An inquiry into Grand Cayman’s Liquor Licensing Board has concluded that it approved a gas station’s application to sell alcohol on Sundays, then quietly reversed the decision and doctored official records.
All board members interviewed by government’s Internal Audit Service acknowledged that the application had been approved at the board’s March meeting and that the official minutes, published in July, were an “inaccurate representation of those proceedings.”
“Changing official board decisions while the board was in recess was inappropriate,” the report concludes. Despite this, it says the board acted in “good faith.”
The unit recommends that the board ensures an accurate version of the March minutes is produced and published and that it addresses the application from Peanuts convenience store at Red Bay gas station at its next meeting, which is Friday.
The report also indicates that the board did not have the power to create a new policy, restricting business premises to one type of liquor license only – the rationale given in the official, altered version of the minutes for refusing the application.
Cline Glidden, an attorney who represents Peanuts, said the report confirmed what he had said all along – that the license was granted in March – and he urged the board chairman to now issue his client the license.
“We look forward to an outcome which allows him to distribute alcohol on Sundays in accordance with the conditions set by his retail license as quickly as possible,” he said. Government’s Internal Audit Service was commissioned to investigate the board’s handling of the applications after a series of reports in the Cayman Compass.
The audit team reviewed paperwork and interviewed Department of Commerce and Investment staff and members of the Liquor Licensing Board. The board’s acting chairman, Woody DaCosta, who was removed from the role last month as the saga continued, declined to cooperate with the investigation, according to the audit report.
The report concludes that the board did approve the application from the store for a retail liquor license to allow it to serve alcohol on Sundays. At the same time, the board refused a separate application for a wine and beer liquor license, something that has never been disputed.
The decision was communicated to the media and the business owner, but the license was not issued.
The audit report states, “As concerns with the board’s decision started to materialize, the chair (Mr. DaCosta) requested that the department not proceed with the processing of licences associated with the March meeting.
“As further information became available, the LLB, while in recess, came to the realization that the assumptions on which they based their decision to grant a retail licence was incorrect. The Board then proceeded to change the official records and introduce a new policy which was not within their purview.”
Mr. DaCosta previously told the Compass that the original decision was communicated in error and the application was actually rejected at a separate “electronic meeting.”
The internal audit report indicates that the minutes of the March meeting were altered after an “extensive exchange of emails” between board members in June.
At this stage, according to the report, the new minutes still indicated that the retail license for Sunday trading had been granted. It is not clear from the audit exactly what alterations had been made.
When the board met for its June quarterly meeting, members were provided with the original set of minutes from the March meeting, rather than the edited version they had agreed to on June 29.
According to the report, they voted to ratify the updated version and provide it to the board at a later date.
On July 5, Mr. DaCosta provided the new minutes to the secretariat, which now indicated, apparently for the first time, that the Peanuts application had been denied.
It is not clear from the report, which contains significant redactions, who else other than Mr. DaCosta was involved in making further changes to the minutes from the June 29 version to the “official version” ultimately provided to DCI and published on its website.
The report confirms, “This version of minutes was different from the June 29 version in that the decision for the retail licence was changed to denied and the rational for both licences reference the new ‘One licence – One premise’ LLB interpretation.”
The audit also concludes that the implementation of a “one license, one premise” policy was overreach by the board.
It states, “The development of this new policy is outside the remit of the board.”