“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.”
— Phillip Ebanks, attorney

Beach vendors, meet the bureaucracy.

Back in July, under pressure from residents complaining about the growing nuisance caused by unlicensed vendors illegally operating on Crown land, the Cayman Islands government waded into the fray, armed with a five-page “Policy for Public Beach and other beach suppliers,” with the aim of taming the wild West–type marketplace that has sprung up on Seven Mile Beach.

The beach vendors thought they had a deal — take government’s training classes, abide by the government-issued Code of Conduct, and set up shops in kiosks leased from government — to obtain trade and business licenses. As it turns out, all the vendors have received is a crash-course education in government’s idea of “public-private partnerships.” (Oh, and $500 fines for noncompliance.)

Lesson Number One: Cayman’s public officials are much, much better at making promises, creating paperwork and telling people how to do or not to do something than they are at following through on their end of a bargain. In this instance, the government has not provided any kiosks for beach vendors and has not issued any trade and business licenses. The government has, however, apparently been giving the vendors the usual interdepartmental runaround — with the Ministry of Tourism playing “good cop,” the Department of Commerce and Investment playing “bad cop,” and planning officials pleading ignorance.

Now, rather than paying the $500 fines or closing their businesses, the vendors are preparing to meet the government in court. This could prove clarifying … or costly … or potentially introduce further complexities.

We understand the beach vendors’ frustrations. When government announced its idea of a grand compromise, we warned that no matter what training courses the Public Beach vendors undertake, nor where exactly they agree to operate, it does nothing to address fundamental shortcomings in regard to trade and business licensing: specifically, the requirement that all businesses (even “sole traders”) must, according to the Labour Law, have pension plans and health insurance.

In the absence of valid trade and business licenses, the beach vendors cannot legally operate. Hence, the $500 fines.

Here’s where we stand: We encourage each and every one of Cayman’s entrepreneurs, big or small, provided they compete on the same level playing field as everyone else. Currently, the law requires that even micro-businesses provide pensions and health insurance to their employees (even part-time workers and “self-employed” vendors). We believe that is a significant flaw in the Labour Law, one that affects hundreds or perhaps thousands of workers across Cayman, and one that should be addressed by lawmakers before the new Labour Law, currently under revision, moves forward.

Speaking specifically about beach vendors, however, we caution the government against legalizing, and codifying, the obtrusive pitching of goods and services amid the otherwise-tranquil atmosphere of our world-renowned beaches, particularly Seven Mile Beach.

For political reasons, our legislators may not wish to appear to be “picking sides” between the livelihoods of the beach vendors and the peace of mind of residents and visitors. But in the end, a decision must be made.

And, clearly, the correct course of action is the one that preserves the sanctity of our tourism product.

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