The longtime chairman of the Liquor Licensing Board of Grand Cayman said Thursday that certain elements in the local business community are trying to influence his being removed from the board.
“I have good reason to believe there are certain people in the industry who want me off the board,” Mitchell Welds said during an interview with the Cayman Compass.
Mr. Welds has been on the liquor board for three decades, serving as chairman for the last 12 years in the government-appointed position. “If I wasn’t doing something right, I wouldn’t have been on the board that long.”
The chairman said during the interview that he did not believe any of the elected members of government were seeking his removal and that he had recently met with Commerce Minister Wayne Panton to discuss a number of matters surrounding the board and liquor licensed premises. Mr. Panton has responsibility for the Department of Commerce and Investment, which oversees liquor licensing matters for government.
An internal seven-page report issued recently by Department of Commerce staff, which was obtained by the Cayman Compass, raised questions about the overall operation of the Liquor Licensing Board, including allegations of abuse of power and corruption on the board.
According to those documents, the report was requested by Department of Commerce and Investment Director Ryan Rajkumarsingh, following a staff review.
The report recommends a number of amendments to the Liquor Licensing Law, which has been under review by government since last year.
“Findings [of the staff review] show that there has been a clear abuse of power and broad, sometimes wrongful interpretation of the law,” the report states in one of its five recommendations. “The consequences from such practices can be catastrophic if ever challenged in a court of law, leading to potential lawsuits and judgments against the department, resulting in monetary remunerations.
“The law has to be rewritten to not give ultimate power to an individual and a better system of monitoring has to be put in place. Succession planning should be high priority as well. An extended term on the board leaves room for extended duties not in line with the law.”
Another recommendation states that board members should provide full disclosure with regard to everything concerning liquor licensing decisions.
“The possibility of corruption is greatly reduced when there is an open forum,” the report states. “The chairman should have very limited, if any, discretionary powers at all when it comes to liquor licensing matters.”
When Mr. Rajkumarsingh was contacted last month about the report, he stated that it was the product of a training exercise for a department employee who had only recently joined the staff.
“As part of his training, [the employee] prepared a report on the liquor licensing section regarding the current processes and improving the customer service experience,” Mr. Rajkumarsingh wrote in an email response to Compass questions.
Mr. Welds said he did not believe that explanation.
“Some people think the chairman has too much discretion,” Mr. Welds said. “Well, they can change the law then.”
The liquor board chairman has seen controversy mar the past year of his tenure, with an Anti-Corruption Commission investigation into certain activities of the board.
That probe followed claims by some liquor licensed premises owners last September of allegations of favoritism and prejudice on the part of the board. The allegations were set out in a letter sent to the Liquor Licensing Board last fall by Reflections Liquor-4-Less owner Prentice Panton.
Mr. Panton alleged the board has been prejudiced against his many applications to extend the operating hours of his liquor stores and his Papa Jack Mobile Bar Service.
Mr. Panton said the board’s decisions were affected by Mr. Welds’s connection with Joe Ena’s liquor store in West Bay and also because his son, Simon Welds, owned a mobile bar service. He added that he was confident that the board’s decisions could be successfully challenged in court.
While acknowledging his familial relationship with license holders, Mitchell Welds denied Mr. Panton’s allegations.
“You must appreciate that given the size of the Cayman Islands, it is very difficult for some members of various boards to not have a conflict of interest with some applications. What is important is that members of boards declare their interest in any application and recuse themselves from the proceedings,” Mr. Welds wrote in an email obtained by the Cayman Compass.
Compass journalist Laura Buttigieg contributed to this report.