It’s the end of an era at Grand Cayman’s Liquor Licensing Board. We’ll raise a proverbial glass to the tenure of Mitchell Welds – who served on the board for more than 30 years, including more than a dozen as chairman – and take a sip to the future of the industry under a new regime.
At the Compass, we are far more concerned with public policy than we are with particular personalities. However, let us take a moment to discuss the record accumulated by the board under Mr. Welds’s aegis, and then we’ll talk about expectations for the newly reconstituted regulatory body.
There are few equivalent examples in the Cayman Islands where someone managed to stamp their individual imprimatur on an entity anywhere in the public sector – whether it be the Legislative Assembly, a ministry, department, authority or other board – as Mr. Welds did on the liquor board.
The former chairman, in a word, “was” liquor licensing in Grand Cayman.
The results were mixed.
On the plus side, Mr. Welds – who had a long career with Her Majesty’s Customs – conducted the regular meetings of the liquor board in perhaps the most open and transparent manner of any group in government. The board convened in public, as required by law, and members of the media were welcome to attend. Further, Mr. Welds himself has consistently been willing to field reporters’ inquiries, answer questions on the record and provide explanations as to the activities of the board and interpretations of the law.
We hope that the new liquor board, now led by Campbell Law, will perpetuate Mr. Welds’s legacy of maintaining open lines of communication with the press, and by extension the public. (Toward that end, we were not encouraged by Mr. Law’s initial interaction with the Compass, when he referred our reporter’s request for comment about his appointment to the Ministry of Commerce.)
On the other hand, serious questions have been raised about conflicts of interest existing on the liquor board – particularly among Mr. Welds, his niece Tammy Welds and restaurateur Neil Bryington, who held liquor licenses themselves or else were related to people who did. There have also been concerns about Mr. Welds’s use of his discretionary powers as chairman, and more generally about the decisions of the board as a whole.
This newspaper has well-documented those issues, the natures of which are not confined to this board specifically, but which are actual or potential concerns for most, if not all, of Cayman’s appointed boards.
The problems with the regulation of the alcoholic beverage industry in Cayman (mainly bars, restaurants and retail stores) are far more attributable to the regulatory structure than to any particular members of the regulatory body. For example, we remain unconvinced that an appointed citizen board is ideal, or even necessary, for the approval or denial of applications to sell a specific class of products.
Nevertheless, the Progressives government’s solution to liquor licensing problems was, in part, to double the size of the liquor board from five to 10 members – seven from the general public, and three from the civil service. Already, critical observations are being made about the revised makeup of the liquor board, and how many of the new members have overt connections to the Progressives party. (For example, the board’s new deputy chairman Woody DaCosta was a Progressives candidate for the district of West Bay in 2009 and 2013.)
Here’s our take: The entertainment industry is too vital a part of Cayman’s economy to become a playing field for political football.