Government has ordered an independent inquiry into the liquor board’s handling of an application from a gas station to serve alcohol on Sundays.
The inquiry, to be carried out by the Internal Audit Unit, follows reports and an editorial in the Cayman Compass highlighting concerns over an application from Peanuts convenience store at the Red Bay gas station for a “retail license.”
Peanuts was first advised in a list of decisions, sent to the media and to the Department of Commerce and Investment, that its application had been approved at the Liquor Board’s March quarterly meeting. This appeared to be confirmed by an official Department of Commerce and Investment list of license holders published in April, May and June.
However, when the official minutes to the March meeting were published, in June, they indicated that the application had been rejected and a new policy created restricting businesses to one type of liquor license per premises.
Liquor Board chairman Woody DaCosta claimed, in a written response to questions from the Compass, that the original decision, indicating that the license had been granted, had been sent out in error.
He attributed this to an “untimely and unauthorized release” by a member of Department of Commerce and Investment staff. He claimed the decision had been postponed and later rejected following a separate meeting later in the quarter. He later clarified that this was an “electronic meeting.”
Joey Hew, Minister for Commerce, Planning and Investment, and Deputy Governor Franz Manderson announced in a joint statement Wednesday that they had asked the Internal Audit Unit to look into the matter.
Mr. Hew, who took on the minister’s role after the May 24 election, said he was unfamiliar with the history of the application and had requested an inquiry.
The statement added, “In light of the concerns expressed and the seriousness of matter, he [Mr. Hew] has decided to request an independent investigation by the Internal Audit Unit to identify exactly what transpired.”
Deputy Governor Franz Manderson supported the call for the investigation into the decision. He clarified, in the statement, that a decision to move a member of DCI staff – long-time liquor board secretary Marva Scott – to another department was unconnected to the issue.
“In fact, the officer was moved to accommodate her prior request to be reassigned,” Mr. Manderson said.
Cline Glidden, the attorney who represented Peanuts in the application, welcomed the inquiry.
He said, “We received a notification through official channels that the license was granted. We also saw it in the press and on the government website. Of course, we were surprised then to see the minutes of the meeting saying it was not granted.
“We have now seen statements to the effect that the notification and the information provided to the press and the public was in error. Apparently it was one person that made the mistake and nobody thought it prudent to correct that error. We hope that the inquiry will clarify this position and shed some light on the matter.”
There are a number of outstanding questions over the board’s handling of the Peanuts application.
Mr. DaCosta has told the Compass that the official minutes from the March meeting, published in June, accurately reflect the board’s decision to formulate a new policy and reject Peanuts’ application. He acknowledged, however, that this discussion and decision had not taken place in March, as suggested by the published minutes, which make no mention of any separate electronic meeting.
He told the Compass that no decision was taken on Peanuts’ application at the March meeting. He said it was adjourned and a later “electronic meeting” took place to discuss a number of issues, including that application.
The Compass sent a number of additional questions to Mr. DaCosta, including when this electronic meeting took place; who attended; who was notified that the meeting was taking place or of its findings; and why there was no mention of it in the official minutes.
Mr. DaCosta did not respond to the Compass inquiries nor to follow up calls and emails on the matter this week.
The Compass also sought confirmation from other board members, including Wayne Kirkconnell, Phillip Tatum, Noel Williams and Magalyn Robinson-Clark, on the electronic meeting, asking if they attended and when and how it took place.
Only Mr. Kirkconnell responded and only then to redirect questions to Mr. DaCosta and Ryan Rajkumarsingh, the director of DCI.
The Compass also sent questions to Mr. Rajkumarsingh about the preparation of the minutes and the communication of the board’s decision. He responded to say he was out of office sick and had referred questions to the ministry.