Archive for October 12th, 2012

Cops contaminated with GSR

| 12/10/2012 | 15 Comments

_DSC2665-web.jpg(CNS): A significant number of convictions and charges over firearms related cases could be at risk as a result of the amount of gun-shot residue (GSR) found at the George Town police station and on Uniform Support Group vehicles, equipment and officers. The findings of the survey conducted by the RCIPS into the levels of particle contamination show that there is a serious risk of contamination and transfer which could jeopardize cases where GSR is being used as evidence in trials or was used to bolster existing convictions. A memo by Scientific Support Manager Martin Gaule was disclosed to a local attorney in connection with a current case but it may have serious implications for many others.

The lawyer, who received the report albeit very late, said the findings had serious implications for many cases before the courts, going back sometime.

"The belated release of a RCIPS forensic report dated 29 August on 10 October suggests widespread GSR contamination in RCIPS buildings and cars," Peter Polack told CNS. "A request had been made for such a report to have been completed in July 2010 by me but was refused by the DPP representative. This report will possibly compromise all firearm convictions in which the court relied on GSR evidence in the past several years.”

Summarizing the random survey, Gaule tells the deputy police commissioner in the memo that he found high levels of GSR on one of the cells and the hands of some officers, low levels on  officers' uniforms and other cells, and trace levels at the custody suite, the USG vehicles and police equipment. He points out that this could adversely impact the value of GSR evidence in cases before the courts of those suspected of firing guns.

Gaule lists six recommendations for the RCIPS management to follow to reduce the risk to evidence. The forensic expert says it is not possible to entirely avoid GSR contamination and notes how the current levels demonstrate how easily particles can be transferred. As a result, he advises limiting the use of GSR evidence to cases where a weapon was very recently fired.

Besides bagging the hands of those arrested in connection with guns, Gaule recommends that firearms suspects are handled by officers who do not use guns themselves, wherever and whenever it is safe to do so. He suggests that suspects be conveyed in police cars not used by USG and that suspects are processed by scenes of crime officers or other non USG officers, supervised by someone from scenes of crime.

The forensic cop also recommends swabbing allthe areas where suspects are taken at the station and, above all, he stresses the need for USG officers using firearms at work or socially to take even more care to wash their hands and clothes thoroughly after touching guns and ammunition.

In addition, Gaule points to the need to continue random surveys every six months to monitor GSR background levels at the station and on officers.

The findings, which are now public and likely to be of interest to the entire local criminal defence bar, could upset not just forthcoming trials where the GSR is an important part of the evidence but possibly past cases where GSR has played a part in the conviction of suspects in gun-related crimes.

See memo below.

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Procedural problems continue to plague FOI

| 12/10/2012 | 9 Comments

files450.jpg(CNS): In her latest decision over a Freedom of Information dispute the information commissioner has upheld a decision by the National Pensions Office to redact some of the documents it finally released. However, in her ruling Jennifer Dilbert highlighted the procedural problems that continue to plague FOI. The process of the request had taken “an inordinately long time”, and while significant records were released in the end, some were not disclosed until the course of the commissioner’s latest hearing, two years after the original request.

“With a timely and correct application of the FOI Law, these documents could have been reviewed, redacted as necessary, and disclosed much earlier, sparing the Applicant, the ICO, the NPO and the Legal Department much time and resources,” Dilbert said.

In this latest appeal an applicant had been refused access by the National Pensions Office to audited accounts and records of correspondence relating to Multiple and Single Employer pension plans. Following the Information Commissioner’s Decision 16 last year a significant number of records were disclosed, but some information was redacted.

As a result of those redactions relating to personal information, with the exception of two words the commissioner upheld the decision by the public authority to black out other words. Dilbert said that apart from one instance, the information consists solely of the names or signatures of officials in the various private sector companies associated with the pension plans

However, in her full decision she points to the delays caused to the hearing by a mixture of missed deadlines by the both the NPO and the Legal Department, which was acting for them, and that department’s late involvement and subsequent objections to various procedural matters, which required the ICO to take legal advice.

See the commissioner’s full decision below.

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Women critical in disaster planning and recovery

| 12/10/2012 | 28 Comments

Paloma damage (300x246).jpg(CNS): Caymanian women and girls are often the “pillars of resilience” in the wake of disasters, the deputy governor said in a message marking International Day for Disaster Reduction, celebrated worldwide on Saturday. Franz Manderson said it was women who were the first to prepare their families for a disaster and, as was witnessed in both Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Paloma, they were the first to put their communities back together in the aftermath. With “Women and Girls – the [in]Visible Force of Resilience" as this year’s theme, Manderson said that  women have and continue to have a critical role in the nation’s development.

“The women and girls in the Cayman Islands are powerful agents of change,” the deputy governor said in his message. “They have unique knowledge and skills which are crucial when addressing and managing disaster risks and they are invaluable partners in preparing for and preventing disasters. Our women are activists, law makers, social workers, role models, community leaders, doctors, teachers, nurses, mothers, daughters and also comforters in those stressful times.”

See full message below.

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Housing Trust ends sales

| 12/10/2012 | 45 Comments

IMG-20121011-00279 (247x300).jpg(CNS): There will be no more sales of government’s affordable homes in the short term as the programme has switched to leasing, the chair of the National Housing and Development Trust (NHDT) board revealed Thursday. Although government will continue to build new two- and three-bedroom houses, from now on the Trust will rent out the properties instead of selling them as the cost of the houses has passed the point where those they were intended for can actually afford to buy them. Rayal Bodden said that because of the cost of land and materials, it is simply not possible to build affordable family homes in Cayman that meet local building standards.

From the very beginning, the affordable housing initiative, which was started back in 2002 by the then community affairs minister Dr Frank McField, has faced significant problems. Having embarked on the project to try and build 200 cheap homes with $14.5million drawn down from a bond of around $29 million, the entire project soon became embroiled in scandal, exacerbated by Hurricane Ivan in September 2004.

The NHDT has been constantly undermined by a number of issues, including irregularities regarding the original procurement, McField's conflicts of interest with and the companies involved in the construction and repair after the storm (which was revealed by the Office of the Auditor General), and police investigations, both past and present.

Hurricane Ivan and subsequent insurance problems combined with the failure of the first properties to withstand the local environment ensured controversy has never been far away from the housing project. The latest controversy has seen a former board member charged with fraud and another police investigation.

Since then, however, a new board has been appointed with Bodden at the helm and the business of the project has turned in a new direction. Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Bodden stated that the financial situation at the Trust is stable and that the accounts up to this year have all been completed and audited by the auditor general.

Although the minister has not yet tabled the reports, none of them were qualified, Bodden said, and they are expected to be tabled in the Legislative Assembly next month, when they will become public documents.

With the various controversies behind it, Bodden said, the NHDT has undergone an extensive review and the battle it now faces is wrestling with its fundamental purpose, which is to provide low cost homes to those in need. It has continued the priority of replacing the old metal homes, which had deteriorated significantly since they were built just eight years ago, with concrete structures; however, in that process, the issue of affordability has been lost.

There are currently around 30 home owners who purchased the original cheaper properties, which were sold at $56,900 for a two-bedroom and $69,000 for a three-bedroom home, that have now been given properties that cost $97,500 for a two- and $114,000 for a three bedroom — a cost difference which has been absorbed by government.

Owners in both George Town and West Bay who have been of good standing and paid their home loans are now in the process of moving into the new properties. The rest of the residents in these government homes, however, are now renters and not owners.

Despite some controversies over the right to buy the homes, which appears to be down to poor communication with previous tenants, the chair said that government had made no promises to any of the previous rental tenants and its obligation was to those who were in the process of buying the properties and were paying their mortgages.

Although the suspension of salesis not permanent and the ultimate aim is still to assist people in owning their own home, a new national policy will be required to address how that might be achieved. With over 700 people on the Trust’s list, the need for cheap homes remains apparent. But, Bodden said, in the short term all of the tenants will be leasing the properties, probably until that policy is developed.

A new approach is needed, he said, to tackle the problem of how to create quality affordable houses that meet local standards and density requirements that can withstand hurricanes and that can provide a proper home for families that do not earn a sufficient amount to buy on the open market.

The new homes are now leased to families at a rate of $700 per month for a two bedroom house and $800 for a three — well below market rate for properties of such quality — but government will retain the new properties as assets.

The goal for the NHDT is to cover its own running costs with the rental income as it seeks new ways to tackle the housing needs of the community’s most vulnerable. Bodden said that if the NHDT reaches its goal of around 200 properties, the income should cover the cost of maintaining the homes and the Trust’s operating costs, which is currently subsidised by the public purse with an annual cash injection of around $500,000.

In the meantime, the NHDT is pressing on with the building programme using the remaining cash from the bond given to the Trust by government in 2003. The 29 homes in West Bay have now been replaced and the owners and tenants will be moving in shortly.

Another seven homes are being built at the site, which could hold more than twenty more houses. In East End twelve properties from a possible 40 have been completed, and in Bodden Town the NHDT has started building twenty new houses on a site that could hold a further twenty-five.

In George Town the Windsor Park site is at capacity with the 26 new homes that have been completed but there are still seven old homes at the Eastern Avenue location, six of which are occupied. Bodden said that the future of that site is under discussion and the Trust is looking at developing a different type of property there rather than stand-alone family homes. Bodden explained that there are different social demographics on the NHDT list that also need assistance, including elderly people not yet ready for a retirement home to teenage girls coming out of the care system.

Faced with myriad issues, the Trust will press on, Bodden stated, in an effort to address the problem of home ownership for low income families. For many, however, the dream of being a homeowner will remain elusive, quite simply because the cost of land and building a durable house is out of reach, and despite the political rhetoric of successive administrations, the government does not have the cash or the political will to subsidize that dream.

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Jamaican vendors miss out on cruise dollars

| 12/10/2012 | 26 Comments

0000054.jpgCNS):  While Jamaicans are looking for more interaction with tourists arriving at the new port facility in Falmouth, cruise visitors have little interest in exploring “the sometimes gritty reality of life in a Caribbean port,” according to an article by AP’s reporter David McFadden. Vendors at the country’s new port are missing out as tourists are whisked away on tours organised by the ships. Some 80% of the tourist dollar is believed to leak from Jamaica, despite promises that the investment would benefit the local sellers and tour operators. 

While the cruise industry is said to generate billions in the region, relatively little reaches the local economy when passengers dine, shop and purchase heavily marked-up shore excursions on the boats or splurge at international chain shops on the piers.

"We were promised that we'd be able to show people our Jamaican heritage, sell our crafts. But most of the tourists stay far away from the local people," said Asburga Harwood, an independent tour guide and community historian. 

On a recent morning at Falmouth's port, tourists disembarked from Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, a 5,400-passenger liner with a 3D movie theatre, ice rink, casino and multiple restaurants and bars. Most passengers were escorted onto buses destined for package tours in Jamaican resort meccas about an hour's drive away.

See full article here

Related article:

Cayman cruise tourism improves while JA blossoms (8 October 2012)

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