Bush claims ‘back-door’ Turtle Farm deals

Premier McKeeva Bush read out
letters from former Boatswain’s Beach turtle farm managing director Joey Ebanks
and his lawyers during Monday’s parliamentary budget debate to bolster his
claims of back-door deals by the former People’s Progressive Movement
government.

In the first hour of his response
to the opposition’s comments on his budget address, Mr. Bush insisted that
opposition members were “no angels” who had unleashed a misinformation campaign
against the premier and his United Democratic Party.

He laid on the table of the House
three letters from Mr. Ebanks and his lawyers in which the former managing
director claimed $18,500 for unpaid vacation leave.

Mr. Ebanks, in a letter to Mr. Bush,
also gave details of a local tour operator, Shane Ebanks, who he said had lost
money due to his dealings with the turtle farm and interference from the
then-government.

After reading the letters, Mr. Bush
said he had more evidence on the PPM’s “back-door deals” that he would produce
if the opposition and its supporters continued to try to spread “vicious and
vile” innuendo about him.

He said he had information about
the construction of schools, although he did not yet have a letter to back that
up, but that he intended to have it before his term in office ended.

Regarding Joey Ebanks, he was
required under his contract to give six months’ notice if he left Boatswain’s
Beach. He submitted a letter of resignation on 19 March, 2009, in which he gave
six months’ notice. At the time, he was considering running for government
office as a PPM candidate and was also under investigation for unapproved
salary advances of $55,000 he paid to himself.

Under the contract, Mr. Ebanks
would have been required to pay twice his monthly salary to the turtle farm if
he did not give six months’ notice.

According to the letter from Samson
and McGrath, former minister for tourism Charles Clifford discussed with Mr.
Ebanks about running for office and indicated “that it had been agreed that
[Mr. Ebanks] would submit his resignation with notice and this would be
accepted and the board would respond by allowing my client to resign with
immediate effect with the express understanding that the penalty clause would
not be invoked against my client and that, in fact, some money would be paid to
my client for the remainder of his contract.”

After Mr. Ebanks tendered his
resignation, effective in six months, he said he was called to a meeting at the
Government Administration Building with then Leader of Government Business Kurt
Tibbetts, Mr. Clifford, Joel Walton, who was chairman of the board of the
turtle farm at the time, and board member Gloria McField. During the meeting
his repayment of salary advances and his resignation were discussed and he was
told to submit another letter of resignation, effective immediately.

Mr. Bush described this arrangement
as “all back door” and accused the PPM of hypocrisy for its efforts to sully
the reputation of the UDP.

Turning to allegations that tour
operator Shane Ebanks had been treated unfairly in his dealings with the turtle
farm; Mr. Bush read another letter from Joey Ebanks outlining the series of
events that he said led to Shane Ebanks losing money. In the letter, Joey
Ebanks said the turtle farm had signed a deal with Shane Ebanks to begin shore
excursions for cruise ship tourists that brought visitors directly from Royal
Caribbean ships to Stingray City and then to Boatswain’s Beach before taking
them back to the ships.

He said bookings increased
significantly and Shane Ebanks had to add more boats to accommodate the growth,
but then Royal Caribbean cancelled the contract in favour of a deal with an
“on-island company with operations on other Caribbean islands [that] had
negotiated better prices”.

Mr. Ebanks said he responded by
increasing the turtle farm prices for that operator, which led to the managing
director being called to a meeting with the Ministry of Tourism and the owner
of the company and being instructed to reinstate the original prices.

Mr. Bush said Shane Ebanks had
invested additional capital to increase the size of his fleet and faced
“tremendous debt” because of the business he had lost. “The ministry wanted to
support somebody else who had a local licence and who had business overseas.
Who that is, we don’t know,” Mr. Bush said.

He held up these dealings
involving the PPM and the turtle farm as examples of back-door deals and
misleading of the public. “They are not lily white,” he said of the PPM.

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