Archive for June 26th, 2013

Archer outlines spending bill

| 26/06/2013 | 43 Comments

Marco Archer LA.jpg(CNS): The Minister for Finance has asked the Legislative Assembly to approve an appropriations bill for $193.4 million, which will allow the government to function from 1 July to 31 October. Addressing the House Wednesday morning, Marco Archer said government expects to have a deficit of around $56 million during the four-month period. However, he said this “should not cause alarm”, as it covered the second half of the year where government revenues were less than operating expenditures. The minister also sought to maintain a $30 million overdraft facility, which he assured the House would be adequate and for which the government has already received verbal approval from the UK.

Bringing the motion for temporary appropriations to the House, the new finance minister, outlining the first government spending plans for this administration, said that during this four-month period the government would prepare the 2013/14 Budget and present it to the LA, and he assured the House that the full-year budget for the fiscal year ending 30 June 2014 would show a significant operating surplus.

Explaining expected spending, he said government had “sought to meet its moral obligations while keeping a tight hold on the public purse as we develop the full budget.”

This emergency spending package sought by the government, once approved, will take effect after the financial year ends on 30 June. It includes equity investments amounting to $8.9 million, which includes $2.5 million for the Cayman Turtle Farm to cover debt obligations; $2 million for the new Ministry of Home Affairs to establish a holding-area for those arrested and held in custody by the police, as well as funding to start the youth custody area at Northward Prison.

“All efforts are being made to complete this prior to November 2013, which is when the government needs to be compliant with the Bill of Rights as enshrined in the Constitutional Order 2009, with respect to the segregation of juvenile and adult prisoners,” Archer told the House.

The bill includes $1.8 million for the Ministry of Education for minor capital works and purchasing equipment and furniture; $1.7 million and $0.6 million for Cayman Airways and the National Housing Development Trust respectively to meet debt obligations.

Government is also asking for CI$173.8 million in operating expenses; $7.9 million in financing expenses to cover the interest payments on the outstanding public debt; $2.3 million for executive assets; and $0.4 million to fund loans made by the government to civil servants and to qualified persons needing assistance with expenses related to overseas medical care.

Outlining the main items on the executive assets list, Archer said the government needed $750,000 for miscellaneous road surface upgrades; $250,000 to settle on-going Gazetted land claims arising from roads development; and for Cayman Brac he asked for $350,000 for continued road development, $350,000 for further development of the Bluff playing field, and $250,000 to fund further development of the emergency shelter on the Bluff.

“All government agencies are expected to exercise fiscal constraint and prudence during the coming financial year,” the finance minister said. “While the government is upbeat and positive about the prospects for growth in the economy, there is still a long way to go before we can truly say that the economy has rebounded to a full-employment level. During the preparation of the full-year Budget for 2013/14, government agencies should be mindful that it is very likely that their budgets may be decreased below the level of appropriations in the 2012/13 financial year. In this current economic environment, government must innovate and deliver services at reduced costs.”

Archer explained how the Progressive government intends to deal with the controversial Nation Building Fund, which, when it was first introduced by then premier and finance minister, McKeeva Bush, in October 2009, was described in the LA by Alden McLaughlin, leader of the opposition at the time and now premier, as a potential “slush fund” for Bush.

The new finance minister said that “provisions for expenditures that are not supported by a proper framework have not been included in the interim budget.” However, he said that students who have been awarded scholarships to study overseas under the “Promotion of Nation Building” appropriation will not lose financial support, and he confirmed that provisions have been placed in the interim budget to continue in areas where the government was already committed.

“Government must also be grounded in reality and take a measured approach to our moral, safety and other obligations,” Archer told the legislature, explaining that items which were not adequately provided for in the 2012/13 Budget, such as the provision of medical care at overseas institutions for indigents, had to be adjusted in this year’s interim budget to ensure adequate levels of coverage.

Expected outputs from statutory authorities and government owned companies were based on the normal levels of services they provide. However, Archer stated that “this is one area that will be under enhanced scrutiny as the government develops the full-year budget.”

Archer said the forecast expenditures were meant to establish limits during the four-month period of the interim budget. “All efforts will continue to ensure that the government not only remains within those limits, but actually spends less than the amounts shown in the Schedule to the Government Motion,” he said as he asked for support for the motion.

Debate in the House on the interim budget is expected to continue until late this evening. However, with a strong government majority, it will undoubtedly be approved.

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US Supreme Court overturns gay marriage provision

| 26/06/2013 | 123 Comments

photo1.jpg(BBC): The US Supreme Court has struck down a law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman only, in a landmark ruling. The court's 5-4 vote said the Defense of Marriage Act, known as Doma, denied equal protection to same-sex couples. The court also declined to rule on a California ban on same-sex marriage known as Proposition 8. The decision paves the way for gay unions there. Opinion polls show that most Americans support gay marriage. Twelve US states and the District of Columbia recognise gay marriage, while more than 30 states ban it.

The Doma decision means that legally married gay men and women are entitled to claim the same federal benefits available to opposite-sex married couples. On Wednesday morning, crowds gathered outside the Supreme Court hours before the rulings were due, in hopes of getting a seat inside the courtroom.

The legal challenge to Doma was brought by New York resident Edith Windsor, 83. She was handed a tax bill of $363,000 (£236,000) when she inherited the estate of her spouse Thea Speyer – a levy she would not have had to pay if she had been married to a man.

"Doma writes inequality into the entire United States Code," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in Wednesday's ruling. "Under Doma, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways," the decision added. "Doma's principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal."

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Tax havens here to stay

| 26/06/2013 | 5 Comments

(The Guardian): The British media is now in moving-on mode on the issue of tax havens. It would do well to pause, be less excitable about the pantomime of brand shaming and actually examine the depth to which tax havenry is hardwired into our economic model and columns of state. Among the millions of column inches generated in the past two years on this issue, three words you will not find in sequential order are "City of London".

Extraordinary, when one considers the critical advantage our tax haven network offers the preponderance of offshore lawyers and accountants that cluster the Square Mile, siphoning off the rewards of capital flight. And that network that is growing, not receding.

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OAG celebrates 10 years with Flowers Sea Swim‏

| 26/06/2013 | 0 Comments

OAG staff.JPG(CNS): Staff from the Office of the Auditor General’s lent helping hands to Flowers Sea Swim organisers on Saturday, 15 June. The OAG staff helped to register more than 800 swimmers who took part in the event, from first-timers to gold medal winning Olympians.  The office has supported the popular event for over 10 years. Proceeds from registration will benefit the local charity Feed Our Future, which provides meals for school children in need.

Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick said, “It is always an honour to be able to participate in the excitement of the Flowers Sea Swim, and an added bonus that we can contribute to a worthy cause at the same time. Congrats swimmers!”

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Cuba’s climate change threat prompts new strategy

| 26/06/2013 | 0 Comments

cuba coastline.jpg(Huffington Post): After Cuban scientists studied the effects of climate change on this island's 3,500 miles (5,630 kilometers) of coastline, their discoveries were so alarming that officials didn't share the results with the public to avoid causing panic. The scientists projected that rising sea levels would seriously damage 122 Cuban towns or even wipe them off the map. Beaches would be submerged, they found, while freshwater sources would be tainted and croplands rendered infertile. In all, seawater would penetrate up to 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) inland in low-lying areas, as oceans rose nearly three feet (85 centimeters) by 2100. Climate change may be a matter of political debate on Capitol Hill, but for low-lying Cuba, those frightening calculations have spurred systemic action. 

Cuba's government has changed course on decades of haphazard coastal development, which threatens sand dunes and mangrove swamps that provide the best natural protection against rising seas.

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Everyone conflicted on Tempura, says top cop

| 26/06/2013 | 6 Comments

Bridger 24.jpg(CNS): Police Commissioner David Baines agrees with the governor’s decision that he should be the one to handle any complaint by the former senior investigating officer in Operation Tempura, Martin Bridger. Speaking on Tuesday, Baines accepted that he and the RCIPS are conflicted as a result of other court actions relating to the controversial police corruption probe and Bridger, but told CNS, “Everyone is conflicted in this." Meanwhile, Bridger also issued a statement in response to Duncan Taylor’s letter to Scotland Yard and his decision to hand the issue over to Baines. The former Tempura boss said that the UK cops should never have involved Taylor, who does not have the power to initiate a criminal investigation.

However, Bridger also noted that he had concerns over Baines’ conflict in the case and how he could fairly investigate the allegations of crime being made by Bridger given the circumstances.

Baines explained, however, that the RCIPS holds all of the relevant documents and evidence relating to the entire internal police probe from start to finish and, as a result, the local police service “would have to be involved”, even if it worked with another external police service to investigate the matter. 

“The RCIPS is the right starting point,” Baines stated. “One way or another, the jurisdiction sits with me.” He added that he was now waiting to hear from Bridger out abwhether he intended to pursue the complaint or not.

Noting that it was too early for him to comment much more on the issue, Baines nevertheless said that once he had Bridger's formal complaint, he would make a decision on how best to proceed.

It is not clear, however, if Bridger, who is currently in London, will be pursuing the complaint with Baines. In a statement Tuesday evening, the former Scotland Yard cop said the governor’s conclusion was right that it was not within his remit to commence an investigation.

“I was disappointed that that the Metropolitan Police involved the governor and surprised that it has taken the governor so long to come to this obvious conclusion,” Bridger said, adding that he would think carefully about taking his allegations of a crime regarding officials here to Baines because of the conflicts. 

“I remain committed to doing whatever I can to ensure that the truth about Operation Tempura and what happened as a result of it is made public,” Bridger stated. “My efforts have been hindered by the various court actions taken against me by the attorney general and the Commissioner of Police, David Baines, the reason being to prevent me from using certain documents I hold which would assist in my defence of the Kernohan action. 

"If and when all the issues are fully available and understood, the people of the Cayman Islands will then be able to make judgements on the actual ‘facts’. If at that stage the judgement of the people of the Cayman Islands is that we failed you, then of course I would respect that viewpoint,” the former Operation Tempura lead investigator stated.

“In fairness to those who have been named in the allegation of crime, I do not intend to say anymore on the matter at this stage,” he added.

Related article on CNS:

Taylor kicks Tempura to CoP

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