Archive for March 31st, 2014

CIG sacks UK Tory Lord

CIG sacks UK Tory Lord

| 31/03/2014 | 19 Comments

(CNS):The Cayman government has terminated its contract with the Conservative life peer, Lord Blencathra, as a result of changes made to the rules governing the conduct of those sitting in the UK’s upper house of parliament. Following more recent media controversy in London regarding the Conservative member of the House of Lords and his role with the government as head of its UK office, Premier Alden McLaughlin confirmed in a statement Monday evening that the CIG had finally terminated the contract with his firm, Two Lions Consultancy, that day. McLaughlin said the contract “could be construed to be in conflict” with the new code for Lords members and the post would now be advertised.

The contract with Blencathra’s consultancy firm was made by the former premier and now leader of the opposition, McKeeva Bush, as it was hoped that the Tory peer could have some positive influence for Cayman and its financial industry in the corridors of power of both Westminster and Whitehall. A break from tradition of having a Caymanian heading up the UK office, the contract caused some controversy in Cayman.

His appointment also caused controversy in the UK and a probe was launched into Blencathra’s role as Cayman’s representative in London when it appeared that not only was he lobbying ministers but parliament as well. In addition, MPs in the UK also questioned why a member of the British government was promoting what many in the UK believe is a tax haven, facilitating wealthy corporations and individuals to avoid their tax obligations to HM Treasury.

Although Blencathra, who denied any wrongdoing, was cleared by the House of Lords committee that examined his role, the issue led the commission to implement a new code of conduct banning members from political and ministerial lobbying and placing the peer's role in question. In addition, the discovery of Blencathra’s contract with the CIG by the UK media stirred up the controversies once again and the commission is now taking another look at the role Blencathra played since 2011 when he began working for the Cayman government.  

Against that backdrop, the premier and his home affairs chief officer, Eric Bush, met with Lord Blencathra when they were in London last week to discuss the impact of the recent amendments to the House of Lords code of conduct and Blencathra’s contract, which had been renewed on 1 November 2012.

“We have mutually concluded that some terms of the contract could be construed to be in conflict with the recently amended Lords Code of Conduct guidelines and that on that basis the agreement of 1 November, 2012, will be terminated on 31 March, 2014,” said the premier in a statement release by his office Monday evening.

He explained that the position for the director of the Cayman Islands government office in London will now be advertised.

As well as his role as director of the UK office, Blencathra acted as a consultant to the local government, providing advice and guidance on a wide range of UK and EU matters. 

McLaughlin said it is critical that the government continues to have the benefit of proper advice on these matters in order to protect and promote the interests of the Cayman Islands and that it was considering its options on this issue.

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Girlfriend admits LC killing

Girlfriend admits LC killing

| 31/03/2014 | 52 Comments

(CNS): Elsey Calderon De Ortega Barralga, who was charged with the murder of Perry McLaughlin (54) last year, pleaded guilty Monday to manslaughter, ahead of what was expected to be a judge-alone trial before Justice Charles Quin. Instead, however, the court heard that following discussions between the crown and her defence team the woman had admitted killing her boyfriend at the home they shared in Little Cayman last November when she lost control during a fight between the couple. Barralga (29) said that on returning home on 1 November, she and McLaughlin argued and the fight became physical.

She said that they both struck each other but Barralga admits picking up a knife and wounding McLaughlin. In a prepared basis of plea, she said that she was no longeracting in self-defence when she made the fatal stab wounds that killed her lover, having already wounded him and removed the immediate threat to her own life, as she had lost control of herself during the altercation.

The basis of her admission to killing McLaughlin was read out to the court by her defence lawyer, Maura McGowan, QC, as Barralga wept quietly in the dock. The crown accepted the plea to the lesser charge and the case was adjourned until Wednesday, when submissions will be made before the judge in relation to sentencing, and Barralga was remanded in custody.

A well-known local businessman on the island, McLaughlin was found by one of his employees at around 7am on the morning of 2 November at his home. The worker was unable to contact him by phone and went to look for him at his house in Gazebo Lane, where he discovered the bloody scene and his boss’s body. 

Police arrested Barralga shortly after and charged her with his murder a few days later.

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Inter-Secondary Track & Field results in

Inter-Secondary Track & Field results in

| 31/03/2014 | 0 Comments
(CNS): This year’s Inter-Secondary Track & Field Championship took place last week between Tuesday 25th and Thursday 27th March. Students from all public and private high schools in the Cayman Islands take part in the annual event, which is also used as a qualifier for regionaland international competitions. Full results from this year’s meet are attached – click on the links below. The Cayman Islands Athletic Association has announced that its next event will be the CUC Age Group Championships on Friday, April 4 at 6pm and Saturday, April 5 at 4pm. This event will also be used as a qualifier.

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North Side robbery getaway driver gets two years

North Side robbery getaway driver gets two years

| 31/03/2014 | 1 Comment

(CNS): The man behind the wheel during a police chase after a daylight armed robbery at a North Side supermarket last September will serve two years behind bars for his part in the attempted escape. Although 29-year-old Ian Fernado Ellington had originally been charged with armed robbery, along with three other men, the crown was unable to offer any evidence to support those charges and agreed to accept a plea from him for accessory after the fact when he admitted he had given the robbers a lift. Denying that he was involved in the planning or knew anything about the use of firearms, Ellington claimed only to have given the suspects a ride.

The chase, however, was caught on film by the RCIPS helicopter, which in conjunction with a patrol car following the fleeing culprits, eventually cut the getaway short near Highrock, East End. As the robbers fled, police observed various items being flung out of the speeding car window and when the four men were arrested no weapons were found, although some of the stolen items were recovered.

The cops were able to chase the robbers because the owner of the Chisholm’s Supermarket, one of the victims of the violent hold up, had taken down the getaway vehicle’s registration number, which allowed the police to pick up the car shortly after the robbers fled the scene.

Although two men had entered the store from that car shortly before the robbery took place, Ellington was never identified as one of those men. There was no evidence from the crown that he had touched any of the stolen money or goods from the robbery or that he was directly involved in anything other than the getaway.

Although Justice Charles Quin had expressed earlier concerns about the change in the facts of the case after the crown had previously accused Ellington of being one of the two men who had cased Chisholm’s supermarket before the daylight heist on the afternoon of 23 September, and having also been part of the plan, he was forced to stick to sentencing Ellington for just the single offence. Despite the lesser offence, Justice Quin noted that it was still a serious one.

“One cannot ignore the fact that this was a serious armed robbery,” he said, adding that were it not for the courage and quick actions ofthe 83-year-old victim, the men could have got away with the assistance of Ellington. He pointed out that he must have been immediately aware of the robbery as soon as the two men who had gone inside and held up the store at gunpoint got into his car.

Although the court heard that Ellington had no previous convictions, that the offence was totally out of character for a hard working individual who was also a committed and responsible father to two children under three, and the sole breadwinner for his family, the judge noted that he should have thought about his young family before “engaging in criminal activity and assisting the robbers to get away from the scene”, as he handed down the custodial sentence.

Justice Quin said there was no evidence that Ellington was a reluctant participant in the crime. He also said that Ellington was driving while the other suspects were disposing of the evidence while the car attempted in vain to escape from the chopper and the patrol car.

Starting at three years, the judge cut the sentence to two years as a result of Ellington’s immediate guilty plea once the indictment against him was amended from armed robbery to accessory after the fact.

Courtney Bryan admitted to being one of the two masked men who went into the store to commit the robbery, carrying an imitation weapon. He was sentence to four years. A 16-year-old boy who has admitted being the second man in the robbery has denied having a gun and will face trial on that count next month.

Meanwhile, Odain Ebanks (18), who was originally charged with robbery, has also denied any part in the main crime. He admits to going inside Chisholm’s before the heist but he had nothing to do with the robbery as he went in to buy a patty. Although apprehended in the getaway car, he said he was not involved in the planning and has pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods. As a result of concerns about that issue raised by Justice Charles Quin, Ebanks will be sentenced this week by Justice Alex Henderson.

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$12M more shaved off budget

$12M more shaved off budget

| 31/03/2014 | 27 Comments

(CNS):The minister of finance said that around $12 million of further cuts would be made in public spending when he brings the 2014/15 budget to the Legislative Assembly in May. Marco Archer has also revealed that the spending plan will be for 12 months and not for 18 months, as had been announced when he delivered the PPM government’s first budget last year. He had announced plans to move the financial year to January and deliver budgets to cover longer periods. However, Archer now says that there will not be enough time to amend the Public Management and Finance Law in order to facilitate the changes before the current budget expires at the end of this financial year.

Archer explained to CNS that a committee that is reviewing the law that governs public finances has not yet finished its work, delaying the proposal to switch the financial year to line up with the calendar year and then set out multi-year spending plans.

“We are waiting for the committee to complete their review and provide a report of the PMFL [Public Management Finance Law] law,” Archer stated. “We expect this in early May but that does not leave sufficient time for Cabinet to review the report and recommendations, drafting amendments to the PMFL, the legislative process, and any required accounting and information systems changes before the June 30 year end. Multi-year budgets will come with the next budget.”

Archer was also confident that his more than $100 million surplus predicted for the end of the 2013/14 budget would be a reality and government should be able to reveal an estimate of the surplus by the end of next month.

With some months left to clear debts and improve cash flow, despite still trimming spending, Archer said government continued to look at possible fee cuts which could ease the strain. However, he said that any reductions would need the approval of the UK.

The minister said government had no plans to introduce any new revenue measures but, reiterating comments he has made previously in the Legislative Assembly, he said that where necessary government would adjust existing fees to reflect the true cost of providing the relevant services.

Government has very limited wiggle room in its budgets because the debt service ratio is over the self-imposed limit set out in the PMFL. Following the implementation of the UK’s FFR, which forms part of local legislation, the UK has imposed strict parameters and must approve all budgets and ensure they fit with the previous four year plan this administration submitted to London shortly after coming to office.

With no new borrowing allowed, government must finance its big cash items from revenue, including paying for the preparations for the cruise port project, as well as the business case for the landfill. While government intends to involve private sector partners in the development of the George Town piers and to implement an holistic solution to the dump and waste-management in the future, it must foot the bill for the preparation work, such as business cases, environmental assessments and the request for proposals.

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Tory lord faces new probe as Cayman’s UK frontman

Tory lord faces new probe as Cayman’s UK frontman

| 31/03/2014 | 6 Comments

(CNS): The Conservative member of the House of Lords and former minister and chief whip is facing more controversy in the UK over his job with the Cayman Islands Government (CIG) and the possible conflict it causes with his position as a British life peer. Lord Blencathra, aka David McLean, a former MP for the Scottish constituency of Penrith, is attracting more bad publicity for the islands as he will be the subject of yet another investigation by the Lords’ authorities questioning his contract. Despite changes in regulations that now ban those in the House of Lords from lobbying politicians, McLean is still on the CIG payroll and government has made no comment about his future.

CNS contacted the premier and the financial services minister, both of whom were in the UK last week and we have been informed that the premier is planning on making a statement. However, questions about the Tory Lord's role and future with the CIG have remained unanswered.

The latest issue surrounding the Lord is as a result of Blencathra’s original contract being published in the British media recently. The contract was originally released to CNS following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request and has been in the public domain for some time.

Following a previous probe into Blencathra’s role as director of the Cayman Islands’ London office as a result of questions raised by Labour member Paul Flynn, the Tory Lord was cleared of wrongdoing, though it led the committee to block the potential loophole that allowed lobbying government though not parliament. Kernaghan has now questioned whether Blencathra was actually lobbying parliament anyway and as a result the Tory Lord has once again asked the House of Lords Standards Committee to examine his conduct since taking the job with CIG.

Whether or not the Tory peer was lobbying just government and not parliamentarians in the past is now less relevant to CIG, which is paying him a considerable sum (approximately CI$14,000) per month from the public purse to lobby on Cayman’s behalf. With the change in the rules, Blencathra will not be able to lobby ministers, government or MPs bringing into question his value for money.

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90 civil servants swot up on dealing with complaints

90 civil servants swot up on dealing with complaints

| 31/03/2014 | 8 Comments

(CNS): The number of civil servants who signed up for a seminar on how to handle complaints may be an indication that the public doesn’t always go away happy when it has dealings with government. However with 90 internal complaints officers turning upfor the Office of the Complaints Commissioner’s (OCC) seminar earlier this month they are at least better equipped to handle dissatisfied customers. Officials said that the numbers attending the fourth annual seminar, which included a significant training component, was the best attended ever, and with 90 people from across the service a last-minute venue change was needed to accommodate them all.

Deputy Governor Franz Manderson endorsed the OCC venture and opened the seminar while training was provided by Julie Faulknor-Grant on “Difficult Complainants and How to Best Deal With Them”, and by Vaughan Carter of Solomon Harris and Juris Consulting on “Investigative Techniques”.

Brett Basdeo of Maples and Calder also spoke about the OCC Small Claims Handbook that he is drafting and updating for the OCC.

In the evening Governor Helen Kilpatrick handed out awards to civil servants for their efforts in dealing with complaints including Joseph Woods from the Port Authority and Tracy Ebanks, the development bank boss.

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Two would-be cops missing from new induction class

Two would-be cops missing from new induction class

| 31/03/2014 | 24 Comments

(CNS): Although police management had revealed that fifteen people were offered places on the new police training course following last year’s major local recruitment campaign, when class started last week it appears only thirteen people showed up. In a short press release from Government Information Services revealing the names of the new recruits, officials said 13 were present for the induction class welcomed by Deputy Commissioner Anthony Ennis at the RCIPS Training and Development Unit in Governor’s Square last Wednesday.

The police announced less than two weeks ago that after receiving some 500 applications last year following a rigorous process, they had whittled that number down to fifteen men and women who would start training this month. 

From the ten men and five women who had been selected to begin the training programme, none were recruited from overseas. Twelve were Caymanians and three permanent residents, but it is not clear who did not show up. The RCIPS officials said the group is the most localised set of recruits to join the police for some thirty years.

Gregory Banks Jr, Sarah Joy Bodden, Kishna Burke, Christopher Davies, Kadane Romane Hall, Craig-Anthony S. Jervis, Zachary Marc McLaughlin, Kristoff Powell, Andre Savoury, Patricia Sevik, Andrae Strachan, Maxwell Thomas and Nassaria Thompson will join the service this morning when their formal training begins.

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Brac hotel closing in April

Brac hotel closing in April

| 31/03/2014 | 115 Comments

(CNS): The 16 staff members of The Alexander Hotel on Cayman Brac have been informed that they will be out of their jobs on 13 April. Just a few months ago the developers proposing to turn the pond next to the Alexander into a marina admitted that the project would require an environmental assessment, but now that Cabinet is requiring this to be done before considering the associated coastal works licence, Cleveland Dilbert, the front man for the developers, has responded by announcing that he is closing his hotel. According to the strategic outline case presented to Cabinet last November, if government gave the go-ahead to the proposal, it would have to commit to purchasing from Scott Development KYD $3.5 million of fill excavated from crown property as a result of the project.

The 31-room Alexander, which was completed in 2009, lies some distance from the nearest sandy beach and was built right next to Saltwater Pond, that is at times quite stinky. Unsurprisingly, the hotel has been running at a loss.

According to the strategic outline case (SOC) presented to Cabinet by Brac Development Company (BDC), it has only averaged 25% occupancy and the owners have had to invest about KYD $150,000 each year to keep it going.

Nevertheless, the marina is “not intended for profit of BDC Ltd or its shareholders”, Dilbert stated in a letter accompanying the SOC presented to Cabinet on 4 November 2013, which he has now made public. It was, he said, “intended for the betterment and welfare of the people of Cayman Brac and the island’s economy”.

(Right: when the Saltwater Pond dries up, the sludge emits a strong and unpleasant smell, which is not good for the Alexander's open bar.)

As well as the significant commitment to buy from a private company the publicly-owned excavated material extracted from crown property, public funds would also be needed to build an alternative route round the north side of the pond, connecting Rebecca's Cave Road with Bluff Boulevard, since the channel would cut through South Side Road West. Against this, the SOC lays out a long wishlist of financially positive outcomes for the project that have not so far been supported by a detailed business case. Nor does the proposal offer any guarantees that, once started, the project will be completed as planned.

“BDC Ltd is certainly supportive of the Department of Environment’s pursuit of a prudent balance between the built environment and the natural environment,” the developers wrote in their SOC before the DoE Technical Review Committee laid out a catalogue of environmental red flags when it assessed the coastal works application to cut a channel through the road, the ironshore and the fringing reef.

The DoE also noted that the application was incomplete in several key areas, including an explanation of how, with a single jetty, BDC planned to create a 100-foot wide channel using an excavator with a 40-foot reach. Nevertheless, Dilbert apparently expected Cabinet to approve the application without an EIA and has now closed his hotel in protest.

“As developers we are committed to working in partnership with the CIG [Cayman Islands Government] and to construct the safe harbour in a way to minimise negative impacts to the natural environmentas much as possible. As residents of the Cayman Islands, therefore stakeholders, we identify the economic social and natural importance of a healthy marine environment. This project will require an environmental assessment to identify any negative effects and suggest methods that can be used to avoid or minimise and mitigate them,” the SOC stated.

BDC laid out five options for cabinet in the SOC: If the coastal works application is rejected (Option 1), apparently government will be forced to deal with the stinky pond themselves, which will be an on going expense.

Both Option 2 and Option 3 result in government giving Scott Development $3.5 million for 218,750 cubic yards of fill, either paid upon delivery of the fill, which would be “stockpiled for use on future projects” (Option 2) or paid in monthly installments (Option 3).

Option 4 is to partially develop the marina with no government financial participation. Instead of making the entire pond into a safe harbour, the developers would just develop a section of the west side of the pond behind the Alexander, purchasing land and cutting the channel between the Coral Isle Club and the residential homes to the west. The basin would be approximately 250' x 250' with a depth of 18 feet, according to the SOC, which stated, “Our concern is that this option appears to be solely for the benefit of The Alexander Hotel and not the surrounding landowners.”

However, in Option 5, even though the SOC repeatedly states that the marina project is for the good of the people and the economy of Cayman Brac, BDC says that if Cabinet rejects their proposal and, deciding that the island does not require more than one safe harbour, instead chooses one of the other marina proposals, the Alexander may close.

In his letter to Cabinet, Dilbert noted that BDC first wrote to the Cayman Islands government with a proposal for the marina in August 2009. He further stated that the company has already been granted permission in principle by the Cayman government to quarry the bedrock in the pond and sell the majority of the shot rock and fill extracted, in order to raise capital to fund the conversion of the pond into a marina.

Vote in the CNS poll: Should Cabinet grant a coastal works licence for the marina at Saltwater Pond on Cayman Brac?

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