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Cayman Islands Government

LoGB’s Statements from Press Briefing

LoGB Hon Kurt Tibbetts, JP

STATEMENT ON BEHALF OF GOVERNMENT RE MRS. ESTELLA SCOTT-ROBERTS

Before we speak on other topics this morning, we are compelled to acknowledge the sadness that has overshadowed the Cayman Islands, following the death of Mrs Estella Scott-Roberts.

It does not matter if you knew Estella, or not; the unspeakable horror of this crime has exposed the truth that a deeply sinister person, or persons, lives among us. As bold as the perpetrators were in committing this crime, government is going on record as saying that we will be just as bold in our commitment to find them, and to bring them to deserved justice.

We have previously acknowledged our support for the Royal Cayman Islands Police Services, and today we underscore, reemphasise, and recommit ourselves to that support. We have told His Excellency the Governor to alert us if more resources are needed in solving this case, and that we would do our best to acquire them, post haste.

For you see, we will not stand by and allow our people to feel that they are unsafe in their own country. We will not stand idly by and let our relative tranquility slip from between our fingers. The authorities will dig for the perpetrators, and once they are found, they will be uprooted and removed from among us.

In all likelihood, those who committed this murder thought that Estella would be forever gone. They are sorely mistaken. Instead, by attempting to silence Estella's voice, they have amplified it. It's now more alive and vibrant than ever. They have not succeeded because she, and the people of the Cayman Islands, are collectively stronger than they thought. We stand together, in unity; they stand alone, in condemnation.

And yet, in our outrage and pain, we find the softness of humanity in our hearts for Estella's husband, parents, extended family and friends. Our prayers are with you.

Cayman lost some of its innocence last weekend; the fabric of our security, which has been stressed by other acts of violence in our community, has now developed a tear. Be assured that as much as is humanely possible, we will work to repair that tear and in so doing, restore the strength and security of our community.

AN UPDATE ON CAYMAN BRAC AND LITTLE CAYMAN RECOVERY FROM HURRICANE GUSTAV

I'd like to spend some time now updating you regarding the progress of post-Gustav recovery in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.

As we are all aware, Hurricane Gustav passed over the Cayman Islands between August 29 - 30th of this year. We here in Grand Cayman were spared the brunt of it, as it passed well to the north of us. However Cayman Brac and Little Cayman were not as fortunate and they sustained a direct impact, feeling the full effects of the storm's fury.

A little over a month ago, immediately following Gustav, I advised you that the damage caused by Gustav in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman was far more severe than the damage here in Grand Cayman. I also told you that I anticipated that the recovery would be a rapid, and complete, one.

I am pleased to report that this has been the case - the people of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac have worked tirelessly since Hurricane Gustav to restore their beloved islands to their pre-Gustav state. Their dedication and hard work has paid off, and both of our Sister Islands are very nearly recovered.

I received a report from the District Commissioner this week, and I would like to share with you some of the highlights of the status report he has forwarded to me:

With regards to the infrastructure services, electricity has been fully restored on both islands, and the power company is continuing to do some upgrades and minor remedial work on poles and transmission lines. However, all customers have been reconnected.

Similarly with the telephone service infrastructure - I have been advised that while some minor work is still in progress on the transmission cables, all customers have been reconnected.

The public roads on both Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are largely in pre-Gustav condition. Some sections of the public road in Little Cayman are still in need of asphalt, but they are still traversable.

The airports on both islands and the Creek and Salt Rock docks are fully functional, so that the flow of goods into the Brac and Little Cayman has not been interrupted.

The public beaches and parks are fully functional on both islands, however some of the jetties sustained significant damage. In Little Cayman, five jetties were severely damaged and four were completely destroyed. To date, three of these have been replaced. Two jetties in Cayman Brac were also damaged, and two were destroyed. These have not yet been repaired or replaced.

With regards to the tourist accommodation, it is much as would be expected at this time of year - Little Cayman Beach Resort, The Club, Conch Club, and McCoy's Lodge are all open, and in Cayman Brac all tourist accommodation providers are open and fully functional. While some minor remedial work is still being done on some facilities, it is not impacting their ability to operate.

Many of the private residences that were impacted by Gustav have already been repaired. Cabinet recently extended the existing import duty waiver on building material that exists for Cayman Brac to include Little Cayman. This duty waiver is being offered for a finite period to assist the property owners in Little Cayman with their recovery and reconstruction efforts.

In addition, Government has provided some financial assistance to help those most in need complete their repair of hurricane damaged properties. A bipartisan committee comprised of the two elected representatives for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, the District Commissioner, and the Deputy District Commissioner, has been reviewing the applications for assistance, and to date they have approved some 44 applications valued at approximately $200,000. There are still 10 other applications pending, which I believe the committee will be reviewing and assessing soon.

The committee assesses each application on the basis of an agreed set of criteria, the primary ones being that the applicants were not insured against loss due to hurricane damage, and that the work being undertaken is to address damage caused by either Hurricane Gustav or Hurricane Ike. The other assessment criteria and conditions of disbursement are in place to make sure that these funds are directed where they are most needed and awarded in a fair and accountable manner.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the people of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman for their rapid recovery post-Gustav. I believe that this recovery is evidence of how quickly things can be achieved when a community works together, and I commend the residents of all three islands for their roles in making this happen.

Finally, I believe that the excellent preparations prior to Gustav, and the level of readiness that was achieved before it arrived on our shores, were instrumental in minimizing the damage from the storm. I also believe that this level of preparedness is one of the reasons why we have been able to recover and return to pre-storm conditions so quickly. I would like to remind everyone that we are still in hurricane season, and while I am hopeful that the rest of the season is relatively quiet for us, we must remain watchful and maintain our state of preparedness.

Thank you.

PRESS BRIEFINGS NOT A FARCE

I wish to address the editorial which appeared in the Caymanian Compass on Tuesday this week under the heading "Press Briefings a Farce". I should say at the outset that the government takes exception to that heading on the ground that it conveys the impression that the very exercise that we are engaged in at this moment is a waste of time and taxpayers money and serves no useful purpose. We do not believe that to be the case and indeed do not believe even the Compass really believes that, as I see not one but two of their reporters here again this morning. Certainly, the feedback which we regularly get from the community tells us that these press briefings are reaching many people and are serving the purpose for which they were intended, i.e., keeping the people of this country informed of the work of their government.

The editorial called for an end of "live" television broadcasts of weekly Cabinet press briefings on the grounds that they have become "a farce". It also mentioned that the Opposition did not have similar access. Government disagrees with this view and sees no justifiable reason for stopping the broadcasts. Considering the limited and selective coverage of events normally given by the news media, the "live" TV broadcasts play an invaluable role by providing an opportunity for Caymanians and residents to get the full picture of what is discussed at each press briefing. Such access not only allows our citizens to be better informed of the business of Government, but also equips them to play a more active role in our democracy and national governance.

We understand that broadcasting these briefings 'live" places the print media at a distinct disadvantage, but we do not believe that justifies abandoning what has become a popular and reliable way of Government communicating with the people it represents. Our surveys suggest that more people receive their news and information through radio and television than all the printed media combined.

There is another important factor as well. One of the principal reasons the government took the decision last year to broadcast these briefings live was because bitter experience taught us that the print media could not always be relied upon to report what we said fairly, accurately and objectively. By broadcasting the briefings live, the public is now able to make a more accurate assessment of what the government is saying and doing and to compare that with published reports.

The editorial cites two points to support its claim that the weekly press briefings have become a farce. Namely, that they serve as a platform (1) "for ruling government members to bash the opposition party" and (2) "for aspiring political candidates in the media to hammer elected ministers with questions designed to make those ministers look bad." The claim falls flat because the editorial contradicted itself by saying the following: "We .....cannot argue with aspiring politicians attempting to do what all aspiring politicians always attempt to do - get their face on TV. It's just how the game of politics works these days. Nor do we take offence to the ministers taking shots at the opposition party. That's part of politics since time immemorial."

Notwithstanding this fundamental deficiency in its core argument, the editorial still served a useful purpose. It raised an important issue which, until now, has escaped public attention here but would have triggered robust debate in other democracies. The issue relates to whether candidates seeking election to public office should be allowed to function simultaneously as journalists, talk show hosts, or in any media position which can sway public opinion. That this is happening in the Cayman Islands highlights a crying need for standards to be set and adopted by the media. (And, I should say, this is a matter entirely for the media. If government were to intervene, it would immediately be accused by the media of censorship or worse.) The majority of citizens all over the world today rely on the media for most of the information they use. This places a particularly heavy responsibility on the media to strive to be balanced and fair in the public interest. It is a responsibility which should not be taken lightly.

Whenever a journalist, columnist or talk show host declares that he or she is running for public office, that person should be required immediately to take leave from media duties because their capacity for fairness, balance and objectivity is likely to be compromised. This is what usually happens in most democracies but a particular instance shows the Cayman Islands are an exception. Perhaps the Compass may wish to take up this issue in an editorial in the public interest.

As it stands, Government is satisfied that the Opposition enjoys full access to the media, including television, to get across its views to the public. Opposition spokespersons are heard regularly on the talk shows and other radio news programmes, or seen on television and in the newspapers commenting on various issues. Overall, the evidence suggests that the Opposition is doing quite well on its own getting across its views to the public via the media.

I want to also take this opportunity to correct an error made in evidence given to Finance Committee on Friday last week about the cost of these weekly live televised press conferences briefings. The cost was given as CI$6000 per programme. In fact, each live televised briefing costs between five and six hundred dollars to produce, according to financial records.

The cost of $6,000 per programme is in relation to GIS Spotlight, the 15-minute television show that, like the weekly briefings, is also produced by GIS.

The mistake was based on a simple misuse of terms; similar descriptions are used in budget documents to refer to the briefings, as well as to Spotlight. Further compounding the confusion is the fact that both the live press briefings, and Spotlight, are aired twice weekly.

The associated costs for both programmes cover only the salaries of staff that produce the shows, and the overhead for facilities and equipment. No profit is made by GIS, and both Radio Cayman and CITN air the programmes for free, for which we thank them.

I wish to close on a positive note. Despite taking serious issue with the heading of the editorial in question, as an elected government which is genuinely committed to accountability and believes its actions are open to scrutiny by the general public, the People's Progressive Movement (PPM) administration welcomes both the compliments and criticisms contained in the editorial. We are pleased that the country's oldest newspaper "truly believe(s)" that Government genuinely wishes "to inform the public about (its) plans and to respond to questions from the press." Finally, the Government is pleased to be congratulated in the editorial "for being the first administration in these islands to ever hold routine press briefings."

For further information contact: Bina Mani