Lavish hotels mark deputy premier’s $42K Qatar trip

The Cayman Islands government spent nearly $42,000 to send Deputy Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly and two companions to the 25th Universal Postal Congress 
in Doha, Qatar. 

The two-week-long trip from 29 September to 14 October included business class plane tickets and rooms at four- and five-star rated hotels, including four nights in midtown Manhattan, according to information provided by Ms O’Connor-Connolly’s ministry. 

Accompanying the deputy premier on her trip were the ministry’s Chief Officer Alan Jones and her executive aide Paul Leonce. 

For the trip, flight costs 
were $21,678.  

Hotel costs were $14,238. The total delegation’s per diem was $5,790. In total, the trip cost $41,707. 

 

Postal congress 

Held every four years, the postal congress brings together representatives from the 192 member countries of the Universal Postal Union, which is a United Nations specialised agency. Cayman by itself is not a member country of the postal union; however, it is one of 15 entities that collectively make up the postal union member of Overseas Territories (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland). Cayman is also a member of one of the postal union’s 16 restricted unions, the Caribbean Postal Union.  

The deputy premier’s ministry is responsible for the Cayman Islands Postal Service. 

The postal congress opened 24 September, with eight committees meeting until 4 October. The plenary sessions took place from 7 to 14 October. A ministerial conference occurred 8 October. 

Webcasts of the congress’ plenary sessions are available online for free at the UN Web TV site. 

 

Manhattan 

According to the ministry, the delegation spent two nights at the Grand Hyatt New York before travelling on to Qatar and two nights at the Grand Hyatt New York before travelling back to Cayman. 
That cost $3,645.  

However, ministry information officer Tanya Vasquez-Ebanks said via e-mail, “Please note that due to flight layover schedules and time differences, early check-in and late check-out on the way to Qatar were required, as their connecting flight didn’t leave until 11pm, which resulted in an extra night’s charge. This meant that five nights 
for ‘standard rooms’ had to be paid for, at a rate of $364.47 a 
night per room.” 

The Grand Hyatt New York’s website describes the hotel as having “a fabulous Midtown Manhattan setting … just steps away from Grand Central Terminal”. According to the website, the “newly renovated … luxurious hotel” is “a longtime legend on the New York scene”. TripAdvisor gives the Manhattan hotel four out of five stars. 

 

Four Seasons, Renaissance Doha 

Once in the capital city of Qatar, the delegation rented two rooms at the Four Seasons Hotel Doha for 10 nights apiece. The average rate works out to $368 per room per night. The Four 
Seasons website describes the accommodations 
thusly: “Our resort-like waterfront city hotel offers luxury touches that echo the essence of what you want as a traveller: comfort, service and beauty for all five senses. Cool off in our grotto pools or host a Doha business meeting in a soaring outdoor tent. Here, anything is possible.” 

“With seven restaurants and lounges, a three-storey Spa and Wellness Centre, comprehensive business facilities and a private beach, Four Seasons Hotel Doha is a haven for business travellers and pleasure seekers. Experience 17 storeys of modern luxury blended with classical charm.” 

TripAdvisor gives the Four Seasons Hotel Doha five out of five stars and ranks it No. 1 out of 112 hotels in the city. 

In addition to the Four Seasons, the delegation rented out another room at the nearby Renaissance Doha City Center Hotel for 12 nights. The average rate works out to $269 per night. 

The Renaissance website says the property is “one of the premier hotels in Doha” and “is located in the new business district of West Bay”. 

According to the website, “Our Doha hotel’s contemporary elegance seamlessly blends business with pleasure. Only 15 minutes from Doha International Airport, this elegant, hip and contemporary deluxe-class hotel offers breathtaking views of the skyline and the Arabian Gulf. Top among hotels in Doha, Qatar and connected to the City Center Shopping Mall, our hotels central location provides plenty to do. All 257 guest rooms are expressively yet functionally designed, with complete amenities to pamper all, whether it is for the well-travelled business executive or the fun-seeking leisure traveller.”  

TripAdvisor gives the Renaissance Doha City Center Hotel five out of five stars and ranks it No. 11 out of 112 hotels in the city. 

 

$214K for travel 

Since August 2009, government has spent $213,819 for 21 international trips involving the deputy premier, according to information provided by the ministry. That includes more than $91,000 for seven trips in 2012. 

The Qatar trip was the most expensive, followed by a weeklong trip to Barcelona, Spain, for a mobile telecommunications conference in February 2011 that cost $35,355 and included Member of the Legislative Assembly Cline Glidden and two other individuals in addition to Ms O’Connor-Connolly. 

For the Barcelona trip, hotel expenses were $6,409 for rooms at the Melia Barcelona, which has four of five stars from TripAdvisor. 

The deputy premier and her fellow delegates have stayed at a number of acclaimed hotels during her term. In addition to the Qatar hotels, Ms O’Connor-Connolly stayed at four hotels given five stars by TripAdvisor. That includes The Ritz-Carlton Golf and Spa Resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in October 2009 (Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum); The Goring, London, in December 2009 (Overseas Territories Consultative Council meeting); InterContinental Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2010 (Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting); and Four Seasons Hotel Houston, Texas, in April 2012 (with Premier McKeeva Bush for an off transfer shipping meeting for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman). 

The deputy premier’s destinations include Jamaica, Anguilla, England, Honduras, Barbados, Kenya, Bahamas, Spain, Canada, Grenada, United States, Tonga, St. Lucia, Sri Lanka and Qatar. 

Juliana-O

Ms O’Connor-Connolly
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28 COMMENTS

  1. And you Have the supidity to bleet about the debt your idotic government have its precious country in ,get a grip Cayman stop indulging the idiots that sit getting the place into even more debt ,give this money to the old and infirm and abused neglected children who actually need it,not these who have the stupidity to try and make you think they care about the islands ,all they care about is lining their own pockets….corruption is alive and well in Cayman

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  2. I have no idea whether or not these expenses, and those being referred to in news reports elsewhere, were justified but surely there is an easy answer to this.

    Rather than let this degenerate into a political slanging match the Governor, or OT Minister Mark Simmonds, should order a full audit into these trips to establish if they were justified.

    Not only would that produce a publicly documented examination into where the money went but any expenses that cannot be satisfactorily explained could then, as they have been on occasions in the UK, recovered from those involved.

    It would also establish a precedent that might reduce public spending in the future.

    Personally, I doubt the real problem is with the politicians concerned and more likely it is simply a result of the blank cheque policy that lets them plan these trips with no external oversight. As every small child knows – if no one tells you not to, you try it to see what happens.

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  3. WHAT A WASTE OF MONEY. The conference sounds like a waste and then normal people stay over at the NYC AIRPORT hotel for cheap on lay overs, not the Hyatt in Mid Town.

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  4. ANd it took 3 people to get the message from the conference. You gotta be joking me. WHo approved this waste of money and what the heck did we gain. I trust that somebody, somewhere will demand a report so that we can see the benefits of this cruise.

    The government should all be issued individual bags to pull over their sorry heads so that they will not be recognized in public.Oops, that wont even work because they will be easily identified as the people tripping over themselves.

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  5. HELLO!!!this is halfway around the world and it’s a business trip to bring investors here in cayman!! what do you expect to spend !!! Bush is a representative of CAYMAN ISLANDS.

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  6. The only real eyebrow raising should be about the business class tickets.

    Why could they not have flown economy?

    You get to the same place, at 1/3rd of the cost.

    No one knows who you are, on that side of the world, so flying economy is not a representation of Cayman. But it is a representation of responsible spending.

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  7. As a twice a year visitor to Cayman we must check out of the hotel by 10 AM and our flight does not leave until 5 PM or later. We keep ourselves busy for the day whether it is around the island, at the beach or at the airport. If it is what we have to do as visitors maybe the Deputy Premier should be doing something similar rather than spending for the extra night’s charges with Cayman Government funds.

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  8. Hey Rice field
    Don’t know where you are from but Bush did not go to
    Quatar it was his cronies and they spend 42K while he was in In dia or some where spending even more.
    This is outragious.

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  9. To me this is irresponsible and open abuse of the system and political power. There is absolutely nothing to justify these high expenditures, especially when everyone is required to tighten their belts because of the state of the economy. Are government personnel exempt? In no way.

    If the trip is absolutely necessary, every effort must be made to reduce costs. For example, why not travel economy? Why not shop around for cheaper rates at comparable hotels? Granted flight layovers are unavoidable at times. But there are cheaper room rates in just as good hotels in Manhattan that is less than the 364.47 per room per night times 5 nights.

    The bottom line is no one is concerned or cares about costs since it is not coming out of their pocket. If it was, you bet, it would be a different story.

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  10. I have to agree with John Evans on this. An audit will be the only thing that reveals the facts. Everyone knows that Politicians are not going to fly coach or stay in cheap motels I am sure that the previous administration did no difference, so stop the political blame game. The question here is where these trip really necessary and justifiable. If so then squash it, if they were not then make them pay out of their own pocket and everyone else will think twice about taking unnecessary trips.

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  11. Two weeks of living high on the Hog on our check book. I do not know which of the Parties that will spend us into desaster. We need a new direction and it is not with UDP or PPM. They are both very flawed.

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  12. Has there been some official report stating what the attendance of these people achieved? To the Assembly, I presume? and then for public information.
    I know many former senior people – politicians and civil servants as well as businessmen – who travelled economy. It is, after all, how most people travel.

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  13. If this 42K and the other money wasted on luxury travel by this government had been spent on fighting corruption and cronyism Cayman would be a much better place.

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  14. I looked up on Wikipedia about the Universal Postal Union (and donated 5, since they are not for profit org. as it turned out). So, I assume that CI are now meet Universal Postal standard and mail delivery is improved. Because before, even though a detailed physical address and business name were provided on a letter, but POB was missing, a letters were returned to a sender. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look up POB number of a business and deliver a letter.

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  15. Why fly via New York in the first place surely its easily to fly to London and on to Qatar.

    Secondly the state should only cover economy class and the upgrade should be a private expense as these clowns earn over 100,000 pa.

    The CEO of Walmart flies economy as it company policy so is sharing cars and hotels rooms for same sex staff.

    If the Government had central purchasing then they could have upgraded on air miles. I wonder who pocketed the air miles on this trip?

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  16. This is an abuse of Government funds, no wonder we are in the financial state we are in right now!

    We have people (families in our community that can’t feed their families) and the politicians are travelling the world!

    We have young Caymanians attending universities abroad, having to work to put food on their table, while attending classes on a daily basis …it’s time for an audit to account for every cent?

    I’m not sure if I will be going to the polls on 22 May 2013 for the next election!! Cayman, and we need change and we need it now!!

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  17. AlmostCaymanian, the scheduling issues are one of the reasons these trips need to be audited.

    Qatar Airways has a daily direct flight leaving JFK at 22.20 and arriving Doha 18.35.

    The return would be 08.05 out of Doha and 14.15 at JFK.

    I do not know how that would have fitted in with Cayman Airways JFK schedule but this stopover might actually have made some sense because the BA fares to and from Heathrow are just ridiculous. Premium Economy (which is really just economy with a few perks) has been running around GBP2700 return with Business Class at about GBP4500, to which you have to add the flights to and from Qatar plus any overnight stops required at Heathrow en route.

    It may have been that using the direct Qatar flight from JFK were fairly competitive at those rates.

    As for whether the trip was necessary? That’s what you what you employ auditors for.

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  18. Give her a break. She needed some down-time in mid-town after working so hard in the blazing sun paving all those driveways and parking lots. Besides that, Queen Bee is just spooling up for the top spot that is about to be vacated.

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  19. wouldn’t this money have been better spent giving ex-pat workers their flights home every 2 years, as stipulated in a legal contract that they and the government agreed upon?

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  20. This is simply a case of a need for clear define standards surrounding how official travel should be conducted. Where there is no policy,there will be abuses. If a clear defined centralized policy were in place with a system of controls and sign offs this could be less of a problem. Of course, each year the policy and practice outcomes must be thoroughly audited with severe penalties for noncompliance. First Cayman needs to find and read the definition of accountability before it proceeds.

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