. Almost half (48%) were for overstaying, he said.

Fines incurred by culprits for the last fiscal year amounted to $181,000, compared to $73,161 the year before, an increase of 240%. In the first four months of this current fiscal year, they have already handed out $76,000 worth of fines, Scott said.

 

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Social employment faces cut

| 10/11/2010 | 36 Comments

(CNS): The civil service review team has told the Public Works Department to end its policy of social employment. According to its first report, which recommended $17 million in cuts to public spending in four agencies, government should not use the Public Works Department as somewhere to employ people with low skills and should downsize to the correct staffing levels at the top and the bottom. The team recommended savings of CI$2.2 million, or 20 percent of current expenditure, by reducing the headcount of unskilled workers and what it described as top-heavy management. The review team found that what were referred to as “social employees” made up close to a quarter of the workforce.

The report said employing individuals whose skills, abilities and mental/physical capacity rendered them less productive and prevented them from finding equivalent work in the private sector was a major contributing factor in the department’s failure to be competitive. The review recommended that such employees are reassessed and those capable of progressing identified and trained to do more productive work within PWD, other government agencies or even the private sector.

Government has a goal to ensure that employment is as close to 100% as possible. In the past PWD has been unofficially required to employ individuals with criminal convictions, poor skill sets and those who are otherwise not able to gain employment elsewhere. Although PWD is not currently hiring such individuals, significant numbers of existing employees remain and the hidden costs of social employment fail to register the true expense to the public of meeting the goal of 100% employment.

The review team recommended that it would be more productive tointroduce a ‘back to work’ programme with better tailored opportunities for training and experience.

“Continuing to mask this activity leads to passing the cost on to PWD’s clients … unfairly fostering the perception that public works is expensive,” the report stated, adding that it was unreasonable to require PWD to continue this unofficial programme and holding them accountable on cost comparisons with the private sector.

The team also warned that employing such individuals without properly recognising their needs can lead to other higher performing employees feeling demotivated and a sense of being treated inequitably, particularly when teamed up with the socially employed.

“As a last resort these staff could be made redundant in an effort to improve efficiency, competitiveness and reduce PWD’s operating costs,” the report stated. The management at PWD agreed that social employment had a number of problems associated with it as the staff take “excessive supervision and management time”, had a significant negative impact on efficiency, quality and cost of work, motivation of other staff and a negative effect on the perception of the department.

However, the review team admitted that policy of not employing “partially productive Caymanian workers” could have a knock-on effect elsewhere as redundancies would have financial, social and political implications, but the department would benefit from a reduced headcount, less overhead costs and a more competitive cost structure.

It was not just those at the bottom of the skill pile, however, that the review team said needed to be let go. The report revealed that the PWD was also top heavy, especially as inter-agency billing had been stopped and could save around a half million a year by reducing finance, administration and human resources staff.

“Some staff could be redeployed within other agencies. Some may have to be made redundant,” the report stated. Comparing the department to the prison service, which had a similar number of employees, the report said the prison had over 86% less HR, finance and administrative personnel than PWD.

“With the end of inter-agency charging for core government, reduced number of purchases with the re-introduction of stores and more streamlined processes, PWD can sustain a significant reduction in finance/admin and HR staff with little impact to service delivery,” it said.

However, management at PWD pointed out that while the two departments are of similar size, their businesses have little or no similarity. “PWD provides services to over 70 clients at over a hundred different sites around the island, including 7-10,000 maintenance work orders and 100+ capital projects a year,” it stated, observing that the prison also uses officers in administrative roles. It did, however, acknowledge there was room to reduce the head count.

As well as cutting staff, the report said the department needed to examine its effectiveness as efficiency at PWD was significantly hampered by “ineffective processes, lack of adequate materials and stores, poor procedures, poor utilization of transportation”, as well as problems with scheduling and monitoring of work.

“These shortcomings can be addressed through redesign and better management. Observed skill sets were in some areas questionable and retraining may be a necessary,” the review team said.

The team also recommended outsourcing of some services as well as creating competition with the private sector, allowing government departments to elect a private sector firm if it offered better value for money that the PWD. “While government must maintain a level of core skills in house, several areas within PWD, particularly in the works and MEP sections are viable to competition within two years,” the report said.

However, the management team warned that with social employment and the health and pensions costs, compared to those in the private sector the PWD could never compete on a level playing field. The PWD bosses also queried how they could prevent government departments getting “unfair” quotes from illegitimate contractors.

The ministry also warned that contestability would lead to the return of inter-agency charging, which was recently discontinued because it was inefficient. “PWD are still owed in excess of $6 million spread over 6 budget years due to non-payment of inter-agency charge,” the ministry observed.
 

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Gov’t stops buying stuff

| 10/11/2010 | 10 Comments

(CNS): Details financial figures from the Treasury department have revealed that the government has managed to reduce its deficit with a combination of a $10.5million increase in some revenue generating measures, $5million less on extra ordinary expenses and a reduction of outputs and transfer payments to NGOs of over $6million. But its biggest overall cut was in the stuff it bought as government cut its supplies and consumables budget by almost $11.5million. According to the preliminary unaudited results for 2009/10 government spent over three quarters of a million more on personnel than anticipated in the revised budget but did far better in controlling spending on stuff.

The figures which reflect the government’s financial performance at the end of June were presented to the Legislative Assembly on Monday by the premier who said he was responding to requests for more information on how government had managed to reduce its anticipated revised deficit forecast of around $45million to an estimated $15milllion. Although the revenue increases from fees has boosted government coffers the largest part of the deficit reduction has come from spending cuts in services and goods and not personnel costs.

Facing his critics and the scepticism that has been raised about the latest set of financial figures, McKeeva Bush said the statistics demonstrated that his "pronouncements were supportable," although he pointed out that the financials have yet to be audited.

The news that the bulk of the deficit cut has come from a cut in the purchase of goods and consumables has still met with some concerns. The member from North Side, Ezzard Miller has said the $11.5million saved by simply not buying things is likely to be pushed into this budget year as government departments are forced to purchase the things they need to do their work that they did not buy in the last financial year.

The figures do reveal, however, some improvements in the anticipated revenue that government had expected to earn in the revised budget. Collection on duties was over half a million more than anticipated in the revised 2009/10 forecast though some $30million less that was first projected when Bush brought the original budget to the parliament in October 2009.

Despite a fall in work permit holders the government collected over $4million more than it had expected in the revised forecast earlier this year as a result of the increase in fees and the government’s single biggest improvement on anticipated revenue.

The figures also revealed that government is currently overdrawn by some $4million in its current account but has some $5million in its fixed deposit account. The public purse also has over $88 million in restricted funds.
 

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Bids could become public

| 10/11/2010 | 4 Comments

(CNS): The premier has agreed to consider the possibility of allowing all bids for government contracts to be opened in a public forum after the close of deadline on tenders. A private members motion tabled in the Legislative Assembly on Monday asked for the central tendering process to be conducted in the open and McKeeva Bush said it would be given consideration. As the entire tendering process is under review, the premier said he would ask the auditor general to consider the idea raised by Ezzard Miller. The member for North Side said if all the bids were opened under the scrutiny of the public eye the people would be in a better position to determine if a final decision represented real value for the public purse or not.

The independent MLA said that although the details of the winning bid are revealed, the public cannot make a proper judgement on whether or not the company awarded the contract was the best choice when they do not see the other bids for that tender and are not privy to the process by which the technical team have arrived at their choice.

“It is time for government to open up the entire tendering process and have bids opened in front of all the bidders, the media and the public,” he said. Miller added that unless the details of all the bids were made public it would be difficult to determine if the technical teams involved had got the best value for money or why they had recommended a particular bid over another to the committee.

Acknowledging that government is not obligated to always select the lowest bid, Miller said that if those involved in the selection process know their decisions are taking place under much closer public scrutiny they would have to properly justify their decisions.

In response to the motion Bush said he would recommend that the idea of a more public process was considered during the full review of the central tendering process, though he said he did not think that it could always take place in public. The premier said it was hard to find people to serve in places where they had to make important decisions about people’s lives and sometimes they wanted “to do that in secret as this is a small place”.

The premier also said he did not think that decisions should be made before government had decided what it wanted to do, as he said the government must be the final arbitrator. However,he said government had no problem making changes to how public contracts are awarded and the issue of public tender meetings was something the auditor general should consider when he reviews the current tendering process, the premier added.

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