Bar bill audit called ‘erroneous’

According to records obtained by the Cayman Islands Auditor General’s office, former Turtle Farm Managing Director Joey Ebanks ran up a $6,513.92 tab at the restaurant located on the tourist attraction’s property between July 2008 and March 2009.

Auditor General Dan Duguay said Friday that the amount owed by Mr. Ebanks, if he had been asked to repay it, would have been $4,884.86, including a 25 per cent employee discount.

But Mr. Duguay said no one had ever requested that money be repaid to the Cayman Turtle Farm/Boatswain’s Beach facility, which receives millions of dollars each year from the Cayman Islands government to keep operating.

Mr. Duguay’s findings came as part of an audit that revealed the Turtle Farm board never authorised some $51,000 in loans/salary advances made to the former managing director over a period of two years. Those loans were repaid in full by Mr. Ebanks in April 2008.

In his investigation into the matter, Mr. Duguay said he was informed that Mr. Ebanks had a budget for hospitality purposes as managing director, and that the Turtle Farm’s Board of Directors had decided not to attempt to gain reimbursement for the restaurant tab.

About 70 per cent of the tab was for alcoholic drinks and tobacco products, Mr. Duguay said.

‘I have reviewed the various bar tabs,’ Mr. Duguay wrote in his report. ‘In four cases, a name was mentioned as a guest of Mr. Ebanks. However, in none of the cases was the purpose of the meeting described.’

Mr. Ebanks, a former candidate for election in North Side district, was contacted to provide a response to the audit’s findings, but did not do so within the time frame provided, Mr. Duguay said.

The ex-turtle farm chief did speak at length with the Caymanian Compass about the information contained in Mr. Duguay’s report – some of which he said was erroneous.

Mr. Ebanks told the Compass that the restaurant bar received a certain amount of free alcohol due to its overall purchasing volumes being so large. He said those stocks were used in certain ‘promotional efforts’ held at the bar on the weekend nights.

‘When we first opened (the restaurant bar), there were two people there for the first three months; myself and a staff member,’ Mr. Ebanks said. ‘We had to do something to get the numbers up.’

So, Mr. Ebanks said he asked staffers and other West Bay residents to start bringing their friends to the bar. Sometimes, those visitors were given drinks on the house.

‘It was a promotion,’ he said. ‘And it worked. By the end of it we had 180 people coming on Friday nights.’

Mr. Duguay said some of the records he examined would tend to indicate only four or five people were being bought drinks over the course of an evening.

‘A couple of drinks on a Friday night for happy hour is one thing,’ Mr. Duguay said. ‘To have 60 drinks on a tab and expect government to pick it up is something else.’

For instance, on one tab that was closed at 11.59pm on Friday, 9 January there were 60 alcoholic drinks, two packs of cigarettes and a bottle of water.

A second tab, from a week later, included 63 alcoholic drinks, five non-alcoholic drinks, four appetisers and a dessert. The total for that tab was nearly $350.

Mr. Ebanks said not all of his hospitality account, about $20,000, went to drinks at a bar. He said some went to pay for visits to the Turtle Farm and Boatswain’s Beach for school kids.

‘The auditor knows about this,’ Mr. Ebanks stated.

As far as the salary advances/loans, Mr. Ebanks said the auditor’s report was accurate and that he ‘deeply regretted’ the situation.

‘If I’m wrong, I admit it, and then shut the hell up,’ he said.

The current Turtle Farm board has indicated new policies regarding loans and salary advances to employees have already been put in place in light of the report. One of the policy changes requires the board of directors to approve all disbursement of funds to employees that are not specifically covered under their contracts.

Mr. Duguay said he had particular concerns about the fact that the Turtle Farm Board had not been approached to approve these advances – which he said amounted to loans – for Mr. Ebanks.

‘There was really not much of an approval process for it, other than the approval of the cheque (by financial managers),’ Mr. Duguay said. ‘The head of the organisation was writing himself loans.’

Mr. Duguay said the lack of reporting bore a striking resemblance to what had occurred at the University College of the Cayman Islands with former President Hassan Syed. Mr. Syed absconded after receiving some $300,000 in salary advances, according to records obtained by the Caymanian Compass.

Board members at UCCI said they were aware those had been made. Some of the money was paid back through Mr. Syed’s salary.

Senior financial managers at Boatswain’s Beach indicated to auditors that they were uncomfortable bringing up salary advances for Mr. Ebanks because he usually attended board meetings.