The most important number in the budget

Among the reams of financial statements, projections, revenues and expenditures, the most important number in the Cayman Islands government budget is this: $10.29 million.

That’s the amount of this year’s taxpayer subsidy to the Cayman Turtle Farm. Until that number is effaced from the government’s books, our political leaders cannot lay serious claim to the mantle of fiscal responsibility.

Let’s put the $10.29 million in context.

It’s more than Cabinet expects to spend this year on the University College of the Cayman Islands, the International College of the Cayman Islands, the CAYS Foundation, the Drug Council, the Elite Athletes Programme, the National Cultural Foundation, the National Gallery and the National Museum – COMBINED!

• The $10.29 million subsidy to the Turtle Farm translates roughly to $11,000 for each of 931 turtles harvested for meat in 2012.

• With the $10.29 million subsidy, the actual cost of harvested turtle is in the region of $140 per pound. (The Turtle Farm recently reduced its selling prices to $19 per pound for turtle steak and $9 per pound for turtle stew meat.)

• Including the $10.29 million subsidy for the 2013/14 budget year, the government will have spent nearly $57 million on Turtle Farm life support over the last six years. That number is in addition to the approximately $60 million it cost to build and expand the facility from 2001 to 2005.

• If part of the rationale to keep the Turtle Farm operating is to provide jobs for 80 to 100 employees (most of them Caymanians), it is worth pointing out that it would have been far less expensive simply to give each of them $1 million – and skip this whole exorbitant exercise.

Here’s what former Auditor General Dan Duguay had to say in a scathing 2007 report on the government’s securing a US$44.6 million loan to build the facility. It was, he said in a word, “appalling.”

That “wanton disregard to the use of their funds” has set the bar for Turtle Farm spending ever since.

And the problems extend far beyond the ledger sheets. The international outcry over the Turtle Farm’s very existence from animal rights activists is getting louder and more widespread (even drawing the condemnation of former Beatle Paul McCartney).

The Turtle Farm clearly doesn’t make sense economically, and it most likely doesn’t make sense ecologically. No rational private sector investor is ever likely to acquire such a debt-ridden, money-losing entity — at least not on any terms government appears willing to entertain.

In business, the Turtle Farm’s losses are called “sunk costs.” They’re never coming back, and if the government does nothing, they will continue to contribute to Cayman’s inability to fund properly our universities and pave our roads.

The remedy is to shut down the Turtle Farm and sell off the property to repay a portion of the $31 million that remains on the original construction loan.

If the government is not prepared to deal with the Turtle Farm, its rhetoric regarding privatization, austerity and commitment to cost cutting have no credibility whatsoever.

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  1. It was a mistake to put so much money into it in the first place and it’s an even bigger mistake to keep sinking money into it. It would cost far less to have a smaller site that’s truly devoted to turtle conservation which would still create jobs while getting support from the international animal rights groups. If These animals are a part of Caymans culture why not protect them instead of gobbling them all up.

    Cut your losses close down the farming part already, let someone buy it and turn it into a true water park and aquarium. A turtle rescue and release program would be much more welcome and have a much better impact ecologically.

  2. Forget the international condemnation, is that the only reason Cayman should do anything? To please the world…look where it has brought us.

    The turtle farm is NOT only about selling meat and to say that is utter and complete rubbish.

    I do however agree that the money spent on it to date is also RUBBISH, and any govt that continues to subsidize it is full of hogwash.

    The turtle farm does need to be privatized and taken off the GOVT books immediately or the do want so many other companies do and take on shareholders who want to help in the conservation and protection of the world turtle population.

    Business as usual at the turtle farm MUST NOT CONTINUE AS IS, that is a fact.

    However, do it for this country, not because some geriatric singer and a bunch of environmental zealots who likes to bully small countries say so!

  3. I feel we are doing an injustice to the Turtle Farm. Why can’t we close the pools and grow some conchs or shrimp or lobsters?
    If the US dollar crashes and the chinese yuan becomes the new global currency we could make back every cent we ever lost. The orient love turtle. Lets not be hasty We need an export leaving this country. I say keep the turtle.

  4. You’re not going to find anyone or any company that wants to help in the conservation and protection of the world turtle population that’s willing to become a shareholder or invest into the Turtle Farm simply because its focus is not primarily the conservation and protection of turtles. People need to realize that this place is one of the biggest drains on the budget and Cayman cannot continue to carry it. There might be a market for exporting turtle meat but this doesn’t produce nearly enough to make that financially feasible.

  5. you cant export turtle meat, it is on the CITIES endangered species list. You cant even export their shells.

    If people want to eat farmed turtle then they should be paying 140/lb…

    I never tell guests to go to the turtle farm… you want to see turtles go snorkelling.

  6. The farm can NEVER be competitive – there is a much bigger turtle farming industry in the USA, albeit a different (and non endangered) species. Snapping turtles are being successfully farmed because the real estate is nigh on free – a square mile of relatively worthless swamp can provide habitat for around 13,000 ‘free range’ turtles – about 100,000 pounds live weight. They reach maturity much faster (as little as 4 years) and can bounce back from catastophic over hunting in a couple of decades.
    No expensive filtration required at those stocking levels and if aditional food is being given, stocking levels can be higher.

    The US exported over half a million turtles to the orient in 2008 – as a non cites species thats all legal.

    Cayman of course cannot export turtles as the species is endangered…

    That said even with all the benefits, their turtle meat is still over 30 dollars a pound for steaks.

    BUT WAIT – If the government were to shut the turtle farm and buy 30 dollar steaks to sell for 19 – THAT would only cost 800,000 a year! Wow 9.5 Million saving…

    The turtle farm will never truly be a farm at its current size, at best it’s a petting zoo (but Shhh, they’re eating the exibits!)

  7. Collin is absolutely right, if people want to eat turtle meat, they should pay for what it cost to produce it. Why should the tax dollars subsidize the cost of turtle meat. Another reason this place is failing is the huge entry cost not many people are willing to pay nearly US50 to pet turtles or visit a mediocre amusement park. The fact that they are endangered should be enough to stop eating them anyway..