As 2013 draws to a close, the Caymanian Compass reviews major events and issues of the past 12 months. Reporters Brent Fuller, James Whittaker, Tad Stoner, Michael Klein and Ron Shillingford contributed to this report.
McKeeva Bush charged
Although his United Democratic Party government was officially removed from power via a no-confidence vote of the Legislative Assembly on Dec. 18, 2012, it took another few months into 2013 until former premier McKeeva Bush was charged in connection with a criminal probe involving him.
Criminal charges kept changing as 2013 went on.
Initially, Mr. Bush was charged with theft and some offenses under the Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Law. By June 2013, the theft charges had fallen away with no explanation offered by authorities.
Generally, it was alleged that the former leader of the country had improperly used credit cards at casino establishments in the U.S. and the Bahamas during 2009 and 2010. Mr. Bush has denied any wrongdoing and said he has since paid back all the money.
The Bush case is expected to continue long into 2014, when his criminal trial is set for September.
UDP ousted/interim government
By the time 2013 dawned, a five-person “minority government” led by Cayman Brac-Little Cayman MLA Juliana O’Connor-Connolly was at the Cayman Islands helm.
The five-person government, led also by Deputy Premier Rolston Anglin and Ministers Cline Glidden, Jr., Dwayne Seymour and Mike Adam, steered Cayman through a brief period between late December and late March, when the Legislative Assembly was dissolved ahead of the May 2013 elections.
Four of the five candidates of what was eventually called the People’s National Alliance were not reelected. Ms O’Connor-Connolly joined the People’s Progressive Movement and became the Speaker of the House following her reelection in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
Significant changes were made in October to the Immigration Law, including the elimination of the seven-year term limit on non-Caymanian workers’ residence.
The new law set that term limit at nine years and allowed all non-Caymanians who remained in the country for at least eight years to apply for permanent residence, which means the right to stay in Cayman for the rest of their lives.
However, the bar to qualify for permanent residence was set exponentially higher and many of the changes made to the Immigration Law also made it more difficult for local companies to recruit labor from outside jurisdictions.
In addition to all the legal changes, a group of about 1,500 non-Caymanian workers who were allowed to remain in Cayman beyond their seven-year term limits in 2011 and 2012 were required to either apply for permanent residence, new worker permits or to leave the country for at least a year.
June 2013 brought the news that Cayman would welcome its first female governor from the U.K., and that the governor is an accountant.
Helen Kilpatrick, a former director and acting permanent secretary in the United Kingdom’s Home Office for the past eight years, switched over to the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office to take up the post here in September 2013.
“I look forward to working in a constructive partnership with the newly elected government to ensure a safe, successful and sustainable future for the Cayman Islands,” Ms Kilpatrick said.
Since arriving, Ms Kilpatrick has been a strong supporter of good governance measures, particularly in small territories like Cayman.
“The proposition that good governance is only for large entities is, of course, complete rubbish,” Ms Kilpatrick recently said.
The United Kingdom in 2012 pushed to move forward with an expanded eavesdropping program in the Cayman Islands. Late in the year, the Compass revealed that the Cayman Islands government would require, through regulations to the Information and Communications Technology Authority Law, that local telecommunications companies provide “legal interception facilities” to the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
The police service had purchased surveillance equipment for the purpose of intercepting communications earlier in the year, but needed to directly access the service providers’ telephony networks and ensure its equipment would function properly with the telecommunications service providers’ upgraded technology, government sources familiar with the issue said.
According to the Oct. 15 memo from former Information and Communications Technology Authority Managing Director David Archbold to various telecommunication companies on island: “Government has instructed the authority to provide drafting instructions for a new set of regulations under the ICTA Law which will mandate the provision by licensees [referring to the telecommunications companies] of legal interception facilities to the RCIPS.
“Although initially these regulations will apply only to mobile telephony service providers, it is anticipated that in the near to medium term, these obligations will be extended to all telephony service providers. The authority has already commenced consultations with LIME and Digicel, but would now like to extend these discussions to include all other telephony licenses.”
After a public furor over the issue, the local government conceded to the U.K.’s wishes on the wiretapping plans.
The People’s Progressive Movement returned to power after clinching a de-facto majority by the slimmest margin possible following the May election.
With nine of 18 legislators returned to office in PPM red, it took a switch of allegiance from Juliana O’Connor Connolly to give the Progressives the vital 10th member that gives them control of the assembly.
With independents Tara Rivers, Roy McTaggart and Winston Connolly later joining the government benches – though not the Progressives party – the government’s majority became more convincing than the initial vote suggested.
McKeeva Bush became opposition leader after being reelected in West Bay. For the first time in recent memory, the United Democratic Party did not sweep West Bay, taking three of the four seats.
The Progressives’s dominance in Bodden Town, where they took all four seats, was key to the victory, which led to Alden McLaughlin becoming premier.
Prison inmates escape
A prison-break, involving a killer, and the ensuing manhunt for the fugitives gripped Caymanin midyear.
The drama started on a stormy night in August when three prisoners, including Steve Manderson, who had escaped on five previous occasions, broke out of a recreational area on B wing, cut through the perimeter fence and disappeared into the night.
Manderson, who had been jailed for life for killing a prison guard in 1993, was joined in the escape by his son Marcus Manderson, who was serving a 10-year sentence for possession of an unlicensed firearm, and Chadwick Dale, who was beginning a six-year term for stabbing a woman in a beach robbery.
A search effort on land, air and sea, involving more than 30 officers as well as K9 teams, began in the immediate aftermath of the escape. Dale was caught within a week and the elder Manderson was back in custody soon after.
But it took nearly three months before Marcus Manderson was found on Eastern Avenue in George Town.
Few public figures have been in the news more in 2013 than political candidate and former electricity regulator Joey Ebanks.
Mr. Ebanks was suspended from his role at the Electricity Regulatory Authority in March and promptly
arrested following allegations of financial misconduct. He denies the allegations and is still awaiting trial on multiple dishonesty charges.
Since his suspension, Mr. Ebanks has fired back, alleging irregularities in the bid process that awarded Dart Enterprise Construction Company a contract to produce 36 megawatts of electricity. Mr. Ebanks claimed his suspension was connected to his refusal to overlook alleged anomalies in the bid.
His allegations led to the cancellation of the contract, an internal investigation and the re-tendering of that bid.
In between, Mr. Ebanks ran a high-profile, though ultimately unsuccessful election campaign in North Side, and caused a stir with a series of allegations on his Facebook page about public figures, including the governor and Dan Scott, head of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission in the Cayman Islands.
His comments about Mr. Scott prompted a lawsuit claiming damages for libel and slander.
Despite a lively, sometimes rancorous debate, the National Conservation Bill passed into law in December with the unanimous support of legislators on all sides.
It took more than a decade of discussion, culminating in a three-day debate and some 35 amendments to the final draft, but finally Cayman Islands lawmakers came up with a bill they all could agree on.
The fine balance between the needs of developers and the wishes of environmentalists proved difficult to strike.
And though Environment Minister Wayne Panton was pleased to see history made with the passage of the bill, he and other advocates of the legislation acknowledged it was significantly watered down from what had been originally envisaged.
The bill provides protection, for the first time, to Cayman’s endangered and endemic species and their habitats; establishes a National Conservation Council, which must be consulted on planning matters; and gives new powers of arrest to conservation officers.
Land owners had raised concerns that the law could restrict development and lead to forced sales of private property for conservation purposes, but the final draft appeared to satisfy the bill’s critics that this was not the case.
Cruise port developments
A long-standing project that moved a few steps closer to fruition in 2013 was the plan to build new cruise berthing facilities in George Town harbor.
With previous projects shelved amid a slew of new financial regulations, government was forced to acknowledge early in the year that it was back to square one on the port project.
By the end of the year, however, a business case had been produced suggesting two new piers would provide a major economic boost to the country, and the bidding process had begun for private consultants to carry out an environmental impact assessment.
The exacting nature of the criteria required under new financial regulations means construction work on the project will not likely begin till 2015. But the government can point to clear signs of progress.
Changes to West Bay Road
Roads and roundabouts now speed traffic past Public Beach and into West Bay, parking lots accommodate visitors, a campground is under construction, while an expanded beach and vastly improved recreational facilities augment the creation of a new hotel on the site of the old Marriott Courtyard.
Dart Realty has already invested upward of $50 million; more is in the pipeline, and the new hotel promises to be a state-of-the-art facility creating hundreds of jobs.
The West Bay Road story started in 2011 when then-Premier McKeeva Bush signed the ForCayman Investment Alliance agreement with Dart Realty, creating a public-private partnership for creation of badly needed infrastructure across Grand Cayman, including roads, schools, parks, beaches and at least one hotel. In exchange for the investment, Mr. Bush promised land swaps, duty waivers and a smoothed bureaucratic path to achieve the alliance’s goals.
One of those goals was to rebuild the Courtyard Marriott Hotel, rerouting the West Bay Road around the back of the building, joining the Esterley Tibbetts Highway, then extending the road through three new roundabouts across a new bridge and into Batabano and Morgan’s Harbour.
The proposal meant closing more than 4,000 feet of the West Bay Road, from Trafalgar Place and the condos at Harbour Heights, all the way past Public Beach and up to Yacht Drive.
Protests ignited almost immediately.
Over weeks and months, Dart rebuilt roads and playgrounds, expanding Public Beach and demolishing the old hotel.
Rebuilding the hotel has not started, but the expansion and improvement of Public Beach is under way.
Tara Rivers challenge resolved after seven months
Lawyer Steve McField, on behalf of his client John Gordon Hewitt, husband to West Bay election candidate Velma Powery-Hewitt, challenged the qualifications of another West Bay candidate, Tara Rivers, to contest the May 22 polling and subsequently to serve in the Legislative Assembly.
Ms Rivers, a lawyer and West Bay native, was elected one of four MLAs in the district, pushing the UDP’s Ms Powery-Hewitt into fifth place. The lawsuit asked the court to disqualify Ms Rivers and elevate Ms Powery-Hewitt in her place.
An independent candidate endorsed by the Coalition for Cayman, Ms Rivers was the first non-UDP representative elected in the district in years. The Grand Court petition alleged Ms Rivers carried a U.S. passport, compromising her loyalty to the Cayman Islands. The suit also claimed she had lived overseas for most of the seven years prior to her March 27 election nomination.
Citing the Cayman Islands Constitution, Mr. Hewitt claimed both facts disqualified Ms Rivers from being nominated and elected and, by extension, from her May 28 appointment by Premier Alden McLaughlin as minister of education, employment and gender affairs.
For three days in mid-July, courtroom No. 2 was packed as Chief Justice Anthony Smellie heard plaintiffs, defendants and witnesses argue the merits of the case. The chief justice delivered his verdict on Aug. 9, clearing Ms Rivers on all counts, declaring her passport was acquired by accident of birth and did not affect her allegiance to the Cayman Islands. Her seven years abroad, much of it as an associate on a work permit with London law firm Allen & Overy, was not a real absence, but instead qualified for a constitutional exception regarding students and education, he ruled.
Mr. McField subsequently filed a Notice and Grounds of Appeal to the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal on Aug. 23, citing errors of constitutional law by the chief justice, claiming his “generous and purposive” interpretation had led to “grave and serious errors of law,” making his decision a “nullity.”
After a late November hearing, the judges declared that the appeal was an effort to reopen and re-argue the Grand Court case and that the chief justice had committed no errors of law.
Bodden Town dump off the agenda
A proposal to create a waste management facility in Bodden Town to replace the George Town Landfill was rejected following the May 22 election.
In the election, Bodden Town residents registered their resentment at the proposal by turning out of office the two UDP district MLAs, Mark Scotland and Dwayne Seymour.
Upon taking power, the Progressives-led government, through newly elected minister and Bodden Town MLA Osbourne Bodden, announced Bodden Town was off the table as a site for the new facility.
Former premier McKeeva Bush had entered into a wide-ranging agreement with local developer Dart Realty in 2011, creating the ForCayman Investment Alliance, a public-private partnership dedicated to development of public roads, parks, schools, beaches and hotels via lan
d swaps and duty waivers.
Among the FCIA projects was Dart’s plan to get to grips with the George Town Landfill, adjacent to Dart’s multimillion-dollar residential/commercial Camana Bay community. Dart would cap and remediate the landfill, building a state-of-the-art replacement in Bodden Town, compartmentalizing, recycling and incinerating waste.
In exchange, the company would gain full access to the landfill site, developing the area as it wished,
Among Mr. Bodden’s first acts was to reject any further efforts to create “a dump” in Bodden Town. “We are going to sit and talk to all the stakeholders,” he said, “but I can say it’s not going in Bodden Town.”
Little has changed in the subsequent seven months. Dart Realty has been silent, saying only the company “looked forward to further details on [government’s] strategic plan.” Various schemes have been probed, but no decisions have been made, although in the wake of the Dec. 20 blaze at the landfill, action may come sooner than expected.
In 2013, government signed a number of tax transparency initiatives and continued to develop bilateral tax information exchange agreements – 33 – the basis for an exchange of tax information between two countries on request.
In addition, the Cayman Islands agreed with the United States to the automatic exchange of financial information regarding U.S. taxpayers to comply with the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. After consultation with the financial services industry, government negotiated a Model 1 intergovernmental agreement with the U.S., which allows Cayman financial and non-financial institutions to report U.S. customer and investor information to the Tax Information Authority, which will then relay the data to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
Other international initiatives tried to emulate the perceived success of FATCA.
In November, Cayman signed a similar agreement regarding U.K. taxpayers, the so-called U.K. FATCA, with the United Kingdom.
Cayman also agreed to participate in an as-yet-undefined tax information exchange pilot program involving European countries – initially known as the G5 pilot – announced in April.
In the runup to the G8 summit hosted by the U.K. in June in Northern Ireland, the Cayman Islands government committed to joining the Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Council of Europe. The convention is a multilateral framework for various forms of tax assistance and information exchange, including the automatic exchange of tax information. More than 70 countries have signed the convention, and in November the U.K. extended its participation in the framework to the Cayman Islands.
As part of its action plan on the misuse of companies and other legal structures, Cayman said it would also evaluate by 2015 whether a central registry of beneficial ownership, promoted by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, is the most appropriate and effective way to improve transparency. Government launched a public consultation on the issue in November.
Football tournament hit the spot
Cayman’s growing reputation for hosting excellent sports events leaped up a notch with the staging of the inaugural Under-15 Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football tournament in August.
Apart from the hundreds who came on island for the tournament, coaches and officials also stayed en masse at the Westin and Marriott hotels. Increased revenue from sports tourism ran to millions of dollars, officials said.
The local Honduran community came out in droves at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex, as their team beat Guatemala 2-1 in a terrific showpiece final in front of 2,000.
Cayman did well in the competition, placing fifth of the 22 teams and boasting the top goal scorer, Leighton Thomas Jr., who struck 11 times.
Matches were also played at the TE McField Annex and the Ed Bush stadium in West Bay.
Cayman lost only once in five games and that was to semifinalist Bermuda.
Caymanian banker Jeffrey Webb, the CONCACAF president who created the tournament, was overjoyed. “This is incredible. I trusted in my own country and I think they delivered. They did a great job; the local federation and the organizing committee, the sponsors and fans – everyone has responded tremendously.
“It has been a huge success, but most of all it’s about respecting our football and our youth and giving them an opportunity.”
“The future for CONCACAF is very bright when it comes to quality of football on the field. Some of these kids are just 14 years old and some are turning 15, so it bodes well for the future.”