Private sector managing Cayman’s development

| 24/07/2015 | 34 Comments
Cayman News Service

Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick

(CNS): The bias of the Central Planning Authority towards development has led to private sector investors and developers shaping the Cayman Islands, with the parliament which represents the people losing control. The auditor general’s latest damning report regarding the mismanagement of public resources reveals concerns that go far wider than the usual abuse of taxpayers’ money and government incompetence.

This time, Alastair Swarbrick and his team have spelt out a serious historical mismanagement of the development process, leading to significant environmental damage and threats to the islands’ water supply. The management response in the latest audit report from the Office of the Auditor General (OAG), however, demonstrates little hope that the country’s development is likely to improve.

Besides the political interference in the development process on major projects that has overridden technical concerns, the make-up, operations and decisions of the CPA have led to development focused on the commercial advantages for applicants rather than the wider concerns of the country as a whole.

Faced with recommendations that the CPA’s membership be more balanced, that members immediately sign a register of interests and decisions become transparent and accountable, the government’s civil services bosses have said that these are matters for the CPA and not them. Speaking at a press briefing on Thursday to release his latest audit to the public, Swarbrick told the media that the political arm of government appoints the CPA and can therefore manage the process. He said that not only should its meetings be public but its decisions must be more open.

The report shows how the CPA is routinely ignoring the advice from technical experts at the Department of Environment, the Water Authority and the National Roads Authority. By way of example, Swarbrick said the CPA had approved the development of the controversial Adagio Development in South Sound knowing that a coastal works licence would be required for the proposed canals and that the DoE had already recommended denying that licence. And despite recommendations by the Water Authority to limit the quarrying on the site for lakes and canals to between 14 and 20 feet, the CPA went ahead and approved an excavation up to 30 feet with no explanations at all.

Although not unlawful, as there are no rules or regulations to stop it, Swarbrick said it illustrated the “fragmented and uncoordinated process” and ad hoc approach to development that has resulted in the degradation of the islands’ environment.

Setback concerns from the DoE regarding the Dart development on Seven Mile Beach and advice that road connections would create hazards on the Esterly Tibbetts Highway extension by the NRA were again completely ignored without justification by the CPA.

While conserving and protecting scarce fresh water supplies was a key element in the country’s 1997 development plan, Swarbrick said such objectives were not pursued. Little enforcement regarding informal housing has allowed sewage to contaminate the land and ground water and the official sanction of quarries has been even more problematic.

The auditors found that the Water Authority and the CPA do not agree on quarry depths but the CPA, which is made up almost exclusively of people working in development and construction, has consistently allowed deeper and deeper excavation, ignoring the technical advice of experts. Flooding problems have been compounded because of the significant development and destruction of wetland areas, despite the plan calling for their protection.

The coordination between the NRA, the Water Authority and planning and questions about which government agency is responsible for what has led to decisions being made that go against expert advice and stated objectives in the development plan.

Threats to the water supply, disregard for the environment and the private sector bias of the CPA are not the only problems facing Cayman’s development regime. Swarbrick highlights the loss of control by the Legislative Assembly, and by extension the people of the Cayman Islands, over the country.

Swarbrick said that it should be the members of the Legislative Assembly that approve development plans but with no up to date sustainable development plan, this has stopped happening. Two of the largest development projects were handled completely outside of parliament. The NRA-Dart deal and the Shetty hospital were never approved by the elected arm of government.

“Guidance from the Legislative Assembly is no longer steering major development decisions,” Swarbrick said, noting that the government’s responsibility for sustainable development has passed into the hands of the private sector.

Swarbrick highlights the need to address the CPA in particular after his auditors found a lack of transparency about how decisions are made, especially when they fly in the face of technical advice. While CPA decisions are published via the meeting minutes, how decisions are made are not and there is no legal requirement for the CPA to justify the approvals.

Serious questions about CPA members’ conflicts of interest were also noted in the report.

There are no sanctions for members not declaring interests when deliberating and they do not have to publicly disclose their commercial interests in general. Not only were the auditors unable to determine if members are declaring interests during relevant deliberations and recusing themselves, the problem of so many members being involved in development and construction gives the perception of conflict regardless and embodies an inherent bias towards approving development.

Although Swarbrick would not comment on individual members, including the position of the chair of the CPA being one of the islands’ main suppliers of construction materials, he said that the membership had to be far more balanced. At present, he said, it “was skewered towards the development industry”, creating the perception of “inappropriate influence”.

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Category: development, Government oversight, Local News, Politics

Comments (34)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    AG nail on head here folks nail on head….but he already knows it because the FCO UK XXXX is just starting to write the page in the history books. Expect to see some turn over in the board very shortly as the members start to exercise risk management. Those to deep in might stay to see what comes of it but I would suggest they go as this time it is a clean up time. The FCO UK has been looking for corruption and I think they are finally perfecting their search after a missed shot with operation tempura. XXXXX Sad, thing is that development and real estate is close to the hearts of a good number of politico’s/ Let’s just hope everyone is clean!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Knot S Smart – call me what you wish but I can call your response puerile. By your argument slavery in the New World, for example, should not be critisized because all the purveyors and participants are dead??!!

  3. A nonny mouse says:

    Last time I looked there was more than one Home Improvement Store on Cayman!

  4. Anonymous says:

    ” Threats to the water supply, disregard for the environment and the private sector bias of the CPA are not the only problems facing Cayman’s development regime.”

    This explains why Apartments were approved at the top of Marble Drive despite an earlier ruling by the CPA that clearly prevented such development.The CPA has no regard for previous rulings and now are approving developments to destroy other single family neighborhoods. The voting public has suffered too long by these people with the political representatives doing nothing to curb their decisions and practices.

    Mr Auditor General, thank you for exposing this XXXXX.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The CPA board has the final say over the Water Authority, DOE, NRA, and the other boards don’t like it.
    Take the Kimpton Hotel. DOE recommended the building be setback further because of “global warming concerns.” It has TRIPLE the setbacks of every other building on Seven Mile beach, the road was moved to set the hotel back further, so how much more setback can you go? Just drive by Kimpton and look at the building. It was a dubious claim so CPA ignored it.
    Take the quarry depths. There is only so much land in Cayman to quarry, and once you dig it to 20ft you can’t just go back later and get more fill. We need to get the most fill per square foot of quarry lake possible. Water Authority wants 20ft to preserve the fresh water lenses, but CPA wont approve quarries over the lenses, so what is the issue?

  6. Anonymous says:

    The CPA is the most transparent board in Cayman. The agenda is published a week in advance and the minuted published the day after. Its all on public record, just go to their website. Cant say that about any other board in Cayman.

  7. Sharkey says:

    According to this, I could not find a word in the Webster dictionary to describe the Cayman Islands Government. The only word I can think of is incompetentcorruptfraudestupid.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Last I checked, medical boards were made up of doctors, legal boards made up of lawyers, financial boards made up of accountants, environmental boards made up of environmentalists… I think you get the idea. So if the Planning board is not made up of architects, contractors and developers, (aka experts in the relevant field), who should be on it?

    • Anonymous says:

      People who are qualified in those areas but employed by Govt. not in the private sector, that’s who.

  9. nauticalone says:

    Question is; what will happen? Will anything change? Not likely very much! Except of course us regular minions paying for it all….while the powers-that-be count their millions!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Caymanians, we are living and experiencing Jim Bodden’s legacy. Greed, corruption, ineptness, nepotism, political interference in public processes, entitlement mentality, xenophobia and Lodge domination of public institutions!!! All preached and practiced by your beloved National Hero!!

    • True Dat says:

      Spot on. Preach!!

    • Knot S Smart says:

      It is easy to boldly bash the dead – isnt it?
      Did you also boldly bash the past government when our funds were being squandered?
      So do you mind if I call you a ‘grave-basher’? …

      • Anonymous says:

        Dead or alive it is true though.

      • Anonymous says:

        In that case, Adolf Hitler’s economic policy and deflation busting fiscal policy were amazing along with the rapid reversal of the unemployment situation.
        He was also the first pioneer of Schenectady type travel as only one passport was needed for Europe at the time. No grave bashing here.

        • Knot S Smart says:

          Stop comparing deceased Cayman politicians with Adolf Hitler you misguided-idiot…

        • Anonymous says:

          He also built very nice roads, but I thought that VW Beetle thing was a bit overrated. He was still the highest degree of scum.

  11. Anonymous says:

    At the end of the day at least business owners are doing what they have to make a buck
    If it weren’t for them nothing right or wrong would be accomplished
    It is actually misinformed ignorant government leaders that make the laws and break the laws
    Not the business men

  12. spearman says:

    It is one thing to critique the process, but it is quite another to conclude that the resultant agreements are unlawful. It is extraordinary that this Auditor General should reach such a sweeping conclusion about the ‘unlawfulness’ of agreements, which is actually making a conclusion in law, without specific legal advice and on the basis of a flimsy analysis of the separation of powers.

  13. WaYaSay says:

    Thank you Mr. Swarbrick for pointing out what everyone living in Cayman has known for many, many years. If you are a medium sized or big developer, you can do what you damn well please, CPA will rubber stamp whatever you have done, XXXXXXX

    The chairman of the CPA, for the past 10 plus years is the owner of A. L. Thompson Home Depo……….just check the public record! The CPA and the Planning Law now require that you add all kinds of straps, gadgets, double fire-proofing walls, ceiling joist jacks, etc. etc. ect…….all available from A.L. T. at about 3 times the cost as they are available retail in Miami.

    It is a different story if you are a hard working individual, who would like to build your own house. For nearly 100 years, Caymanian styled homes were built with their roof rafters attached to a 2X8 plate, anchored to the belting with bolts spaced every 4 feet. The rafters were attached to the belting with a “bird beak” notch and two opposing 16 penny nails driven at an angle. These roofs stood up to hurricane after hurricane. Ivan proved which style was the stronger!

    Now that is all out the window, in the name of ‘safety”. What is acceptable and required by law now is “engineered roof trusses”, using about 4 times the amount of lumber, fastened by some ridiculous thin metal joiners that are guaranteed to rust completely through in ten years. you also have to add more rust prone straps to these, to attach them to the belting and some ridiculously expensive anchoring system……………..All of this is available off the shelf at A.L.T. of course.

    The most ridiculous thing about the present Planning law is; you cannot, nor will CPA approve, a Cayman Style House, built in the Cayman traditional construction style. Why is this?….It is because you could construct your home for about 1/2 what it cost to build it now when complying with the CPA and the Planning Law.

    • Anonymous says:

      So, wha ya say @ 2:30, XXXXX All development is at the control of the person who most benefits? XXXX ALT approves and ALT benefits. Airports: Flowers/Dick Arch make a decision and Flowers and Dick Arch benefit. Been going on for 40 years and everyone knew about it but…….

    • Anonymous says:

      Wooo Cowboy I don’t like Al or his castle or how I believe he built it off the sweat of peoples backs and underpaid them
      BUT his prices nowadays are very competitive with the prices in the US
      I went thru every item he sells looking for an edge and I can say its not there
      he is a rip off on a few fittings that transition from 1 size to another size but that’s it
      and I went thru 1000 products
      Now about the building codes and the requirements that is not his fault either
      the codes come from the US would you prefer Russian codes? I think not
      But about your home I wish we could build what we want and how we want But we cant You can get away with it in the BUSH but don’t expect a bank loan
      or public services
      I do agree he should not be on the planning board anymore perhaps back in the day but not now

    • Anonymous says:

      @WaYaSay, you are clueless.
      Building Control Unit (BCU) determines best construction practices, not the CPA. Our codes are based off the International Building Code (2009) as of October, what would you have us use? By your logic, with no standards in place, this island would be like Haiti, reduced to rubble at the next Norwester.
      I shop ALT’s almost daily, and I can tell you pricing is within 10-15% of Miami prices. You can’t say that about groceries, gasoline, clothing, or anything else in Cayman.
      @8:32 check the staff at ALT’s. Most are Caymanian and been there forever, unlike Kirks or Cox which are filled with Philippinos. Word is he treats his staff very well and pays well too.

      • Anonymous says:

        Well that house in south sound was build how ? buy a wonderful retailer?
        I share all of my profits with my workers if I eat noodle they eat noodle when I get a new truck they get a new truck
        I am a socialist I admit it I don’t deserve any more or any less than my employees

      • WaYaSay says:

        Anon 3:55, Call me clueless if you want to, you are entitled to your opinion, however, no home built before 1995 were built to Florida or USA building code standards. I know because I sat on the Planning Board from 1986 to 1989. They were built to CAYMAN Building Codes. This Cayman building code accounts for more than 75% of the homes standing in Cayman today.

        By the way, there is no such thing as an “international building code”, it is an American Building Code that some pompous asses decided to call an “international building code”.
        Here is what one of those pompous asses (Bill Tangye) said, in 2012, when asked why it was referred to as an “International” Building code “Use of the term International? Calling it ‘international’ keeps it from being called the ‘U.S. Building Code.’ explains Bill Tangye, SBCCI Chief Executive Officer. “Some U.S. Model codes are already used outside the United States. Bermuda uses BOCA, and Western Somoa uses ICBO.”(end of quote).
        Someone should tell his pompous ass that he can add Cayman to “Bermuda and Western Somoa” so that he can really have something to brag about!

        Florida did not have their “hurricane proof” building code until AFTER hurricane Andrew, in 1992, and it was an over-reaction on their part then, proven by the fact that they have not had an “Andrew” since, yet everyone, for the past 22 years have had the associated expense………..sounds like Cayman.

        Cayman, in it’s wisdom, adapted the Florida building code soon after, unnecessarily, as the “Cayman Building Code,” at the time of hurricane Andrew, was way beyond anything Florida had at the time.

        If you want to thank someone, and make them a National Hero posthumasly…….it should be Mr. Clarence Flowers Sr………….He did more for the people of Cayman and the fact that we have not been like Haiti for the past 60 odd years, than any Florida or US building code. Ivan was 2 categories stronger than Andrew and the number of homes destroyed in Cayman paled in comparison. This is primarily due to the majority of homes being built with Flowers blocks.

        I suspect you are the one that is clueless. In the case of building codes, I maintain Cayman is much better off when we set our own standards, instead of trying to live up to imported standers from The USA and Great Britain………be it building codes, PMFL, FFR, Ethics Laws or Standards in public office laws.

        You never heard of the shenanigans you hear of today when we had people like Annie Hulda Bodden, Benson Ebanks, Sir Vassel Johnson, Burkley Bush, Desmond Watler, Warren Connely, Craddock Ebanks, Willie Farrington to name a few.
        Men who had their own high ethical standards, knew right from wrong and set their own mark to live up to and were not influenced by the skullduggery going on in the USA and Great Britain!

        Next time do your homework before calling me “clueless” please.

        • Anonymous says:

          There is no such thing as a Florida building code so obviously we could not adopt it.

  14. Anonymous says:

    LOL, tell us something we hadn’t been aware of for the past 20 years! These islands have been developed (spelt ‘wrecked’) on a ‘money talks’ basis for longer than I care to think about and the evidence has been plain for everyone to see. The problem now is this is shutting the proverbial stable door after all the horses have bolted. What are they going to do? Stick everyone involved in Northward? Tear all the illegally built properties down and fill in all the illegally excavated waterways?

  15. Anonymous says:

    Well done for that Alastair but of course, perceived conflicts of interest of the CPA membership is not breaking news. That said, raising matters of transparency and accountability at the CPA at this particular time, fits into the jigsaw quite nicely, when you consider the CPA’s retrospective grant of planning permission for Horace Burrell/Jeff Webb’s “Captains Bakery” in the early 2000’s. First the CPA said no to the illuminated balloon but then mysteriously said yes 2 weeks later ! Society might not be able to eliminate the criminals and/or criminality but it could make it more difficult for the enablers

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