North Side election candidate Joseph ‘Joey’ Ebanks has refused to say why he paid back $55,000 he owed the Boatswain’s Beach Turtle Farm in a single cash payment.
Turtle Farm Board Chair Joel Walton confirmed details of Mr. Ebanks’ cash payment to the Caymanian Compass Wednesday, as Mr. Ebanks continued to dodge questions on the topic.
‘I really don’t know where you got that from,’ Mr. Ebanks said when contacted by the Compass Wednesday, adding ‘I’m in the middle of a campaign; this is an old issue,’ before hanging up the phone.
Mr. Ebanks did not make good on earlier pledges to return calls to the Compass to discuss the matter.
Mr. Walton said the board did not request the payment be made in cash, but said paying back the money was ‘the correct thing to do’.
He also revealed that the board did not learn of the salary advances until after Mr. Ebanks resigned as the facility’s managing director and chief operating officer to run for political office as the People’s Progressive Movement’s candidate in North Side.
Mr. Ebanks received the advance payments in a series of less than $10,000 instalments. Payments over $10,000 require the board’s approval.
Mr. Walton said the $55,554 Mr. Ebanks paid back included over $53,000 owed for salary advances and almost $2,000 for turtle meat.
He said salary advances are offered to Turtle Farm staff in unusual circumstances and are usually approved by the facility’s management, rather than the board.
Both Mr. Ebanks and the board of the Turtle Farm promised to address the issue when news of the salary advance broke in late March, but repeated promises of a joint-press release never materialised. Mr Walton’s comments Wednesday represent the first statement Turtle Farm officials have made on the matter.
Mr. Ebanks had acknowledged receiving the salary advance but has refused to give any more details, other than to declare there was nothing illegal or improper about it.
‘I haven’t done anything to breach the law or anything of that nature,’ he told the Compass Tuesday 31 March, adding ‘the speed in which I left meant there wasn’t sufficient time to wrap everything up as it should have been.’
But Mr. Walton cautioned there are still a couple of contractual issues to be resolved relating to Mr. Ebanks’ resignation.
‘The matter has yet to be closed and the Board will not prejudice its position nor take lightly its responsibility to protect the interest of the company and its shareholders by making premature statements on the remaining matters,’ he said.
Turtle Farm officials in April asked for extra time to respond to a Compass Freedom of Information request about the salary advance, saying an extra 30 days was required because the information contained personal information about Mr. Ebanks. The decision pushed the deadline for the information’s release back from 6 May until after the 20 May general election.
Auditor General Dan Duguay, while declining to comment on the specific claims, said he is concerned that while a policy on how salary advances are handled exists within government ministries and portfolios, no uniform policy exists within statutory authorities.
Mr. Duguay told the Compass in late March he had discussed the situation with Turtle Farm officials, but was not planning to intervene.
‘I don’t think there is any advantage for the auditor general to be involved at this time,’ he said.