Trade and business licenses cannot be granted to Grand Cayman’s Public Beach vendors, or anyone else operating on Crown land, without prior approval of Cabinet, the head of the Department of Commerce and Investment confirmed Tuesday.
Responding to a burgeoning controversy over enforcement notices recently issued to more than a dozen sellers on Seven Mile and West Bay public beaches, most of whom have been operating without legal licenses for years, department director Ryan Rajkumarsingh told the Cayman Compass there is no way for those small businesses to obtain a license simply via application if they wish to sell their wares on public property.
According to section 18 of the Trade and Business Licensing Law: “Where the applicant will be carrying on business in a public place, [he or she must have] evidence of approval of the relevant authority to carry on business in such a place.”
“You can’t just pull up in front of the Glass House [former government administration building] and try to sell snacks,” Mr. Rajkumarsingh said. “There’s no difference between that and selling chairs on the beach.”
Within the past decade, vendors selling everything from beach chairs, to sodas to Jet Ski rides have appeared on Public Beach. As the number of unlicensed operators has grown, complaints from surrounding property owners increased.
Several of the vendors told the Compass in recent interviews that they are aware of their unlicensed status, but they said attempts to apply for a license were either rejected or never answered.
Mr. Rajkumarsingh said Tuesday that a fresh round of warnings is due to be issued to unlicensed vendors shortly as the Department of Commerce and Investment goes through the process of fining the vendors and eventually taking them to court if they do not stop operating.
Public Beach on Tuesday morning was sparsely populated, but beach chairs and flotation devices rented by the vendors were still stacked up there.
Mr. Rajkumarsingh said, prior to warning citations being issued to vendors on May 12 and again on May 17, DCI officials had a meeting with beach vendors in late April to warn them about what was coming. New enforcement powers granted to the department’s officers, as well as some additional staff members, have allowed for greater policing of unlicensed vendors, he said.
He denied that the government had ulterior motives for clearing the beach, as some vendors recently suggested.
“We’ve been dealing with this for years,” he said. “We are seen as the bad guys, but we’re just enforcing the law. Otherwise, you’re going to have a Wild, Wild West situation out there. What is going to stop the next person from coming out there and selling?”
Some public beach vendors have argued that, at some point, they were given a trade license which the government later refused to renew. Mr. Rajkumarsingh said Tuesday the earlier approvals had largely been given because the vendors either did not state they were operating on Seven Mile Beach, or had failed to adhere to certain terms specified in the license.
For instance, some of the vendors agreed to remove beach chairs or flotation devices from the Public Beach area at the end of each business day, but he said this clearly was not being done.
Trade and Business Licensing Board Chairman Garth Arch and Acting Deputy Chairman Michael Belfoure said Tuesday that the board is bound by the law in issuing licenses to vendors, and that no licenses would be issued “if someone is not in compliance.”
Mr. Rajkumarsingh said Tuesday that it was not known whether any of the beach vendors operating on Seven Mile or West Bay public beaches provided health insurance or pensions for their employees. He said, without a trade and business license, the department has no information on those issues. He suggested the Department of Labour and Pensions could investigate the beach operators on its own, but in any case, they were all operating illegally if they did not have a business license.
At the moment, negotiations are under way between the vendors and government officials about a compromise. The details have not been finalized, Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell confirmed Tuesday.
Mr. Kirkconnell has suggested that space at the new farmers market in central George Town or on the downtown waterfront craft market could be made available to some vendors, although they obviously cannot rent beach chairs there.
With regard to the beach-based vendors specifically, Mr. Kirkconnell said government would like to work out some arrangement to allow them to continue working on an “interim” basis while finding a more permanent home. He said he expects an agreement can be reached prior to any of the vendors having to show up to answer citations in court.
“The government has given this issue a priority,” Mr. Kirkconnell said. “We’re trying to listen to the vendors and understand what’s going on. The issue here is not the government trying to penalize small businesses.”
Mr. Kirkconnell said tourism-related arrivals have increased by a total of 400,000 people per year since 2013, which has presented an opportunity for local vendors, but it is an opportunity that needs to be taken care of without annoying visitors or beachfront property owners.
“We need to balance and manage [people’s] expectations,” he said.
The Trade and Business Licensing Law exempts any Caymanian farmers selling agricultural products, artisans, craftsmen, self-employed Caymanian fishermen and religious and charitable bodies from having to obtain a license.
Therefore, many of the vendors at the farmers market in George Town do not maintain licenses for their operations. Vendors at the downtown craft market are governed under the Tourism Attraction Board, rather than by the Trade and Licensing Board.
Mr. Rajkumarsingh said he is aware that some of the individuals operating at the farmers market do have trade licenses as they do not fall directly under the agriculture exemption.