Letters to the Editor: Turtle Farm responds

 

As you might imagine, we read with
great interest your Thursday, 24 February Turtle Farm story, “Government gives
Turtle Farm $28M”, and its associated editorial, “No more Turtle Farm
subsidies”, which essentially calls on us to “turn out the lights”.

The front-page article is mostly a
collection of extracts from various parts of the audited financial statements,
but it is incomplete and ignores a number of salient facts.

I would point out that the article
was based on an audit for years long past: 1 July 2007 through 30 June 2008.
Audits for subsequent years, 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, have been completed and
will be presented in the Legislative Assembly soon.  As part of that, I
would point out that only eight weeks ago, in mid-December, the Public Accounts
Committee and its Chairman, the Hon. Ezzard Miller, named the Turtle Farm as “a
good news story” for its substantial improvement in the state of its accounts.

While the statements regarding the
amount of our annual government subsidies are largely correct, they leave a
great deal unsaid and unexplained – and it makes an enormous difference.

For example, the article quotes an
auditor statement: “In May and June 2010…the company made 20 employees
redundant. Total redundancy payments made to these employees amounts to
CI$107,471.”

That is a lot of money. Those
one-off payments, however, not only reduced our long-term operating costs,
rendered us more efficient and better prepared to handle ongoing economic
problems, but it also needs to be explained that in the last few months on the
2009-2010 financial year, employees had accepted mandatory days-off-without-pay
equivalent to 20 per cent pay cuts, and in the new financial year 2010-2011 all
the employees remaining at the Turtle Farm accepted pay cuts between 5 per cent
and 15 per cent.  Our crew members are commendable for staying on board
and “standing their watch” on this good ship even while we travel through some
very rough waters.

The editorial appears to have
over-simplified what Cayman Turtle Farm: Island Wildlife Encounter represents:
a five-function company comprising a commercial livestock breeding and
production facility, a research-and-conservation facility, a tourist
attraction, a showcase of Caymanian culture, and a landlord to tenants engaged
in various aspects of the tourism industry.

In calling for a “return to
basics”, the writer hasn’t made clear which “basics” are in question. Which of
those functions should we eliminate?

Suggesting we “turn off the
lights”, the writer clearly does not understand that if we never again turned
ON the lights – which is to say if we never again fed the animals; paid the
crew; ran the pumps; tested the water; cleaned or maintained any of the exhibits,
grounds or buildings; or incurred any of the Turtle Farm’s myriad other
operational expenses – the government would still be liable to pay nearly CI$6
million per year for several more years in debt servicing on behalf of the Cayman
Turtle Farm.

It should not escape notice that
this $6 million sum comprises nearly two-thirds of our annual subsidy for this
financial year.

Worse yet, if government were to do
anything that significantly violated the covenants of the bond agreement, both
the company and the government – as the company’s guarantor – could be adjudged
as immediately liable for the more-than CI$27 million that is the balance of
that bond. If we were to be so reckless as to follow the suggestion that we
“turn off the lights”, we might thrust upon the government and the people of
the Cayman Islands a sudden, unplanned demand for payment of the bond balance
which still exceeds $27 million.

If the editor is suggesting that we
eliminate all but our commercial-breeding function, the public would need to
accept that given present market conditions, CITES restrictions, staff, feed,
infrastructure and regulatory compliance costs, even that “basic” operation
would likely continue to be loss-making.

We are aware of the situation of
the likely effect on the Cayman Islands budget and economy, and certainly of
the Turtle Farm’s finances.  The Board of Directors together with
management continue to diligently address the financial challenges faced and
promise further and greater developments as we move along.  It is, however,
important to note that there is no simple “quick fix” solution to the many
complex issues and challenges faced.

The government of the Cayman
Islands did not lightly approach its acquisition of the Turtle Farm in
1983.  The government and leadership of the day believed it would grow to
be both a world-class tourist attraction and conservation facility. As, indeed,
it has pursued that path through the years, it has also expanded its purposes
and proven largely successful in several of its objectives. However since the
ambitious reconstruction of the park earlier this decade, the farm has faced
problems similar to many other enterprises of this size during troubled
economic times.

The Board, Officers and Crew at the
Cayman Turtle Farm: Island Wildlife Encounter are determined to navigate this
difficult period of troubled waters, to address – and solve – the problems we
face and come out more resilient in the end. I invite you to “watch this space”
as we sail on toward better and greater outcomes!

 

Timothy P. Adam

Managing Director

Cayman Turtle Farm: Island Wildlife
Encounter

 

 

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