The Cayman Islands government has tried just about everything to address the problem of unlicensed vendors operating on Seven Mile Beach — reams of paperwork, customer service training, sternly worded warnings, promises of kiosks, plans for uniforms, etc. — everything, that is, except for this: enforcing existing laws.
Now, lawmakers are proposing legislation to create an appointed five-member commission to regulate the vendors (and other businesses wishing to operate on Crown land).
We can safely say that after a years-long battle between the government and a handful of beach vendors, we can finally declare a winner: the beach vendors.
With so much at stake — the reputation of Grand Cayman’s finest beach, the quality of Cayman’s tourism product, the safety of visitors and residents — our elected Progressives leadership has demonstrated an astounding incapacity to deal in a forthright and forceful way with a situation whose solution is obvious, easy and simple.
The vendors’ continuing ability to operate without trade and business licenses (which government hasn’t been granting when they apply) and without lawful permission to be on Crown land, and presumably without abiding by legal requirements to provide health insurance, contribute to pensions and maintain liability insurance, is a highly visible repudiation of laws regulating private businesses in Cayman — and by extension all laws on the books in this country.
If the beach vendors can conduct business without paying costs for permits, planning permission, healthcare, pensions or insurance, why should any of their legally operating competitors, who are also trying to sell goods and provide services to tourists, follow the expensive and often-onerous rules? If the beach vendors are being given a blanket exemption from regulations, why should any business in Cayman attempt to abide by the letter of the law? Why should any individual in their daily life?
When complaints about the unlicensed beach vendors first reached the ears of elected members, they had a simple, binary choice, each of which carried potential political ramifications among voters (who might be beach vendors, their friends or relatives, or the residents who are protesting):
Option 1 — Enforce the law, move the vendors off public land and put them out of business.
Option 2 — Change the law to “legalize” beach vending, once and for all.
The newly proposed legislation does neither. Nor, by itself, will the five-person commission. (How does granting a “vendor’s license” address the lack of health insurance and liability insurance, for example?)
What the establishment of the five-person commission will do is to spare elected government officials from making a definitive decision on the beach vendors, to dilute accountability for what happens on Seven Mile Beach and to create yet another opportunity for the arising of conflicts of interest and impropriety within Cayman’s regulatory apparatus.
Throughout the beach vendor saga, the government’s directives have been all over the place depending on the ministry or minister who is speaking at the moment, ranging from tough talk, to laissez-faire to la-di-da.
The vendors, meanwhile, have had a remarkably consistent message:
“See you on the beach tomorrow.”