The ancient Greeks may have had an easier time rousting their adversaries from the City of Troy than the Cayman Islands government has in banishing unlicensed vendors from Seven Mile Beach.

Cayman’s struggle does not quite rise to the level of a Homeric epic, but our government’s apparent inability to take control of what should be a relatively straightforward issue does illustrate some basic truths about the public and private sectors.

First, in the absence of clear, enforceable guidelines from the government, private entrepreneurs tend to continue their “business as usual,” or even expand their activities, so long as there continues to be profit in it.

Second, the more government agencies that get involved in solving a problem, the less likely the problem is to be solved (especially when there appears to be a lack of political will among the politicians in power, certainly not before a looming election).

Judging from the proliferation of vendors – hawking everything from food, to chairs, to Jet Ski rentals – who have taken over the entire Public Beach area from the waterline to the parking lot, it seems there is market demand for their goods and services.

Although their ranks are swelling, we are not sure at this point whose numbers are greater: the beach vendors, or the public officials who have gotten involved in the situation, each of whom seems to be sending a mixed message to the vendors in question.

The Department of Commerce and Investment has attempted to take a hard line on the vendors, refusing them trade and business licenses and levying many of them with $500 fines for operating unlicensed businesses on Crown land.

Recently, though, a vendor challenged his fine in Summary Court, and a magistrate ruled in his favor, throwing out the fine.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Tourism, if not planting itself in the vendors’ corner, at minimum has been acting the part of referee, providing vendors with “tourism training” and coming up with a list of Public Beach vendors who, in their opinion, had qualified to continue operating in the area.

However, when those “qualified” vendors attempted to pay for and collect operating licenses, officials in the Lands and Survey Department (in the Planning Ministry) said they weren’t aware those licenses even exist.

Additionally, when the government told vendors to jump through all these hoops on the way to legitimacy, officials promised the vendors they would build a market area with kiosks in the vicinity of Public Beach where the vendors could operate. Not only have the kiosks not yet been built, but one vendor said he had been told that they would not materialize for at least another 18 months to two years. (For wooden kiosks!)

The fundamental issue of whether vendors are being required to abide by liability insurance, pensions and healthcare requirements under the law remains unresolved, and unaddressed, by officials.

If the vendors are confused and frustrated by this exercise in bureaucracy, we do not blame them. We’ve heard of the “good cop, bad cop” strategy, but this is making government look both impotent – and foolish. (And speaking of cops, at what point does this unpermitted occupation of public land become a matter for the real police?)

“We ain’t getting anywhere,” said one vendor … and for the foreseeable future, the vendors don’t appear to be going anywhere, either.

The beach vendor situation, we admit, does present us with some conflicts. We encourage entrepreneurship and recognize market forces. We also respect people’s wishes to enjoy public parks in peace and are especially concerned with preserving the quality of Cayman’s tourism product.

But, above all, what we and the country must demand is this: law and order.

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