Bill seeks to eliminate liquor license 'black market'

Sweeping changes proposed for Cayman’s Liquor Licensing Law seek to end what government and business leaders have often described as the “black market” for liquor licenses. 

Among the major changes proposed in the Liquor Licensing (Amendment) Bill – made public this week – are requirements that every business owner who applies for a liquor license must first be the holder of a Trade and Business License. Currently that is not required. 

“If your business closes, the [liquor] license ceases,” said Department of Commerce and Investment Director Ryan Rajkumarsingh, describing amendments in the legislation. 

If someone sells liquor without having a valid trade and business license, they can be fined up to $10,000 upon conviction. Trade officers with the Department of Commerce and Investment will be given the same powers as a police constable in investigating such instances. 

The new requirement aims to stop the practice of individuals holding on to liquor licenses they are not using and then selling them at unregulated prices to the highest bidder. 

Commerce Minister Wayne Panton described the issue in June 2014: “Licenses are being offered for sale at very substantial values, and in some cases, many cases, they are being essentially rented for significant sums of money as well.” 

In part, government’s continuing ban on the issuance of new liquor licenses, which has typically been lifted only for brief periods by Cabinet, has made the existing liquor licenses more valuable. 

Rather than continuing a moratorium that is lifted at various times, the new law removes the requirement to lift the moratorium in order to grant new licenses. 

Anyone who does not currently have a licensed business, but who holds a liquor license, will have the license terminated unless they apply for and receive a Trade and Business License and open a liquor licensed premises. 

Liquor board 

The amendments also seek to change the current makeup of the Liquor Licensing Board of Grand Cayman, and to a lesser extent, the board of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. 

If the legislation is approved, the Grand Cayman board will have 10 members instead of five. Seven of the 10 members, including the chairman and deputy chairman, will come from the private sector. The remaining members will be representatives from the Department of Commerce and Investment, the Department of Planning and the Director of Environmental Health. 

The Cayman Brac–Little Cayman board will go from five to eight members, adding three government representatives. 

Board meetings will remain open to the public, but the amendment bill also makes it possible for board appointees to attend via teleconference, Skype or some other method if they cannot attend in person. 

Opening hours 

Another significant change in the amendment bill would end the requirement for liquor licensed premises to stay open for the entirety of their licensed operating hours. 

Now, if a local bar or liquor store is having a “slow night” and wants to close early, it must stay open until the closing time prescribed by its license. 

The revised legislation allows the premises to open “at any time during the permitted hours.” 

Mr. Panton
Mr. Panton