Archive for November 20th, 2014

Three Cubans end migration efforts in Little Cayman

Three Cubans end migration efforts in Little Cayman

| 20/11/2014 | 4 Comments

(CNS): Following the passage of another group of Cuban migrants through the Sister Islands over the last two days, three out of the 18 refugees who first arrived in Cayman Brac waters Wednesday morning (19 November) got off on Little Cayman Thursday. The two men and one woman were transferred to Cayman Brac this afternoon and the remaining 15 refugees opted to press on with their journey towards Central America. One of the two men has been in the Cayman Islands twice before, officials confirmed. The twelve men and six women in this group are travelling across the open ocean in an 18-ft, wood and metal vessel equipped with a small engine.

The three people who elected to stay behind will be taken to the Immigration detention centre in Fairbanks which was only recently cleared of refugees with the exception of one person after a large number were repatriated to Cuba at the beginning of November.


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Dump consultants begin work

Dump consultants begin work

| 20/11/2014 | 102 Comments

(CNS): The global consultant firm awarded the $0.5 million contract to shape government’s national waste management policy, make the outline business case and then assist in the procurement of contractors has begun work this week. Officials said that Phil Scott from AMEC, which won the competitive bid as the lowest priced and most technically able firm, has been in Cayman examining the current situation and beginning the assessment. His firm will guide government in its selection of the most suitable management solution to reduce the George Town dump and create a modern waste system for the future. Officials said the waste-management project should be ready for tender within twelve months.

The latest updates in the long-awaited George Town dump saga were revealed at a government press briefing Thursday, when Osbourne Bodden, the minister with responsibility for environmental health said government was well on the way to finding the solution to its waste-management problem. Well aware of the criticisms he has faced, Bodden said the government was committed to doing things properly this time. Had it gone headlong into a random solution, he said, it would have been throwing good money after bad. However, the minister said he was determined to get this right.

As AMEC begins its work on helping shape the national waste strategy, the chief officer in the ministry responsible for the dump, Jennifer Ahearn, said that there would be a public consultation period in the New Year to collect the input of the community before the policy was formulated.

The preferred method for tackling the management of the country’s waste going forward should be completed by the middle of next year. Then the consultants will work with government on the outline business case required under the Public Management Finance Law to justify what will be a significant cost. Once that is complete, AMEC will assist with the procurement process to find the most suitable contractor, or multiple contractors, depending on how government chooses to approach the future of waste management.

Whatever the end solution, it will include re-use and recycling composting and waste-reduction strategies with the goal of minimising rubbish for the landfill.

AMEC specialises in finding solutions to waste-management problems and its job now is to find and recommend the best most suitable, sustainable and cost-effective solutions for Cayman’s waste. It will not be involved in the actual waste-management but will help with the government’s tendering process to find the most appropriate experts to deal with the physical remediation of the George Town landfill, a.k.a. Mount Trashmore, as well as the landfills on the Sister Islands.

Although the minister said that he did not expect to see a fully operational waste management system until towards the end of 2017, going into the next administration, Bodden said work would begin well before the end of this government’s term. Even before the full procurement process is completed, government could begin work on creating composting and recycling centres.

The minister confirmed that while he was still committed to not moving the dump and that any landfill arrangements would be at the current George Town site, new elements of the system, such as a recycling depot or a composting centre for organic waste, may be located in other places.

Noting how outdated Cayman’s current system is, Scott from AMEC saidit was some 30 years behind the UK in terms of re-use and recycling and he made it clear that a future sustainable system in Cayman would require people to separate waste.

He said that as consultants they would be examining the practicalities of curb-side collection and drop-off centres for the separated garbage, but he also spoke about the need for an awareness and education campaign on waste reduction and to assess what commercial value, given the economies of scale there could be in waste. Scott said that in future residents would be separating their waste and recycling, glass, card, plastic and organic waste on top of the aluminium cans, which are the only things recycled by government at present.

With the project moving on to the nest stage, the minister said that it was a long and complex process. But he said it had started well and with AMEC now getting down to work there was "no turning back”.

Bodden said he believed it would be a PPM government again at the helm in 2017, but whoever held the reins of power in May 2017 would not be able to discontinue the work, he said.

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Watson charged in HSA probe

Watson charged in HSA probe

| 20/11/2014 | 0 Comments

(CNS): The former chairof the health service authority board has been charged with a catalogue of corruption offences and money laundering in connection with a health insurance swipe card system contract worth $11M awarded by the hospital during his time as chairman of the HSA board. Canover Watson was charged by the anti-corruption cops on Thursday, following his arrest more than two months ago at his home in Prospect in August. The 43 year old businessman who was until recently a member of FIFA’s audit committee was bailed to appear in court next Tuesday facing five counts. However the anticorruption commission said it anticipates bringing further charges.

Watson, who has been a prominent leader in the community denied all of the allegaitons in the wake of his arrest in a short statement.

He had said at the time:  "The allegations are denied. In due course, at the proper time and in the appropriate forum, I look forward to setting out my position in greater detail. For present purposes, since the police investigation is ongoing, I have been advised by my attorneys that it would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment."

He is now charged with Conflict of interest contrary to section 19(2) and 19(3) Anti-Corruption Law 2008; Breach of trust contrary to section 13 Anti-Corruption Law 2008; Fraud on government contrary to section 11 Anti-Corruption Law 2008; Failing to disclose a pecuniary interest contrary to section 10(1) Health Services Authority Law 2005; and Money laundering – acquired criminal property in the amount of US$50,000 contrary to section 135(1) Proceeds of Crime Law 2008.

All of the charges are understood to relate to a multi-million dollar contract awarded in 2010 to AIS Cayman for a swipe-card billing system at the hospital. Although no details have yet been revealed it is understood that Watson may have had direct links to the company whichwas one of two firms that were evaluated for the contract by a technical committee appointed by the former administration but which also included several government officials as well as Watson.

Since the firm began running the billing system at the hospital however, questions have been asked about the award as the company is receiving 4% of the value of every swipe card transaction at the hospital via CINICO which is being sucked out of the public purse.
Watson is now expected to be appear in Summary Court on 25 November.

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Courier cleared in gold theft

Courier cleared in gold theft

| 20/11/2014 | 5 Comments

(CNS): A former Fedex courier was acquitted by a jury, Thursday, of charges relating to the theft of more than $30,000 of gold from packages destined for US refineries which had been sent by the local pawn shop Cash Wiz. Although Evon Robinson had at first confessed to managers at Cash-Wiz that he had taken the gold he later claimed he was coerced into the admission in an effort to save his job. During the trial Robinson’s defence attorney raised enough doubt that his client had not taken the items of gold jewellery entrusted to him in Fedex boxes when he showed othershad access to the packages and could have been responsible for the missing pieces.

James Stenning, of Stenning and Associates argued that along with a number of other potential suspects, including other couriers and the packers, his client did not sign all of the relevant weigh-bills and paperwork, that the weights in the packages were not always exactly recorded and the confession itself, which was supposedly recorded on a mobile phone, was edited and was wholly unreliable.

Fedex had also revealed that many of the packages coming and going from Grand Cayman were frequently light or had items missing.

The jury spent more than a day deliberating before they returned the verdicts of not guilty to three charges – one count of theft between 2011 and 2012 and two counts of transferring criminal property, as the crown had claimed that Robinson stole the money from the Cash Wiz packages and then pawned it to another local pawn shop – Cash for Gold.

However, Robinson, when he took the stand said that he had sold his own gold and that of a friend to that pawn shop and he had not taken anything from Cash Wiz when he worked as the courier dealing with the store's Fedex account. During the alleged confession he said that he had told the Cash Wiz managers that he would make up the missing gold in exchange for them not saying anything to his managers. As a result he said he collected as much of his own gold and that of his friends' as he could, to try and keep his job.

As the fore-woman of the jury delivered the verdict, Robinson literally leapt for joy, hugging his defence team and court staff the former courier was clearly emotional and delighted over his acquittal.

Justice Malcolm Swift thanked the jury for their close attention and careful consideration and pointed out that aside from the defendant who was really grateful for their sacrifice the courts and the community were grateful to them as well. 

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Over 100 government cars smashed up annually

Over 100 government cars smashed up annually

| 20/11/2014 | 65 Comments

(CNS): Figures released following a freedom of information request by a CNS reader have shown that on average around 104 government vehicles are involved in road collisions every year in Cayman and almost 20% of those are police cars. Although the information was limited, the RCIPS said that on average it has over 18 vehicles involved in car collisions every year, while other government agencies collectively have an average crash rate of about 86 cars smashed each year. The FOI confirmed that the worst year for the police was 2012, when they had 20 cars involved in accidents. Meanwhile, across the rest of government 2011 was the worst year, when 90 cars were crashed.

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More reviews for education

More reviews for education

| 20/11/2014 | 88 Comments

(CNS): With no school inspections for almost six years and plans by the minister to overhaul the governance model for education, the Education Ministry has committed to spending around $300,000 on both a base line inspection of all government schools and a review of the system by KPMG. Minister Tara Rivers announced thatthe information from the independent inspection and review would reveal the quality of teaching and learning, evaluate the system and identify what works and what doesn’t. The consultant review will also examine alternative models for managing the education system and may see some schools put under private management, copying charter or academy type schools in the UK.

Rivers joins a long line of education ministers all of whom have come into office promising a new era for education and the subsequent changes to legislation or policy in a battle to improve standards. Now, when Caymanian high school graduates are performing in terms of exam results, better than at any time since records were kept, Rivers is promising more radical changes.

During a ministry press briefing on Wednesday morning she revealed that Mary Bowerman, a former member of the now defunct schools inspectorate, which suffered as a result of staff losses and the failure to replace them, will lead a team of six independent inspectors, most of whom are understood to have come from the UK. They will visit every government primary and secondary school throughout this academic year to undertake a focused inspection, looking at standards in maths and English, student achievement and the quality of teaching and the school’s management.

The aim is to assess exactly what the situation is “on the ground” and to assess the gaps and problems as well as focus on what is working already. It is expected to cost government in excess of $230,000. Reports will be produced on each school, which the minister promised would be made public on the ministry website, while a full report on the entire government school situation will be tabled in the Legislative Assembly by the end of this academic year.

Meanwhile, Roland Meredith, an education consultant contracted via KPMG at a cost of over $45,000, will conduct the review of governance and policy, which will be completed by January. The consultant will be looking at the possibility of taking schools from the direct management of the education department and introducing school boards and autonomy. He spoke about the need for innovation and preparing schools to prepare their students for the world as it will be when they leave school and the need for change and innovation.

He said he was looking to recommend models to fit the Cayman context and what the demands were of employers in this economy.

The minister and Winston Connolly, the education councillor, both denied that the education system would be privatized and committed to ensuring that there would no divisiveness or selection if that was the route that the government felt would work. They both promised free and equal access to education for all local children, regardless of their academic or other abilities, as they acknowledged the numbers of local kids with special educational needs. Connolly said the education ministry was not “concentrating only on the academically inclined or the rich” as government was committed to the best possible education for all local children.

But Connolly emphasised that education is not just the responsibility of government and that parents and employers need to be involved too. He spoke about the students in government schools as commodities, saying local businesses were “buying our product”, when he talked about government school graduates.

Once the results are in from both the baseline inspections and the review, Rivers said the ministry would act quickly to implement recommendations, with some changes possibly being implemented by the 2015 school year.

The minister is by no means the first to want to overhaul education and make major changes as it has been a constant theme over the last two decades. Numerous reviews, reports and consultations have taken place with policy and legislative changes having a mixed impact on the system.

However, there has been a steady increasing trend in recent years that has seen growing numbers of students leaving school with five GCSE or equivalent passes, with Cayman now measuring up well when compared to statistics in the region and in the UK. And while local students may becoming more academically inclined, the job market has become far more competitive and has seen local students struggle to find work in a labour market which is now saturated by work permit holders and overseas workers willing to work for lower and lower salaries.

See more details of the parameters of the inspections and the review in the release below.

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Multi-year budgets deferred

Multi-year budgets deferred

| 20/11/2014 | 19 Comments

(CNS): The finance minister has said that he does not expect to introduce the planned multi-year budget system or switch the financial year until the beginning of the 2016/17 fiscal year – the last financial year of this current administration. As government battles with public finances and the multiple problems surrounding governance, as well as proposals to downsize the civil service, Marco Archer told CNS recently that the idea to introduce government budgets exceeding the current 12 month span will not come until the end of this term. Government will be delivering is strategic policy statement outlining the budget requirements for 2015/16 next month and the minister said plans to bring in multi-year budgeting have been deferred.

The changeto the financial year dates and the multi-year budgets require a change in the Public Management and Finance Law. While the current government has been working on a number of amendments to the legislation relating in particular to the financial reporting issues, Archer said that the changes won’t be brought to the Legislative Assembly much before the end of this current 2014/15 year, which leaves little time to begin the multi-year budgets or a switch in dates.

Archer said, however, that introducing an 18 month budget in the first instance in the 2016/17 financial year would cover the problem period that exists for any new administration coming into office just one month before the end of the financial year and over the need for the interim budget.

This would then pave the way to introduce the multi-year budgets and switch the financial year in line with the calendar year in the next tem if the Progressives are re-elected, or allow any new government breathing room to develop its policies without the pressure of immediately needed to deal with a budget.

Archer said during last November’s policy statement that government had planned to move its fiscal year (which currently runs from 1 July through to 30 June) beginning on 1 January 2016 and that it would simultaneously introduce multi-year budgeting, with the first 18 month budget delivered at the end of this fiscal year followed by a two year budget on 1 January 2016.

Despite the complexities and expense of changing the fiscal year, the finance minister said it would bring numerous benefits.

However, those plans appear to have been shelved and instead Archer will be focusing on introducing the first 18 month public fiscal period in June 2016.

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