A Year in the Life of Cayman

 Over the last year the Observer on Sunday has reported on the social, cultural and political issues that affect how we live on these Islands. In January the big topic of discussion was the Constitution and the inclusion of a Bill of Rights, a first for the islands.


In January the big topic of discussion in the Observer was the Constitution and the inclu-sion of a Bill of Rights, a first for the islands.

The non discrimination section of the proposed bill became a hot bed of  controversy .In a  draft written in October 2008  it read   “…government shall not treat any person in a discriminatory manner.””

In the proposed section, discriminatory meant “affording different treatment to different persons on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political and other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, age, mental or physical disability, property, birth or other status.”

The Cayman Ministers Association objected to three phrases in that draft of the proposal. First, “affording different treatment;” second, “on any ground such as” and finally “or other status” at the end of the section.

Another draft version of the proposed Bill of Rights was released on 23 January   and included a subtle, but important change in the definition of discriminatory. Now  ‘discriminatory’ became “affording different and unjustifiable treatment to different persons on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, age, mental or physical disability, property, birth or other status.”

The phrase “different and unjustifiable treatment” had been added meaning discrimination that could be justified would not be a violation of someone’s civil rights.

One of the concerns on the part of the ministers’ groups was  the courts could interpret that if the right to marriage were provided for heterosexual couples, then the right to marriage or a union similar to marriage would have to be provided for same-sex couples.

The Human Rights Committee saw the new phrasing in the discriminatory bill as a retrograde step which could minimise the protection given not only to homosexuals   but other vulnerable groups such as the mentally and physically handicapped.

On Thursday 5 November the Constitution came into effect. The Bill of Rights, including that contentious phrase “different and unjustifiable treatment”,   comes into effect on November 2012.

In February a research report revealed a worrying trend which had long been suspected by health officials, that children in Cayman were getting more obese.

This particular report, by Health Services Authority, focussed on Cayman Brac and showed that one-in-four children aged three to five in Cayman Brac are considered obese. By comparison, only 7 per cent of Brac children in the same age bracket were obese in 1992.

This trend is even starker when just looking at the boys. The obesity rate in boys jumped from 3 per cent to 29 per cent over 15 years.

What was driving the obesity in Cayman Brac was not clear, as the Brac does not contain the fast food outlets which can be seen to affect obesity in other parts of the world.

What is clear though is that if something is not done to halt the obesity rates in the islands that these children will be facing a greater risk of medical complications in their adult lives.

In March the Observer visited families in Cumber Avenue Bodden Town. When it rains heavily the drains back up and streets and houses get flooded.

The problem is one of drainage, Cumber Avenue used to be surrounded by wetlands and water would drain naturally but with increasing development within the wetlands there is nowhere for the water to go and it floods back into Cumber Avenue. Unfortunately Cumber Avenue’s experience is not in isolation, other parts of Cayman also experience chronic flooding with heavy rains. National Roads Authority director Brian Tomlinson whose department is called in to deal with flooding said, “there needs to be a paradigm shift in how we build.

We need to stop building in the swamp.  Storm water drainage in general needs to be looked at and we need to start demanding developers spend more money on storm water drainage.”

A visit to preschool nurseries in Cayman highlighted disparities between expensive pre-schools and the less costly pre-schools in terms of staff to student ratios, in the sizes of classrooms, the facilities available, and the outdoor play spaces.

While Early Childhood Services recommends certain staff pupil ratios in differing age groups it is not a mandated regulation.

In fact the Observer discovered a worrying lack of regulations regarding preschool education.

Former staff of the early childhood unit   cited this lack and a reluctance to implement enforceable steps for the education and safety of children as the main reasons they left the unit.

Richard Miller, who worked as an early childhood development officer at Early Learning Services until he left in frustration last year, said: “There are no new standards, no curriculum, no handbook, no new inspection process. It’s been almost five years since the original report on the dire state of Cayman’s Early Years settings and very little has been done to address the concerns and meet the goals set out in Strategy 3.”

Drawn up in 2005 the National Consensus on the Future of Education in the Cayman Islands, set out a blueprint for educational reform. Strategy 3 stated that an early years unit should set standards, evaluate performance and support improvements in day-care centers, pre-schools and reception programmers. Head of the Early Childhood Services, Kate Marnoch, defended their record by saying that while strict regulations may not yet be in place, in Cayman, it’s the relationship between the pre-school, the parents and the Early Childhood Services that matter.

“We’re a very small community. Everybody knows everyone. You don’t need regulations to say to someone it is not good practice to have 45 children using one bathroom, for example.

“I think it would be very sad, even when regulations are in place, for regulations to be the only thing that meant people did what was the best practice. I cannot think of anyone who has not done what we’ve asked them to do because not to do so would be detrimental to the children,” Marnoch said.

The Education Law passed in March addresses early learning, but currently it is under review by the present Government.

In May the Observer on Sunday got exclusive access to a new programme taking place in Northward Prison. The programme was a nine week session of group therapy to try and address the issues that made prisoners repeat offenders and stopped them joining mainstream life.

During the sessions the men were encouraged to role play and act out conflict situations that might confront them in the outside world. The focus was to help them deal with situations and problems without resorting to aggression or law breaking.

The prisoners felt the sessions were helping their communication skills and problem solving skills, prison officers also noted changes in behaviour among those attending sessions; however both officers and prisoners recognised the real test would be when they returned to the outside world and were faced with real life situations.

The fledging film industry in Cayman attracted a lot of interest in June.

A film crew certification workshop on film making at the Westin Causaurina Hotel on Seven Mile Beach, brought in  lots of prospective Spielbergs. Behind the scenes however,   Dax Basdeo, head of the Cayman Islands Investment Bureau, revealed a less glamorous picture of talking to banks and insurance companies, finding the money men and trying to secure deals.

There was no doubt the idea of film making in Cayman grabbed the public imagination.

After reports of writer/director John Shea’s efforts to scout locations and funding for his film which is set in Cayman went public, Basdeo received dozens of emails and calls from people wanting to know when casting would start and when the shooting would commence.

“It’s not that easy,” he told the Observer on Sunday. “John’s project may be the one that is furthest along, but it takes a lot of time to get something off the ground. Making a movie is a major undertaking,” he said.

Basdeo explained that Shea already had a script in hand when he started working with the Film Commission, but other people in the film business who have come to Cayman are still at the research stage and it could take a long time before their work comes to fruition, if it ever does.

To help attract film makers, the Film Commission is offering a 30 per cent rebate on money spent in Cayman during production of a film, TV show, music video or commercial here.

In July the Observer On Sunday looked at long term provisions for people suffering from mental health problems. There were indications that more people were being seen for mental health issues. Dr. Lockhart, psychiatrist at the Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital, noted that in the previous year there were approximately 10,000 visits, to mental health specialists. The number included repeat visits by some patients.

Lockhart commented “More people seem to be becoming affected by these illnesses and that trend is also being seen throughout the region,” said Lockhart.

At the moment patients with mental health problems are either treated here or abroad. Being   sent abroad is not seen as a satisfactory arrangement as it withdraws the patient from support systems and places them in unfamiliar surroundings.

“A facility in Cayman is a necessity at this time. That is the key thing we are missing,’ explained Lockhart.

The reality Cayman faces is that   incidents of mental health illness seem to be   on the increase, whether that is down to better diagnosis and better understanding rather than anything more sinister is unclear, but what is apparent is the need for some solution to the problems surrounding long term care of patients with mental health issues.

Electricity was an on and off thing. Radio was a hit and miss affair and downstairs in the Magistrates Court was used to store thatch rope.

These were some of the fascinating memories of Cayman in 1959 shared by Sir James Astwood former Stipendiary Magistrate with the Observer On Sunday.  Astwood had revisited Cayman many times since leaving his post here but his most recent visit coincided with the holiday weekend celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Cayman Islands’ Constitution and he revealed interesting insights into then and now.

Part of the challenge of Astwood’s job   was to check local laws. If there was no local law governing a particular situation, then the Jamaica law applied — making things a little complicated sometimes.

One category of offences stood out in his mind: traffic. After the road was completed between West Bay and George Town, “Oh, Lord, the boys started speeding up on that road.”

He also remembered the mosquitoes. “Take anything you’ve heard about the mosquitoes and magnify it a hundred times,” Astwood recalled. “The sound of them around the house at night was like bees hiving.”

Summarising his reflections on Cayman in 1958-59, Astwood said, “You had to see it in the context of its time – very rural, but with great potential.”

The figures for cruise tourism by September showed arrivals had fallen by six per cent for 2009, last year they fell by 9.5 per cent for the full year and in 2007 they fell by 10.8 per cent from a peak of 1.9 million in 2006.

One suggestion to increase cruise business on shore put forward by the Government is by getting ships to stay longer in port once cruise berthing facilities are established.

This, however, would need to facilitate cruise lines opening their on-board services, including casinos, into the evening, in a jurisdiction where gambling is currently illegal.

Minister of Tourism McKeeva Bush said the Cayman Islands government had discussed with the Florida–Caribbean Cruise Association the possibility of having ships stay in port longer, or overnight, once cruise berthing facilities are built.

This would mean having their on board facilities open, including gambling in a jurisdiction where it is illegal.

Founding members of  the Association for the Advancement of Cruise Tourism, the local private sector tourism group that represents cruise-tourism related businesses in Cayman, believe that allowing ships to stay longer in port and while doing so open up their casinos, is just one way that Cayman can strengthen its relationship with the cruise lines and competitiveness within the region.

ACT founding member Gene Thompson said it would positively affect Cayman from a business point of view because it’s that many more dollars staying here that aren’t seen right now. “If legislation was passed to enable that and obviously restricted to the ship, I would be a proponent of it.”

Another founding member Brynley Davies said that Cayman could control when the ships open the casinos, such as any ship that stays after 5p.m.

Local church leaders however might not find the idea as acceptable. Reverend Nicholas Sykes of the Church of England, who is also the secretary of the Cayman Minister’s Association which represents many churches in Cayman, said this is certainly a ‘hot potato’ issue.

Both Davies and Thompson   while seeing the advantages of overnight stays and berthing facilities, said we could not rely solely on longer stay berthing as some sort of ‘magic bullet,” but that Cayman needed to continue to improve its services and product and to give experiences that cruise tourists would remember in an increasingly competitive market.

In October the Observer was privy to the ways in which a filmmaker works. Tim Kelly was in Cayman   scouting for locations for his new film. A Caymanian who has lived in Los Angeles for the last seven years and now New York City, he has already made two short films that catered to niche audiences .This will be his first full length feature movie that is made for a mainstream audience.

While there have been movies shot in the Cayman Islands before, which have generated a Hollywood buzz, what made this project stand out is Kelly’s intent to use characters that reflect everyday life in Cayman: university educated Caymanians, fishermen, wealthy retirees who live here part time and the mixture of expatriates from New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and all over the world.

“Movies set in the Caribbean are often based on stereotypes that are not realistic,” says Kelly. “I want the film to be as authentic as possible.” Kelly’s story is about a successful Caymanian living in New York who finds his fast paced life superficial and empty.  He returns home to Cayman to reconnect with his roots. Back in the Cayman Islands, he runs into an old girlfriend and realises that he still loves her

Kelly is producing the film on a shoestring budget, doing much of the critical work such as script writing, directing and editing himself.

Kelly  has hopes  that once   the film is finished, if it is seen at a film festival he will find a distributor for the cinema and DVD and put Cayman on the film map.

One of the most positive stories of the year was when the Observer returned to Cayman Brac a year after Paloma . A year ago it might have been hard to imagine that Cayman Brac could recover with over 97 percent of the buildings damaged, but recover they did. Post Paloma the help received kept their spirits high. MLA Moses Kirkconnell said “the outpouring of help and supplies from around the Cayman Islands was amazing. It made you see what it is to be a Caymanian,” he said.

Deputy District Commissioner Mark Tibbetts also commented on the community spirit.

“The recovery effort has resulted in a newfound unity for the entire community. The community rallied behind each other, and I would say that the island is better off today than it was before the storm hit.”

Mr. Kirkconnell noted that because of the rebuilding the global economic crisis has not hit the Brac yet, but they were aware that the mini economic boon could not last indefinitely.

“The rebuilding is going to come to an end, and the world economy will catch up to Cayman Brac early next year,” said Mr. Kirkconnell.

If that does happen the Cayman Brac community will surely face it with the same resilience they showed through Paloma.

“What we have gone through here has been an experience that will forever be ours. We think of our lives as before Paloma and after Paloma,” he said.

“It has shown our resilience and taught us that we can depend on each other.”

The end of the year saw some disturbing statistics.

Police had seen a hike in reports of domestic violence over the year with 180 cases reported up to 22 November, compared to 113 during the same period last year. Police Commissioner David Baines said domestic violence needed to be addressed and tackled to ensure that the next generation did not accept violence as the norm.

He also spoke of police’s “zero tolerance” to domestic assaults, saying officers arrested perpetrators of domestic violence whenever there was evidence to allow them to do so.

The conviction rate of perpetrators of domestic violence is not readily available in Cayman. Those who do go to court can be ordered to undertake mandatory counselling. For 32 weeks, they take part in anger management and group therapy sessions run by the Department of Community Rehabilitation, formerly the probation department.

During the courses, it contacts family members to determine if the men in the group have repeated any violent behaviour.

Currently a new law, the Protection Against Domestic Violence Bill, 2009, is in process of being drawn up.  Under this new bill, there are clearer definitions of what constitutes domestic violence. It outlines who is protected, who is considered a child under the law, the types of court orders available and who can initiate proceedings. Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, minister for gender affairs, said: “This is a very important piece of legislation, as it gives social services officers, law enforcement and prosecutors better tools with which to advocate for those affected by domestic violence.”