What can a quartet of wooden kiosks on the beach teach us about the Cayman Islands government? A lot, actually.
Every year, talented and animated storytellers draw crowds to public spaces in Cayman for “Gimistory” events, captivating their audience with tales both old and new.
Although the kiosks at Bodden Town’s Coe Wood Beach could not physically speak (even before they were unceremoniously demolished last month), they, too, have a story to tell — and it involves protectionism, the influence of powerful people, public project management, bureaucratic delay and political timing.
We’ll start our tale, as all good tales do, at the beginning: In 2012, the United Democratic Party government turned its attention toward “enhancing” Coe Wood Beach, building a boat ramp and car park. In August 2012, ministry officials appeared before the Central Planning Authority to seek approval for the four wooden kiosks (totaling 824 square feet), a project “initiated by representatives of Bodden Town to help tourism and the economy,” according to Deputy Chief Officer Tristan Hydes.
At the meeting, project supporter Twyla Vargas said, “The residents have plans to do good things out there. There will be a fish shop, breadkind, juices, arts and crafts, tourist information.”
Also appearing before the planning board was another concerned citizen, Osbourne Bodden, who owns the neighboring gas station, liquor store and fish fry. Mr. Bodden said that while he did not object to the kiosks themselves, “We would however object strongly if these would be used to sell items to compete with our existing businesses, that in these tough economic times are really struggling, despite what public perception may be.”
In the end, the planning board said regulating economic competition was not its remit, and granted its approval for the kiosks.
Flash forward to March 2013 – with the general elections a mere two months away. Following the ouster of Premier McKeeva Bush, the new People’s National Alliance government was in charge. The new government held “official” celebrations for the Coe Wood Beach enhancements. (Never mind they had actually been completed the previous year.)
But behind the photo op, there was a problem. During its meeting on March 20, 2013, the planning board resolved to issue an “Enforcement Notice” against the government – because it had constructed the kiosks without obtaining the necessary building permit. In other words, because officials didn’t follow their own rules, the new kiosks were illegal.
So the doors to the kiosks were closed, padlocked and otherwise made unavailable for use by vendors and craftspeople.
In May 2013, the Progressives party took control of government, powered by a sweep of the four Bodden Town seats, including a victory by Mr. Bodden, who had earlier expressed his concerns about the kiosks.
For three-and-a-half years, the kiosks have remained dormant and deteriorating, locked and empty.
Coe Wood Beach itself never developed into a “family friendly” destination, and is a popular haunt for adults seeking a place to sleep, drink or – particularly after the sun goes down – engage in criminal activity.
Now, several months before the May 2017 elections, the kiosks became the focus of government activity once more. The kiosks have been demolished and removed, and according to now-Minister Bodden, they will be replaced with better kiosks. According to our story in Thursday’s Compass, “Mr. Bodden said he has been working over the past three-and-a-half years at getting the huts removed but he did not want to move them until designs for replacement kiosks were in place.”
Time will tell if an official opening for the new beach kiosks will be held in time for the ongoing campaign season.
After reading the above, can anyone blame our unlicensed vendors on Seven Mile Beach if they are less than confident in government’s ability to follow through on its promises to “regularize” their legal status and construct kiosks for them there?
Considering that the Coe Wood Beach kiosks had an estimated price tag of $15,000, can anyone blame us if we are less than confident in government’s ability to execute major projects, such as the downtown cruise dock or the George Town Landfill solution, each of which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars?