A number of unlicensed vendors operating on Grand Cayman’s Public Beach were fined $500 last month and told to pay up or go to court.
Various vendors have been selling food and soft drinks, Jet Ski or banana boat rides, or renting beach chairs and umbrellas for a number of years along the Public Beach section of Seven Mile Beach amid complaints from neighboring condo residents that their activities were creating “a carnival-type atmosphere” and destroying the serenity of the world-famous vacation spot.
The beach vendors said they were caught off-guard by the Oct. 13 fine notices. Some vendors believed they had been cleared to operate at the beach by the Ministry of Tourism after completing required customer service training classes earlier in the year.
The vendors said they were instructed, after receiving the tourism training, to report to the Ministry of Planning’s Lands and Survey Department to fill out forms that would allow them to continue operating on Crown land (held by the government). The vendors were earlier told they could keep operating if they moved to a specific section of the beach outlined by the government for vendors and met all other conditions set out by government, including pensions and healthcare coverage for any employees and insurance coverage, if required.
As of Monday afternoon, none of the vendors had moved to the designated area and no kiosks had been set up in that area for their use. The vendors said planning ministry representatives informed them last month that they were unaware of any documentation and stated that the vendors should obtain a trade and business license from government.
The Department of Commerce and Investment, which is responsible for issuing trade and business licenses, is the same entity that issued the $500 fines against the beach vendors for operating illegally – without a trade and business license.
“It’s wickedness, what they’re doing,” Seymour Silburn, the owner of Seymour’s Jerk Chicken, said Monday, commenting on government’s handling of the situation. “Just tell us what we need to do.”
The attorney representing the vendors in the court matter, Phillip Ebanks, put it another way: “In a nutshell, this is quite typically a result of the right hand not knowing, or being indifferent, to what the left hand is doing.”
Department of Commerce and Investment officials noted Monday that the fines should have been no surprise to the beach vendors, who have been operating illegally on Crown land for a number of years. Warning notices were issued by the department this summer to all vendors on the beach.
The warning notices stated: “By way of this notice, the department is offering you an opportunity to become compliant with the requisite sections of the law. You are hereby given 14 days to cease the above identified infraction. Failure to comply will result in a notice of a ticket or fine under section 35 of the law and legal action may be taken …”
Department of Commerce and Investment Head of Compliance and Enforcement Claudia Brady said the department’s officers issued about 16 warning notices on May 12 and May 17 to individuals who were operating without a trade and business license. Other notices were handed out in subsequent weeks.
According to the recently revised Trade and Business Licensing Law, two warning notices must be issued to an illegally operating business before a fine is issued. The vendors who were fined last month had all received two warning letters, department officials said.
Tourism Ministry Deputy Chief Officer Dalton Watler said Tuesday that a list of Public Beach vendors who had qualified to keep operating in the area was released in September. As far as the ministry was concerned, Mr. Watler said, those vendors had done what was required to meet tourism and customer service training standards. Other issues involving licensing and public land operations were not in the tourism ministry’s purview, he said.
Planning ministry officials did not respond to Cayman Compass questions on the issue sent Tuesday.
Several vendors who were at Public Beach Monday afternoon vowed that they would attend court dates rather than pay a $500 fine, which they felt would be charged to them again by government if they did not move from the beachfront.
“If it has to go to court, we will,” said Andre Woodman, who operates Ride With Us Motorsports along with his brother. Mr. Woodman also said he had received a $500 fine last month.
Other vendors, like Vanzeletha Jackson and Daphne Bennett, said they had not received any fine notices.
“I am staying right here. I can’t go nowhere else to work,” Ms. Bennett, 67, said.
Ms. Bennett, along with a number of other vendors, told the Compass that they have attempted on various occasions to obtain a trade and business license, but were foiled by the bureaucratic process.
The beach vending issue arose during 2012-2013 and came to the fore again in March when condo owners, including those at Harbour Heights and the Avalon Condominiums near Public Beach, voiced concerns to government officials about illegal vendors “overrunning” Seven Mile Beach.
“The very symbol of this beautiful island and the magnet that draws both Caymanians and multitudes of tourists is being destroyed before our very eyes,” read an eight-page letter sent to Tourism Ministry Councilor Joey Hew in March by the Harbour Heights development’s strata management council.
The Avalon Condominiums strata council supported the Harbour Heights organization’s comments. “We too have observed the gradual, but steady increase in commercial activity at the Public Beach, and for the first time in my nearly 20 years of wintering here, we have had vendors peddling their wares to people on our beach,” said Warren Nock, chairman of the condo management strata.