Archive for June 7th, 2013

Alden reassures CS on jobs

| 07/06/2013 | 95 Comments

alden_0.jpg(CNS): Addressing civil service concerns that the axe may be falling on their headcount, the new premier has reassured government workers that his administration will not be laying people off. Although Alden McLaughlin said the new government was committed to and had campaigned on cutting operating expenses, it will not be at the expense of people. Appearing as a guest Friday on Radio Cayman’s Talk Today show, he said the Progressives' plan does not involve firing civil servants or cutting their salaries. He said morale was not very high after salaries were cut under the previous leadership, despite its failure to restrain ministerial spending.

“We are making a conscious effort to lead by example and cutting out extravagancies,” McLaughlin said,revealing that he has already dispatched with the personal drivers for himself, the deputy premier and speaker, except for official business. He confirmed that they would all be driving themselves to work from now on, which would save the public purse a significant sum over the government term. In addition, depending on the circumstances, he said the class of air travel would be cut and the PPM administration would do all it could to contain those kinds of costs when it comes to operating government.

However, he pointed out that people are needed in order to deliver the services that the community needs and wants. While government was adopting the deputy governor’s plan to cut the headcount slowly through attrition, he said, there was a particular point where a service cannot be provided without the people, who cannot be cut without impacting services.

To address this, government needed to get out of the business of supplying some services that could be provided by the private sector and there were a number areas the new government would explore where that could happen, he said.

McLaughlin accepted that the cost of government was disproportionately high, “but we can’t just send people home,” the new premier said. “It’s not just what that does to an individual and their family but it is what you do to the economy,” he noted, pointing out that a stagnant private sector would not be able to accommodate large layoffs from government.

He said he wanted to reassure civil servants that it was not part of the new government’s agenda to cut jobs. “We want to rebuild moral,”  he said, adding that he was well aware that civil servants worked hard and, contrary to popular belief, most public sector workers were not well paid.

“The vast majority of people in the civil service are earning less than $40,000 per year,” he said, adding that while a small number at the upper end get paid decently, most were not earning much.

According to recent civil service statistics, more than 60% of civil servants earn less than $4,000.00 per month.

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Moses commits to piers alone

| 07/06/2013 | 137 Comments

moses5.jpg(CNS): The new tourism minister has committed to ensuring that both the cruise port facility and the redevelopment of the airport will happen under his watch and will follow process. Moses Kirkconnell said there were some major challenges facing the tourism industry but the Progressives would bring “an holistic approach” to the sector, noting that tourism is everybody's business. He pointed to the need to develop a cruise facility in George Town, which would be the piers only and no upland development as the government wanted to rebuild George Town. The new minister committed to getting the airport redevelopment underway as well. (Photo Dennie Warren Jr)

Deputy Premier Kirkconnell told the press on Tuesday that he was going into a meeting that afternoon regarding the business case model for the cruise berthing facility. He pointed to the need for government to set out its needs for this project and not have the developer tell government what it would do. He said he was picking up the formal process that began under the minority short term PNA administration earlier this year, and that business model, when complete, would form the basis for the project.

Kirkconnell also confirmed that the new government was committed to the redevelopment of the airport, as he spoke about the whole tourism product, starting when we bring people to the islands. He said it was important to understand the market and give tourists a reason to come and something special when they get here.

The need to improve the ports and to recruit more local people into the industry were critical elements, Kirkconnell said, but he also spoke about the need to support the dive sector, which remains a significant part of Cayman’s tourism product — one which is believed to be recession proof. Even when general visitor numbers declined because of the global recession, the number of divers coming to Cayman remained steady, the new minister said, adding that there was a need for more research to understand the numbers of divers coming here.

“We must embrace dive-tourism,” he said, adding that the infrastructure they want needed to be built upon, as he welcomed the success of the artificial reef created by the sinking of the wreck of the Kittiwake off Seven Mile Beach. He said he would be talking with tourism stakeholders in the Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA) and the dive sector, who have spoken about the possibility of another boat being sunk in local waters to create an additional artificial reef.

There were no surprises when Kirkconnell was confirmed as tourism and transport minister with responsibility for district administration after the PPM won the general election last month. As the first elected member for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman and having been immersed in the tourism industry for most of his career, he was the obvious choice.

Supported by Joey Hew as his councillor, a concept created by former premier McKeeva Bush and embraced by the new premier, Alden McLaughlin, Kirkconnell is facing a heavy workload, which will be the primary source of the anticipated local economic boost.

If the PPM is to have a successful term in office and meet its campaign promises, the cruise port and the airport are key components in the plan to kick start the economy. While these projects were also the cornerstones of the previous UDP administration, as a result of Bush’s refusal to follow due process in regard to both the development of the cruise berthing facility and the airport refurbishment, he failed to start either project.

Keenly aware of those failures, Kirkconnell is determined to ensure that both projects follow the letter as well as the spirit of the law and that they benefit all of Cayman and do not compete with local business but instead boost the still faltering domestic economy.

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Suspected jewel thief stands trial before jury

| 07/06/2013 | 0 Comments

mag jewellers_0.jpg(CNS): A 35-year-old George Town man charged with robbery and various other crimes in connection with a jewellery heist during the Christmas holidays of 2011 began his trial Tuesday before a six man, one woman jury panel. The robbery took place at 11:20am on 22 December during broad daylight in downtown George Town when the capital was packed with cruise ship visitors and shoppers. The crown alleges that Julio Newball and two other armed but unknown accomplices entered the store with an axe and proceeded to smash into display cases positioned to the front of the store in Cardinal Avenue and made off with a selection of valuable jewellery.

The men had arrived and escaped in a Toyota Rav4 vehicle, which had been stolen from Bodden Town and was found burnt out hours after the daylight robbery.

Newball, who has denied the charges, has had several previous trial dates, which have been postponed due to legal arguments and representation issues. He is faced with a considerable number of crimes, including robbery, handling stolen property and possession of criminal property. He is also alleged to have stolen the Rav 4 a day prior to the robbery, and is charged with driving whilst disqualified and arson. Newball is accused of stealing a total of 36 rings that were reported stolen during the jewel heist, which were valued in thousands of dollars.

The getaway vehicle was stolen from Bodden Town and was found burnt out by police on Wahoo Close in George Town shortly after the crime but police were unable to identify any other suspects or make further arrests in connection with the robbery, which the prosecution said involved at least two other men.

Newball was arrested at his home in Windsor Park a few weeks after the crime in January of last year with proceeds from the crime in his possession and has been in custody ever since.

The Grand Court jury trial continues in front of Justice AlexHenderson.

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New deadly Middle East sickness under watch

| 07/06/2013 | 8 Comments

(28VIRU-articleLarge-1.jpgCNS): A new strain of coronavirus previously unidentified in humans is causing respiratory illness in the Middle East and Europe. The World Health Organization states that there are 54 laboratory-confirmed cases of the infection, including 30 deaths, from September last year to date. Middle East countries with MERS-CoV include Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). France, Germany, Italy, Tunisia and the United Kingdom also reported confirmed cases. While there have been no cases so far in our region, local health officials are now monitoring the situation.

According to local officials, the chances of contracting the virus here are very small. However, Cayman health officials continue to monitor the situation and travellers returning from the Middle East who develop breathing difficulties that are unexplained by any other illness or virus should contact a doctor as soon as possible and state their travel history so that a correct diagnosis can be made.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, which includes viruses that may cause illnesses in humans, ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

With only a small number of cases reported so far, there is very limited information on transmission, severity and clinical impact. Investigations are underway to determine the source of the virus, the types of exposure that lead to the infection, the mode of transmission, and the clinical pattern and course of disease.

In France, Italy, Tunisia and the United Kingdom, there has been limited local transmission among patients who had not been to the Middle East but had been in close contact with the laboratory-confirmed or probable cases.

MERS-CoV is an acute, serious respiratory illness with fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Most patients have had pneumonia. Many have also had gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea. Some patients have had kidney failure. For people with immune deficiencies, the disease may have an atypical presentation. It is important to note that the current understanding of illness caused by this infection is based on only a few cases and may change as more is learned about this virus.

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Cops round up nine in GT bar raid

| 07/06/2013 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Nine people have been were arrested for various offences under the Misuse of Drugs Law, the Gambling Law and the Immigration Law following a major police and immigration operation which took place in George Town on Thursday morning. Police said that the arrests were made in the intelligence-led raid at 10:35am on 6 June at a local licensed premises. Police did not confirm the exact location, however officers and vehicles were seen at Archie's Bar on Shedden Road rounding up suspects. During the raid several items were also seized as evidence, including a number of vehicles and a substantial quantity of cash.

An RCIPS spokesperson said the multi-departmental operation included Drugs & Serious Crime Task Force, K-9, Air Support Unit, Uniform Support Group, the Operational Support Unit and the Immigration Department. 

Anyone who has information in relation to this or any other crime is asked to contact the Criminal Investigation Department  on 949-4222, the RCIPS Tip-line 949-7777 or Cayman Crime Stoppers on 800-8477(TIPS).

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Lionfish found in Mediterranean signal alarm

| 07/06/2013 | 0 Comments

lion-fish.jpg(CNS): The invasive lionfish, which has become a serious threat to the marine life in the Caribbean, has now found its way into the waters of Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal, scientists believe. According to research undertaken by scientists from the American University of Beirut in Lebanon and the Institute for Environmental Protection and Research in Italy, published this week, the discovery of two lionfish at the end of 2012, more than two decades after the one and only species recorded there was captured, indicates a future potential invasion of the sea. As a result, the researchers have raised the alarm to begin an awareness campaign before it is too late.

The research paper by M. Bariche, M.Torres and E.Azzurro states that the two lionfish were captured separately off the village of Al Minie in the northern part of Lebanon and identified as the invasive species in October and December last year. In addition, the researchers believe that two more lionfish were caught earlier this year off the coast of Cyprus.

According to the paper, the scientists say the only previously recorded catch of a lionfish in 1991 had probably been released from captivity or entered through the Suez Canal, like other hundreds of marine organisms, which is how they think the latest fish arrived.

The recent records from Lebanon, which occurred more than two decades later, provide evidence, they now believe, of the arrival of the new fish in the Mediterranean Sea. Lionfish are now common in the Red Sea and the proximity of the Suez Canal to the recent sightings seems to be the most likely pathway for the introduction of the species into the Mediterranean Sea, the scientists stated.

Lionfishes can potentially spread and survive in a large part of the Mediterranean Sea because they have shown extensive dispersal capabilities and can survive to a minimum temperature of 10°C, the experts stated. Their highly venomous needle-sharp dorsal, anal and pectoral fin spines offer protection and significantly reduce predation. However, a natural predator already exists in the Mediterranean.

In the northern Red Sea, a juvenile lionfish was discovered in the stomach of the blue spotted cornetfish, which has invaded the Mediterranean Sea within the last decade and established large populations in the eastern part, which could act as a biological control of a possible invasion. Other possible predators could be native Mediterranean groupers, which have been pointed to as possible predators here in the Caribbean.

The recent findings of lionfish may be an indication of a new wave of arrivals, raising “justifiable concerns of a possible onset of a new invasion in the Mediterranean Sea,” the scientists wrote.

“Many Caribbean countries have instituted Lionfish eradication programs. These actions include initiatives that involve the general public in removal efforts, such as engaging recreational divers to capture Lionfish and using commercial divers and fishers to target this species as a source of food,” they wrote in the paper.

The marine biologists warn that the lionfish is amongst the most successful marine invaders in the history of aquatic invasions and note that once it has established a permanent population, its complete eradication seems to be unrealistic. As a result, they urge the authorities to learn the lessons from elsewhere andbegin an awareness campaign to implement monitoring efforts during the early stages of colonization, when control measures could still be effective.

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