The Liquor Licensing Board of Grand Cayman faced significant pressure over a decision to allow petrol stations to sell alcohol on Sundays, according to documents obtained by the Cayman Compass.
On the same day the liquor board was deliberating whether to grant permission for Sunday sales to Peanuts convenience store in Red Bay – March 28 – the Cayman Islands Ministers Association sent a letter to Cayman Islands Governor Helen Kilpatrick urging the approval of a Cabinet order halting liquor sales on Sundays. “We believe that the issue should be considered in terms, not only of what may be strictly legal, but in terms of an application of good civic common sense, bearing in mind the well-known impairment of judgment caused by alcoholic beverages as well as the serious driving infractions that are already observable on every journey,” the Ministers Association statement read.
“The Cayman Ministers Association understands that Cabinet is able to issue a directive in this matter, as it has done in the past, and urges it to do so at this time without hesitation,” the March 28 letter went on.
Governor Kilpatrick responded to the ministers’ letter on April 4, stating that she had forwarded their letter to then-government Minister Wayne Panton, who had oversight responsibility for the liquor board.
“I agree that this issue needs to be considered with common sense, given the harm that alcohol can cause and particularly combined with driving,” Governor Kilpatrick wrote. “I have forwarded the letter to Minister Wayne Panton … as he would be the minister who would bring a paper to Cabinet about licensing matters, should he decide that is needed. I have also copied it to the premier so that he is also aware of your concerns.”
Mr. Panton, who lost his Legislative Assembly seat in the May 24 general election, was contacted by the Compass Monday. He said he recalled receiving the governor’s April 4 letter at the time, but did not personally respond to it. He said the Progressives-led Cabinet never took any action on the ministers’ association call for the order to stop Sunday liquor sales.
“That was in the throes of the election,” Mr. Panton said. “I was extremely busy with a number of other matters.”
Governor Kilpatrick said Monday that her April 4 correspondence was “categorically not” putting any pressure on Mr. Panton. “I made it very clear that any action, or no action, would be at Minister Panton’s discretion,” she said. “My letter is not in any way urging Minister Panton to act and there is nothing in my letter to that effect.”
It has been argued by lawyers for Peanuts station owner Gary Rutty that by the time the governor’s letter was sent, the liquor board had already decided to grant the Sunday sales license. However, the board under former chairman Woody DaCosta denied that and said the issue was deferred until a later meeting.
Dueling minutes of the same meeting appeared at various times in the ensuing months, with one set stating that the Peanuts Sunday alcohol sales license had been granted and another stating that the decision was deferred. No published board minutes have appeared which suggested the license was declined.
Following the date of Governor Kilpatrick’s letter, an April 6 email was sent by then-board chairman Mr. DaCosta to then-board secretary Marva Scott. It read: “Please embargo all licenses until our press release and policy is in place as we all discussed at the very last quarterly meeting.”
Mr. DaCosta was removed as chairman of the liquor board late last month.
The lawyer representing Peanuts on the Sunday license issue, Cline Glidden Jr., said his client discovered the ministers association and governor’s letters last week. They were posted to the ministers association website, he said. The Compass obtained the documents separately from Mr. Glidden and Mr. Rutty.
Mr. Glidden said there had been earlier objections to the Peanuts liquor license from a few local liquor store owners, particularly from Tortuga liquors founder Robert Hamaty, but the objection appeared to be related to the ability of petrol stations to sell alcohol in general, rather than simply opposing Sunday sales. The liquor board has already granted Peanuts the ability to sell alcohol between Monday and Saturday.
“We’ve struggled to determine where this objection [to the Sunday license] was coming from,” Mr. Glidden said. “It wasn’t [Mr.] Hamaty. So we thought it was possible the objections and motivations came from a different source.”
At this stage, Mr. Glidden said, the dispute over the Peanuts convenience store Sunday alcohol sales permission has not been resolved. He said his client believes the permission was granted by the board on March 28 and that any decision to withdraw that grant has not been made, nor have reasons been given for why the board had done so. Former board chairman Mr. DaCosta said the decision was made sometime in June at an “electronic meeting” of the board, when the Sunday permission was denied. No formal record of that meeting has ever been found.
The Cayman Islands government ordered an independent inquiry into the liquor board’s handling of the Peanuts application.
The inquiry, to be carried out by the Internal Audit Service, followed a series of news reports in the Compass highlighting concerns over the application process.