Editorial for September 18: New Liquor Board needed – now!

The Department of Commerce and Investment issued a statement last week that it was looking into “allegations of conflict of interest” on the Liquor Licensing Board of Grand Cayman.

The statement said, “DCI is working diligently to resolve the issues; however, the matters are entrenched and highly complex …”
We don’t think so.

The issue regarding conflict of interest may be “entrenched,” but it is hardly “highly complex.” In fact, it is so painfully and obviously simple that it requires immediate attention and resolution – not a lackadaisical time frame of the “next few months” that the media release suggested.

Last Thursday, the Liquor Licensing Board went completely dysfunctional at its annual general meeting when three of its members publicly declared they had conflicts of interest. The board, therefore, was unable to move forward with its agenda for lack of a quorum.

The agenda included about a dozen applications from proprietors of package stores who were petitioning for an extension of their operating hours until 10 p.m., an advantage some of their competitors enjoy, including Joe Ena’s Liquor Store in West Bay, which is owned and operated by the mother of Mitchell Welds, chairman of the Liquor Licensing Board.

One applicant, Prentice E. Panton, a principal in Liquor 4 Less, had charged in correspondence that Mr. Welds had a conflict of interest because of his mother’s ownership of the West Bay store.

Properly, Mr. Welds agreed to recuse himself formally and left the room, accompanied by his niece, Tammy Welds, who also sits on the board. A third board member, Neil Bryington, who holds the license for Premier Wine & Spirits, also recused himself because Premier, too, was applying to have its hours extended.

(Mr. Welds on Tuesday told the Compass, “I recused myself simply because of [Mr. Panton’s] allegations. I didn’t recuse myself simply because my mother or son has a license.” He added that he had not recused himself in certain matters in the past “because there were no allegations.”)

What a tangle. But at last week’s meeting it got worse.

With board business at a standstill for lack of a quorum, the three members rejoined the proceedings to consider other matters.

Unfortunately, one other matter was an application from Brian Barnes of Barnes
Bartender Service seeking an adjustment to restrictions and conditions on his mobile bartending license. Mr. Barnes alleged that, again, Mr. Welds had a conflict of interest because his son Simon Welds holds a similar license.
At this point, Mr. Welds and his niece again recused themselves and left the room, leaving the remaining three board members to carry on business.

A perhaps unintended consequence of last week’s recusals of Mr. Welds and his niece is that they have now raised the specter that all of their rulings – past and future – are open to legal challenge.

The path forward is clear. Cayman collectively needs to thank Mr. Welds, his niece Tammy, and the entire board for their past public service. And then we need to move on. We need a new board NOW, populated by members without the appearance of even a scintilla of conflict of interest.

It is simply not true that it is impossible – or even overly difficult – to empanel such unbiased boards. Grand Court juries in Grand Cayman do it all the time.

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