Turtle farm accounts delayed by fraud case

| 18/11/2020 | 34 Comments
Cayman Turtle Centre sign (Photo credit Mark Hardison)

(CNS): The delayed release of three years worth of the Cayman Turtle Centre’s accounts was due to a “very complex” audit resulting from financial irregularities uncovered in 2017, the Public Accounts Committee heard Wednesday. Four people have been charged with fraud-related offences in the case of corrupt procurement at the government-owned farm that has sucked up some $9 million of public cash annually since it opened.

Police are also still investigating a separate theft, which saw another staff member sacked in 2018. But no charges have been laid in that case, which was described as a much more straight forward case of theft and had less impact on the audit.

The alleged crimes surrounding the CTC stretch back as far as 2013 but were missed in previous audits because of various control weaknesses in governance at the facility. The more complex irregularities were picked up when the fraudulent activity appears to have increased in the 2016/17 year, Auditor General Sue Winspear told PAC.

This was the year when all public authorities were required to produce 18 months worth of accounts following a change to the alignment of the government financial year with the calendar year.

When he appeared before the committee, CEO Tim Adam said he was unable to disclose too much about the case as it is now before the courts and those charged in the fraud are expected to next appear in Grand Court in January. But he said that while the anti-corruption investigation and the subsequent police investigation into the separate theft were underway it wasn’t possible to complete the audits.

Winspear explained that the complex nature of the fraud and its impact on the farm’s financial statements meant that audits on the following years’ accounts could not be completed either.

This meant that the accounts for the centre, which receives significant equity injections from the public purse to pay off the long sanding debt from the original turtle farm’s redevelopment and to keep the place operating, have been under wraps for the last four years.

However, the accounts have revealed that the CTC is still a long way from covering its own running costs. Although the debt is now paid down, it will still need more than CI$4 million to keep the place running, even when the tourism product rebounds when the pandemic ends, which could still be many months away.

The accounts show that the attraction takes in less than half of its revenue from the gate, even in peak season. In addition, the meat is no longer profitable because of improvements that the farm had to make in husbandry and general management, and operating costs for the facility also remain high.

However, the CTC does employ over 100 Caymanians, despite a fairly high staff turnover, which Adam attributed to a number of different reasons, from discipline problems with entry level staff to the poaching by other organisations of their best Caymanian employees.

Adam said the centre also plays a critical role in the conservation and protection of the wild sea turtle population, not just with its breeding and release programmes, but by providing legal meat that reduces poaching.

However, PAC heard that while the farm is trying to tackle the huge holes in its revenue by introducing new locally focused events and trying to attract people with more entertainment, happy hours, shopping nights and expanding the restaurants, it has also been increasing its expenditure on staff.

Following a review of salaries and the centre’s staffing structure by consultants Deloitte, PAC heard that some salaries have been increased and new management positions have been created and others merged.

Despite the issues relating to the the theft and the procurement irregularities, Adam explained that the CTC and the board had accepted the consultants’ recommendations to create a chief operating officer post that absorbed the former chief financial officer.

This caused concerned for committee member Chris Saunders, who explained that the role of a CFO was critical in a senior management team as it was that person’s job to watch out for the shareholders, which in this case was the government and by extension the public. He said it was commonly described as the “snitch” job, as the CFO is meant to question and hold to account the CEO and the COO, and without it the people have lost their potential “snitch” on the current management team at the centre.

See the Turtle Centre’s accounts in the CNS Library.

See the morning’s PAC proceedings on CIGTV below:

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Category: Government Finance, Government oversight, Politics

Comments (34)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    During the recession when salaries were cut, a few got their salaries back a few years later, but not all. Will everyone be paid their lost wages retroactively?

  2. nauticalone345 says:

    This facility should have been closed down long ago! And retire the useless CEO Adam. Another brainchild by the Mac of the West. And…”over 100 Caymanians employed there”? What ever for?

    This sort of mismanagement, and/or corruption, is truly tiring!

  3. Anonymous says:

    For starters, replace/retire Tim Adam. He has presided over years of mismanagement and poor transparency at a couple heavily subsidized public entities. You’d think that the prior track record and common denominator would be the easiest causation to figure out and remedy, but this is the Cayman Islands…

  4. Anonymous says:

    Caymanian management at its best. Turtle farm, Cayman Airways, the port, the Airport, pretty much anything managed by Caymanian government is a big hole where all the money disappears. Nothing new. Everything is normal. No one to take the blame. No one knows where the money went. Only this time not much money is coming in. Anyone want to guess what happens soon come?

    • Anonymous says:

      We must elect better leaders…… HONEST leaders, not the kind that get “Honorable” tacked on their names for nothing!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Just shut it down…

    Went there with my daughter who was four at the time and even she could see how sad it was.

    Raising turtles in overcrowded, cramped and disgusting pools and then butchering them for meat is a barbaric and vile practice which should be stopped.

    It’s not a good look for tourists. Keep some form of conservation project and ditch the rest.

    • Anonymous says:

      COVID would provide the perfect time and cover to close it down. Leverage the opportunity while it is there.

  6. Anonymous says:

    A lot more than turtles get washed in those dirty pools, going back many years.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Return to a turtle farm and shut down the attractions.

    Hard decisions have to be made. If the Center was not profitable when we had 500k visitors when will it ever be?

    I hope the private sector board can made this recommendation to Government.

    • Anonymous says:

      Either become a credible research and conservation center or reallocate the $10mln a year towards missing public infrastructure and drug rehab with higher social ROI. It’s disgraceful that we feel we need to subsidize a public abattoir to subdue inevitable illegal propensities of West Bay poachers and drug addicts. What does that say to visitors about Caymankind and our culture? It’s clear to most visitors that nobody should be eating IUCN red list animal proteins. That should be the re-education campaign, not developing irresponsible palettes in new generations, lured with discount meat rubber. The fact is, it is now widely expressed that none of us need to be eating any animal proteins of any kind. Humanity needs to become plant based. We all need to listen to the planet in 2020-2030 and embrace the decades of congruent data, still coming in apace, even as we race beyond the humanity extinction tipping point.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I love this story, please tell me more 🥸

    • Mr. Honeste says:

      In my opinion the turtle farm has been one of the top operations stealing from the Caymanian people since it began it’s business. Most businesses and organizations that steal from the people eventually get caught, but the turtle farm had so many friends and shady associates involved, no one wanted to bring charges against it……. a nice set-up…… for them! When this is all brought to light there should be a large group headed for prison! Will they go to the slammer or have to make restitution to the people of the cayman Islands? Probably not. When the thieves are related by family or lodge or they grease the right hands with big bucks, the enforcers look the other way. Sad, ain’t it…………?

  9. Anonymous says:

    Pay every employee $50,000 a year, close the place and save $4 million.

  10. Anonymous says:

    another reason to shut this vile, loss making facility down

  11. Anonymous says:

    It is costing the tax payers too much money. Need to cut wages and staff there now

    • Concerned says:

      What tax payers? You mean work permit holders surely?

      • Anonymous says:

        You obviously have no idea how the island finances work, so I’ll let you off by assuming you are new to the island, but you’re obviously not very bright either.

        • Anonymous says:

          Why don’t you enlighten us then.

          What percentage of government revenues come from expats versus Caymanians?

          My guess is that it’s somewhere in the order of 2/3 to 4/5th.

        • Concerned says:

          I know it’s based on consumption but over half of CIG revenue comes from expat work permits and business fees. Then with half the population consuming being expat please do read between the lines. The point is expats pay for the vast majority of the CIG here.

          • Anonymous says:

            *failing, corrupt CIG you mean.

          • C'mon says:

            CI law requires companies to pay for work permits not the expat employee. So you as an expat contribute nil to governments revenue derived from work permits. Also,the fact that expats make up a significant portion of Cayman’s population (😔) and are spending “some” of the money they earn here on island …c’mon isnt that the least?

            • Anonymous says:

              Without the work permit fee the employee would receive a better package. So yes, the employees pay. And based on my experience so far here, thank god you’ve got expats

            • Anonymous says:


            • Concerned says:

              The fact is despite all the negativity and, to be frank, animosity towards expats, this place would sink to levels below Jamaica without expats. Business would take flight upon independence, BVI isn’t that far away and most large firms already have a footprint there. I am sick and tired having my hand bitten when it is me, and the likes of me, that feed this island. When you see Caymanians on the breadline you need to look at your incompetent MPs not expats. They are grossly incompetent and grossly over-paid.

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t now about the taxpayers, but they should put all the thieves that ran the show in prison! Millions stolen for years and none of our leaders seem to notice anything. Are they also on the take?

  12. Anonymous says:

    The wages is far too high there, from the top. Why pay people so much
    Money to lose 9 million dollars every year since it opened.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Missed in previous audits? Who was auditing?? Triple C students ??

    • anon says:

      3.32pm The significant wording is “control weaknesses”. This means that there was sloppy, possibly non existent record keeping allowed by management.External Audit cannot write the books.

    • Anonymous says:

      They hid so much from their expat CFO it’s not even funny I bet…

  14. Anonymous says:

    Just shut it down!

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