The Cayman Islands government has drawn several lines in the sand on the subject of unlicensed beach vendors. Political tides, it appears, keep washing those lines away.
When it comes to enforcing a clearly written law, a term that our officials should never be using is “compromise.”
Yet, that’s exactly where the government has settled in regard to the issue of local vendors selling and renting products on our country’s public beaches — in a nebulous realm somewhere between obeying the law or changing it. In other words, ignoring the law … for at least another month.
Visitors and residents have been complaining for years about the beach vendors, who are almost impossible to miss. Hint: The vendors are the ones hawking Jet Ski rentals, snacks, trinkets and beverages. They’re the ones who leave towering stacks of beach chairs and giant inflatable devices in the middle of the beach overnight and on slow cruise days. We have heard reports they can also become annoying, obnoxious or perhaps aggressive.
However, the beach vendors are also, as they remind us, Caymanians who are “just trying to feed their families.” Put them in an office with suits, ties and briefcases, and you might recognize them for who they really are: entrepreneurs.
While we don’t have an editorial comment about where specifically on the beach the vendors should be allowed to conduct their business, we will address different laws, which, if enforced, will almost certainly result in the vendors — and many other entrepreneurs — going out of business altogether.
We refer to pension and healthcare requirements for part-time workers and self-employed individuals. That means each person selling necklaces on the beach, homegrown vegetables on the side of the road, or mangoes in the farmers market must set aside portions of his income (even if it’s inconsistent or extremely meager) to put into a pension account and pay health insurance premiums.
As you can imagine, the on-again, off-again, income that someone brings in from selling, say, thatch hats might not even cover the health insurance obligations alone.
If legislation or regulation forces those people out of their businesses, their subsistence income will be replaced by no income. Even worse, their choices are limited: Continue operating contrary to the law; switch to more lucrative, outright criminal activity; or quit working and go on the public dole.
Who would wish for such an outcome — let alone mandate it (while at the same time lamenting the plight of unemployed Caymanians in this economy)?
When they were debating the new National Pensions Law, legislators had every opportunity to adjust the language of the law to address the special circumstances of short-term, occasional or independent workers — and they chose not to do so.
Meanwhile, government officials have issued warning after warning to the beach vendors (“This time we really mean it!”) without taking any action. The government’s latest reprieve gives the vendors another month of immunity from fines and court action. We expect that deadline, like the previous ones, will make a glorious whistling sound as it flies on by.
If the government has a good reason for not enforcing the laws against the unlicensed beach vendors, then we’d love to hear it. We suspect it may have something (or everything) to do with politics: The beach vendors, and their families, are voting Caymanians. The visitors, and many of the vocal residents who are protesting, are not.