EDITORIAL – Dressing up our illegal beach vendors

As regular readers of this editorial column are aware, we don’t normally advocate for the nationalization of a private sector industry. But hear us out …

In Tuesday’s Cayman Compass, we published the newest installment of the lengthening saga involving the motley troop of vendors who have ensconced themselves on Public Beach, selling and renting everything from beach chairs to Jet Skis.

The beach vendors have several fundamental problems. One is they’re not supposed to be operating businesses on Crown land. Another is they don’t have valid trade and business licenses. A third is their increasing, and increasingly high-profile, presence has attracted the attention (and the ire) of many residents and visitors, whose complaints goaded government into action.

Well, sort of …

Government’s version of action involved creating a five-page “Policy for Public Beach and other beach suppliers,” including mandates such as government “customer service training” (Ponder that for a moment!), heritage and culture training, Department of Tourism inspections, swimming and CPR tests, a dress code, a code of conduct and all sorts of other requirements.

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It is, in brief, a classic example of a public sector approach to the private sector.

However, despite the government’s training and dressing of the beach vendors, the initiative does little to address the following key matter: All trade and business license holders (even “sole traders”) must, according to the Labour Law, have pension plans and health insurance — which, for so-called “micro-entrepreneurs,” can be so expensive as to be cost-prohibitive.

As we wrote in Tuesday’s news story, “In the past it was not known whether vendors were paying pension or healthcare costs because none was legally licensed. The new proposed operating code should resolve that problem, Department of Commerce and Investment Director Ryan Rajkumarsingh said.”

Knowing may be half the battle, but enforcement is the other. And the issue of enforcement, rather non-enforcement, is integral.

Don’t be mistaken: We support all of the country’s entrepreneurs, large and up-and-coming. We believe the Labour Law’s lack of consideration for contract workers, part-time workers, laborers-for-hire and, yes, vendors, constitutes a fatal flaw that should have been rectified when lawmakers recently revamped the legislation.

But the law, even a flawed one, is the law. If the trained and uniformed beach vendors cannot fund their own healthcare and pensions, then they aren’t following the law, and government cannot allow them to operate. Indeed, officials predict that the new requirements will force at least some of the vendors out of business altogether. We suspect others may continue to operate in spite of the government’s warnings and guidelines.

Can either of those outcomes be deemed as acceptable? We think not.

Which brings us to where we began. If the government is already training, dressing and dictating the behavior of the beach vendors, why not finish the job and bring them into the public sector fold? In other words, turn the private vendors into public servants?

We’ll tell you why not — because neither the vendors nor the government would ever do that. The vendors wouldn’t because the accompanying costs, rules and restrictions would effectively destroy their relatively free and potentially lucrative livelihoods as entrepreneurs. The government wouldn’t because it would never recoup its expenses; managing the enterprise would be far more trouble than it’s worth; and the vendors wouldn’t like it anyway.

So in lieu of our modest proposal, how about an elegant solution: Lawmakers should amend the defective Labour Law to liberate the beach vendors from overly onerous pension and health requirements, along with the hundreds or maybe thousands of part-time, contract and occasional workers who are in the same situation of “noncompliance.”

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  1. Cayman Compass, the Editorial has hit the nail on the head .
    I also think that the government is making all these rules and regulations to force the vendors out so that the good friends can move in and take advantage of the concessions .
    Just think about it , if a vendor has to operate under such big regulations, just imagine what is coming for the real private sector .

    I think that the government should not be dictating business codes. But I understand that part where I have said before that Government is flooding the Islands with work permits with no plan in place to know of what kind of problems would arise from it .

  2. This editorial in a roundabout way provides a clear example of the problems of unrestricted free markets. These beach vendors are the epitome of capitalism at work. They see a need and they fill it, with little regulation to tell them what to do and how to do it. The problem is in practice people don’t like unregulated small scale capitalism because it usually means someone trying to sell you something you may neither want or need and in some cases may cause injury or death. In the case of beach chairs it doesn’t matter so much, it’s just a minor annoyance (although a bigger issue for the tourism product) but in other cases such as watersports equipment it could matter a lot.

    So the suggestion to nationalize the beach vendors isn’t so far fetched and speaks to the larger role of government vs the private sector (and it makes sense here since this is Crown land). Yes in most cases the private sector can do just fine, but with regulation to prevent bad actors and keep everyone on a level playing field. However the suggestion the Compass usually makes is to privatize everything to save the government money, which doesn’t always work so well in practice.

  3. As a long time visitor to Grand Cayman, I see the beach vendors as a problem that dressing up will not help. One of the things that used to separate Cayman from other tourist destinations was the lack of hawkers on the beach pestering sun bathers. Peace and quiet is a blessing.

    The more vendors on the beaches, dressed up, regulated or otherwise, the less likely I will be interested in coming back to this island. With increased potential for competition from places such as Cuba in future. The government on Grand Cayman needs to outlaw hawkers on the beaches, not regulate them.

  4. I wonder how the beacon of freedom, pirate Rhan, would apply his free market or die views to this situation with government red tape choking entrepreneurs from running needed and economically beneficial entreprenual activities.

    Oh, the irony! Avast!