Archive for January 18th, 2011

Cops bombarded by requests from single applicant

| 18/01/2011 | 19 Comments

(CNS): The forty FOI requests that were refused by the RCIPS on the grounds that they were vexatious came from the same applicant, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has revealed in a mediation summary. Over a ten-month period, between December 2009 and September 2010, the police received 46 separate requests from the same applicant, asking 78 questions, including how much water the RCIPs had used. On several occasions, the applicant submitted up to 20 requests in one day, one after the other, bombarding the police with questions. The information commissioner said it was the first time that an applicant seems to have abused the Freedom of Information system.

The police had responded to the requests in the unusual manner, acknowledging receipt, but after receiving 35 questions from the same applicant over the span of ten days, the ICO said the RCIPS made a decision to use the provision in the law that excuses a public authority from complying with a request where that request is vexatious, repetitive or unreasonable.

The applicant had sent their first request to the RCIPS on 21 December 2009, which consisted of three questions. They then sent another request on the 22 December with 12 questions. Taking a break over Christmas, the requester then sent another request on 3 January 2010 with 20 questions. This was followed by four separate requests on 18 January and 7 requests on 2 February. There followed a gap of several months before the same requester sent twelve more requests in August on three separate occasions before finally sending 20 requests on 24 September.

According to the police information manager, the nature of the questions varied. On one occasion the requester asked how many exposures/pictures RCIPS scenes of crime officers had taken at crime scenes over a given time period and another asked how many gallons of water the police had consumed on each of the three islands over the last five years.

“This was a very unique situation in that it is the first instance in Cayman where it seems that an applicant may have been abusing the FOI system,” said Jennifer Dilbert Information Commissioner. “While the term vexatious is not specifically defined in the legislation, we can draw on the experiences of other jurisdictions to help determine what is unacceptable.”

Dilbert explained that public authorities have been cautious about using the vexatious exception found under section 9 of the law, and although the ICO’s 2010 Bi-Annual Report states that the vexatious exception was applied 41 times, 40 of the requests were from this same applicant.

The commissioner pointed out that the applicant in question had appealed the RCIPS decision but has since abandoned the matter. The failure of the applicant to contact the office and follow through with the appeal strengthened the RCIPS position that the reasoning behind the requests was to waste time.

The ICO has made it clear that a request should not be considered vexatious just because of the number of questions that an applicant may ask or because the requests are relatively frequent but it would have to be a combination of factors before information managers can use this part of the law to make a refusal.

"There are many instances when numerous requests are made by a single applicant and they are not deemed vexatious,"the office explained, adding that the  when the law is applied it is to the request and not specifically a requestor. "Just because someone is annoying or rude that does not necessarily mean the request is vexatious." 

The ICO said the threshold is very high for applying this exception and the Information Manager training covers the topic of vexatious requests.

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Elmer’s discs are old news, says Travers

| 18/01/2011 | 10 Comments

(CNS): The information contained on the two discs given to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks by Rudolph Elmer from his time working with Julius Bear’s Cayman Islands subsidiary is nothing new, according to Anthony Travers, the chair of Cayman Finance. The leaked information is said to contain the names of more than 2,000 people with accounts in the Cayman Islands, but Travers says the US government won’t be gaining any new access to information because of what he described as the “long and established record of banking transparency and a willingness to share information” here in Cayman.

“This information is of historic interest only,” Travers stated in a release. He added that Cayman shares information with the United States and 20 other jurisdictions with which it has tax information exchange agreements, as well as all 27 members of the European Union. “Release of the names of persons who maintain accounts in the Cayman Islands – much like other threats from Julian Assange to post information on WikiLeaks – sounds sensational but is yesterday’s news,” said Travers, who chairs the local finance industry body .

The Cayman authorities entered into a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) with the US Department of Justice to enable information-sharing on all crimes and money laundering more than two decades ago. In 2001 the islands signed a bilateral Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) with the United States that provides for exchange of information relating to federal income tax. Since then, it has established similar agreements with 20 other countries.

In 2002 Cayman became one of the first non-OECD jurisdictions to adopt the principles of transparency and exchange of information, requiring local banks, law firms and financial institutions to exercise complete due diligence on all clients. This was in addition to the duty of those institutions to identify suspicious clients and the mandate that every professional confidentially report all suspicious transactions to the government’s Financial Reporting Unit (FRU).

Cayman Finance said that together this led to Cayman being placed on the OECD’s “white list” of jurisdictions when it comes to transparency and regulations.

Elmer handed the discs to WikiLeaks founder on Monday in London and Assange has said that he will disclose the content once the discs have been scrutinized. At the press conference at the Front Line Club he indicated that the time it would take to vet the material would depend on the volume of information and how it was delegated. The Tax Justice Network is one of the groups that might be asked to help in the vetting process, he added.

John Christensen, former economic adviser to Jersey and now director of the Tax Justice Network, on e of the groups TRavers has called the ‘Tax Taliban’ told the BBC that Elmer had felt he had no alternative but to go to WikiLeaks as he had been "raising concerns … for many years.”

Christensen said that Elmer is not the only person who has worked in a compliance role in an offshore bank who has raised concerns with superiors about what is going oninside the banks, only to be ignored. He said the banks need to start taking warnings by compliance staff more seriously when they raise these issues.

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Former landfill to become solar panel site

| 18/01/2011 | 0 Comments

(Waste & Recycling News): A former landfill in Springfield, Mass, will become home to about 17,000 solar panels that will produce up to 4.2 megawatts of solar energy. Western Massachusetts Electric Co. will develop the project at a capped landfill on Cottage Street, the company said. The $22 million project is expected to contribute "several hundred thousand dollars" of annual property tax to the city, the electric company said. "Our use of a capped landfill creates a new and viable use for an otherwise challenged property within our home city," said Peter J. Clarke, president and chief operating officer at WME Co.

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Barclays banks faces huge fines for poor advice

| 18/01/2011 | 0 Comments

(Bloomberg): The UK’s third-biggest bank may have to pay motr than $106 million in fines and compensation for failing to disclose the risk in two funds it sold to thousands of retirees. The bank was fined 7.7 million pounds and may need to return as much as 59 million pounds to customers who received bad investment advice, the Financial Services Authority said Tuesday. The fine is the biggest imposed by the London-based regulator for retail deficiencies. Barclays failed to ensure that Aviva’s Global Balanced Income Fund and Global Cautious Income Fund were suitable for customers and didn’t properly train sales employees from July 2006 through November 2008, the FSA said.

The fine comes a week after Barclays Chief Executive Officer Robert Diamond told Parliament “the period of remorse and apology” for the credit crisis needs to end so banks can rebuild confidence.

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Healthy eating project to continue in school

| 18/01/2011 | 0 Comments

(CNS): With almost half the children in year seven with weight problems the Children’s Health Task Force (CHTF) is continuing its Health4Youth Programme at the John Gray and Clifton Hunter schools this year. Although organisers say there have been challenges the team is continuing to educate young people to make healthier eating choices even if the students are not happy about it. The goal of the programme is to create holistic approach towards fighting childhood obesity by working with a pilot group of students in the 2009-2010 year seven class at John Gray which is now in its second year. Officials hope the project will be a step towards reversing worrying indicators that today’s children are already at risk of serious, future health problems.

Offering his backing to the pilot project the education minister has said that poor nutrition during childhood can have lasting effects, impairing cognitive development and performance. “This is our opportunity to make a measurable difference in student health and well-being. Research consistently shows that children who eat healthier meals perform better academically and are absent from classes less often," Rolston Anglin stated.

However, CNS understands that many of the children are finding it difficult to adapt to the new menus in the schools which offer healthier foods. The ban on fast food on campus has not necessarily prevented older children from continuing to go to fast food restaurants at lunch time instead of the school canteen. A number of restaurants in the George Town area have also reported a significant increase in lunch time custom from students who say they no longer want to eat in school.

However, Maureen Cubbon, PR & Fund Raising Coordinator says the team is pressing on and working with the school canteens, Mise En Place, teachers, parents and students with the implementation of the Standards for Food Provisions (CISFP). Her colleague Sue Rajah said, "It’s important for people to understand that the changes have come out of necessity with the health and wellness of the youth of Cayman as the focus. It was collaborative effort between the Children’s Health Task Force and the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education.”

Officials said that 175 children out of approximately 400 were indentified in the Year 7 class in the 85% and 95% percentile of Body Mass Index (BMI). 146 students were actively engaged in the programme through the school year, which included nutritional counselling, medical support and an afterschool exercise programme. After 2 years of collecting data and reporting back on the results of the program, the third year will focus on working with the Government and schools to support a change in mind set in the Cayman Islands about health and wellness, especially pertaining to the school environment.

The plans for the coming months include psychological assessments, continued nutrition sessions for the children in the program, and supporting the existing curriculum in the schools that focus around health. An extensive in school education campaign will commence in the coming months to help educate the students and teachers about the new foods served in the canteen. Medical assessments and measurements will continue also through the rest of the year.

Dr. Sook Yin, Medical Director for the Task Force, said that in the first year the task force and local pediatricians had worked very hard to obtain parameters like BMI, blood pressure, cholesterol level, glucose level andinsulin levels from the group which are predictors of chronic diseases.

“The results were startling to us as we have identified children as young as 12 years old here in the Cayman Islands who are showing signs of developing diabetes and hypertension, two major chronic diseases that in the past were perceived as "old people diseases". The community must come together to support the National Food Policy for school canteens that has been implemented to serve healthier and more nutritious meals to school children or we will have a generation of young adults in a decades’ time who will be a burden to our healthcare system," the doctor warned.

The Health4Youth Programme was originally created by a variety of organizations in the Cayman Islands that are commitment to the general well being of the Cayman community. The core committee is made of members forthe Cayman Heart Fund, Generali Worldwide, TrinCay Medical and the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority.
 

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New UK bribery law threatens City hospitality

| 18/01/2011 | 0 Comments

(FT.com): Businesses are reviewing their corporate hospitality plans amid concerns that lavish entertaining could fall foul of contentious new bribery legislation. Lawyers say they have been approached by companies who fear that they may have to cancel hospitality events after the Bribery Act comes into force in April. Many City institutions regard luxury entertaining, which can include international flights and free tickets to sporting events, as a normal part of business. But lawyers warn that the legislation aiming to end corrupt payments makes no exceptions for hospitality, unlike in the US.

Stephen Morrall, corporate partner at Dawsons Solicitors, said: “We have talked to a lot of people about this. They are very concerned and they should be concerned. People are asking whether they should be holding [corporate entertainment events].”

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Justice delayed for lack of space, says CJ

| 18/01/2011 | 11 Comments

(CNS): The country’s senior judge has reiterated the pressing need for a new court building, as he says the lack of space means that the process of justice, especially in criminal cases, is taking too long. Although the courts are dealing with an increasing amount of criminal work and disposed of 1,344 in the Summary Courts and 100 cases in the Grand Court, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie said the time it takes to deal with them is a more important figure than the number of cases actually dealt with. He revealed that last year the average time for an indictment to be concluded in the Grand Court was more than twice the modern benchmark and the main reason for this growing delay was because there was no longer enough space to deal with the numbers.

Speaking at the opening of the Grand Court last week, Smellie pointed out that the time period for justice is a crucial consideration. Last year it took an average of 348 days for an indictment in the Grand Court to be dealt with, nearly twice as long as the modern benchmark of 180 days or 6 months – a standard which, he said, the local judicial service had managed to maintain until recently.

“The average time for disposal is the crucial benchmark because it measures the length of time before an accused person knows the outcome of the case,” the CJ stated. “In many cases this will involve defendants being incarcerated in the meantime. The implications for the state’s obligation to ensure the right to a fair and timely trial are therefore clear and everything that can reasonably be done to comply with that obligation must be done.”

The obvious response, he said, would be to convene more trials simultaneously, both in the Grand and Summary Courts. With the appointment of a fourth magistrate and the assistance of justices visiting from Jamaica to serve on the Grand Court’s Criminal Division that would be possible. However, Smellie noted that securing additional judicial personnel was not the only aspect.

“Criminal trials cannot be taken in camera and … more dedicated court rooms are needed for criminal trials. At present there are only three such court rooms available and these are always being used,” he pointed out.

He said the plans for a new courthouse project had been approved by government some time ago, and while he said he was well aware of the economic concerns, as soon as was practical he asked for the project to be reconsidered.

“Given the significant amounts already spent in acquiring the land and developing the design of the building to the stage of planning approval, it is very much to be expected that the project will be allowed to proceed as soon as funding can be arranged,” the chief justice added.

Although pressure on staff had been slightly alleviated by the transfer of some business to Kirk House, he said there was an urgent need for the new building, which has been recognized and accepted by government for more than a decade now.

James Bergstrom, President of the Cayman Islands Bar Association, also backed the CJ’s call for the new building. On behalf of the profession, he said that while the recent expansion at Kirk House to accommodate the Financial Services Division and the Court of Appeal was very welcome, the need for another modern court building remained.

“While the current financial position of government may not allow for immediate development, the project that was already approved should be revitalized as soon as is possible,” he added.

During his address the CJ said that a detailed statistical report would be available to the public shortly covering the work of the courts. He revealed, however, that during 2010 in the Summary Court 1,304 criminal cases filed and 1,344 were disposed of, including 40 from the 2009 backlog. There were also a staggering 9,662 traffic cases disposed of. In the Grand Court 108 new indictments were filed and 100 cases dealt with. He revealed that 77 indictments are being carried forward into 2011 and there are 10 indictments which have been in the system since before 2010.

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Fat discrimination no joke say activists

| 18/01/2011 | 0 Comments

(CBC): Obesity is one the last forms of discrimination that society readily accepts, and that’s no laughing matter, a Canadian summit heard Monday. The Canadian Obesity Network, an advocacy group that organized the conference in Toronto, is considering calling for federal legislation that would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against overweight Canadians, a move the state of Michigan has made. The network brought together some of North America’s top obesity experts and people who struggle with weight issues in what the network says is the first Canadian conference to deal with weight bias and discrimination.

Summit participant David Dolomont said he weighs more than 300 pounds and has faced taunts and jokes about his excess weight since childhood.

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UK wanted schools stopped

| 18/01/2011 | 58 Comments

(CNS): The phasing and delay on the development of the country’s new high schools owes more to the negotiations with the UK and the three year budget plan than the government not being able to afford them, the education minister has said. Rolston Anglin revealed that during the negotiations on the three year plan, which enabled the government to increase borrowing this year, the UK was particularly interested in stopping the projects and had little sympathy, he said, for the Cayman government’s position. He said UK officials revealed school projects were being cancelled in Britain due to the need to cut public spending and they saw no reason why the Cayman projects should not be stopped as well.

Speaking in the Legislative Assembly last week, the education minister said he could not go into too much detail about the financial situation with the schools because of the matters before the courts. He revealed, however, that London had wanted the projects frozen but that the phased approach was the compromise and it was not about affordability.

He added that government was committed to finishing them in a cost effective timely manner. Work has already restarted at the Clifton Hunter site, which is now expected to be completed by the end of this year, the minister said. In the meantime, things at the John Gray Campus had been organised in such a way that the country’s school children would not be disadvantaged, Anglin told the LA.

In a statement to his parliamentary colleagues, he did, however, talk at length about what he believed to be wrong with the design of the schools and said that the government had spent money re-engineering them. He criticised the modern concepts that underpinned the schools’ design, such as open space learning, and said some aspects of the design “defy logic and judgement” and that despite concerns from teachers the previous minister maintained those designs.

Anglin picked apart the idea that science and art could be taught at the same time in a large open space and pointed to the failure to provide for proper security because of a low fence, that there was no behaviour modification unit or provision for teaching home economics, despite a commercial kitchen.

“Open learning environments are a constant feature of the design of these schools,” he said. “These are schools without classrooms where different teachers and classes of students are in full view and hearing of one another.”

He saidnot only would it be very expensive but it was not agreed by all education experts that open learning, independent learning and small working groups were the best methods for all students and all subjects.

Work has begun to redesign the schools, he said, so art would not be taught alongside science, the 42’pickett fence planed for the perimeter of the school was to be replaced with a six-foot chain link fence and the CCTV would be relocated. He also said home economics and textiles would be taught in the schools in line with the UDP manifesto of providing vocational education.

The redesign inside has not provided for behaviour intervention areas, the minister stated, which was in line with his ministry’s national behaviour and discipline strategy that had reduced serious incidents and the need to suspend students by 60%. “By the end of October, 8 students were suspended in 2010 from Years 10 to 12 compared to 35 in 2009 and 51 in 2008,” he said. “This is not going soft on discipline but a focus on de-escalation, keeping the students in school rather than excluding them from all learning environments.”

Despite making some changes, the minister said it was not possible to deliver completely acoustically separate learning spaces as so much work has already been completed. Constrained from adding what he said were proper walls by fire codes and other regulations regarding air circulation, the ministry has introduced partitions.

He said the changes at the schools had been met with relief by those involved as they will not be “made to conform to a futuristic experiment where the form of the building wholly dictated its function,” he added as he continued to criticise his predecessor’s vision for change in education.

“Given the enormous burden that the building of these schools has placed on this and possibly future generations, anything short of embracing the new schools as beneficial to learning would be a national tragedy,” Anglin stated. He added that buildings don’t raise educational standards and that was why the ministry had relied upon the teachers, students and parents to guide the modifications.

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