Significant shares of Grand Cayman’s licenses for selling alcohol are concentrated in the hands of a relative few, including a member of the board that regulates the industry.
The Liquor Licensing Board has drawn fire due to alleged conflicts of interest, with much of the criticism directed at longtime chairman Mitchell Welds, whose mother owns a West Bay liquor store and son runs a mobile bartending business.
During the board’s annual general meeting on Sept. 12, the allegations prompted Mr. Welds, along with board members Tammy Welds, his niece, and restaurateur Neil Bryington to recuse themselves from considering several agenda items related to extended hours for liquor stores in George Town and West Bay. The remaining two board members did not constitute a quorum and so could not act on the agenda items.
A Caymanian Compass analysis of board records shows that Mr. Bryington has 15 liquor and music and dancing licenses of different varieties.
Now open late
On Sept. 20, Mr. Welds exercised his discretionary power as chairman to grant applicants permission to keep their liquor stores open until 10 p.m. The stores with extended hours include Liquor 4 Less, Tortuga Rum Company and the Dart group’s Big Daddy’s and Blackbeard’s stores.
The board notified the Compass of Mr. Welds’s decisions via email Sept. 23. At the bottom of the board’s email was a message dated Sept. 18 from Ryan Rajkumarsingh, director of the Cayman Islands Department of Commerce and Investment, which assumed responsibility for the board in July. Mr. Rajkumaringh’s email indicates that Cabinet Minister Wayne Panton urged Mr. Welds to grant the extended hours.
According to the email, “The minister expect[s] that the chairman will approve the variations to make the hours consistent subject to the applications being in proper form, otherwise procedurally compliant and the applicants being in good standing etc.”
The tumult at the general meeting prompted the Compass to file an open records request Sept. 18 under the Freedom of Information Law for copies of all liquor and music and dancing licenses effective in Grand Cayman.
The Department of Commerce’s FOI manager initially indicated copies of the more than 600 licenses would cost $10 apiece, and that the board would not have staff resources available to fulfill the request.
Later that day, however, the department emailed the Compass the board’s master lists of license holders, including licensees, establishment names, addresses, categories and special conditions – but not the hours the businesses are allowed to operate.
According to the list, about 190 people have at least one of some 388 liquor licenses in Grand Cayman, and about 155 people (all liquor license holders) have at least one of some 226 music and dancing licenses.
The top 10 license holders control more than 25 percent of Grand Cayman’s licenses. The people who have the largest number of licenses are Dart’s Joanne Lawson (37 liquor licenses), Tortuga’s Robert Hamaty (17 liquor, two music and dancing licenses), Dart’s Jacqueline Doak (nine liquor, eight music and dancing), Jacques Scott’s Peter Dutton (15 liquor) and board member Mr. Bryington (10 liquor, five music and dancing).
Additionally, Mr. Hamaty’s wife Carlene has nine liquor licenses, also for Tortuga.
Mr. Bryington has several categories of licenses, including distributor, retail, restaurant and package store. The licensed establishments include Abacus, Deckers 269 Restaurant and Premier Wines & Spirits.
During the board members’ walkout at the general meeting, licensees applying for extended hours made a point of saying they didn’t mind if Mr. Bryington stayed to hear their applications, even though he was applying for a similar extension for Premier.
The Department of Commerce announced that it had formed a review committee Aug. 28 to look into the liquor board’s legal and operational structure.