The sands at Grand Cayman’s public beach appear to have shifted. In this case (the case of unlicensed beach vendors), the erosion that is occurring is not of the coastline, but of governmental authority.
Last week, we published news that Crown prosecutors were withdrawing charges of operating without a license against several Public Beach vendors who had been ticketed by the Department of Commerce and Investment about a year ago.
In court, Crown Counsel Greg Walcolm advised that there had been “discourse” between the defendants and DCI, as well as the Ministry of Planning, leading to “good progress” in granting vendors permission to operate on the public beach.
It has been five years since government first attempted to crack down on unlicensed beach vendors after neighbors complained they were contributing to a “carnival-like atmosphere” on Cayman’s placid public beaches.
In September 2012, DCI’s Ryan Rajkumarsingh said, “If vendors are found without a valid trade and business license after Jan. 1, they will be immediately prosecuted by the RCIPS. …
“We … are offering a grace period of three months, to give persons time to get in compliance with the law. But this grace period will definitely end on Dec. 31 2012. It is important for vendors to know that there are serious repercussions for not having a valid trade and business license.”
What followed this stern warning was a series of missteps, mess-ups and miscommunications between the government and the vendors. In essence, the government attempted to stare the vendors down … and the government blinked.
First, officials threatened vendors with $5,000 fines and prison time for violating the country’s Trade and Business Licensing Law, which regulates local businesses in the Cayman Islands. Vendors protested that they had applied for but could not obtain the appropriate licenses (because, in a catch-22, they never had permission to operate on Crown land).
Government then conducted an extended flirtation with customer service training, codes of conduct and dress codes, followed by another round of tickets. Vendors protested, again, that they’d undergone the training offered by the Ministry of Tourism, but were directed to the Lands and Survey Department, which redirected them to get a trade and business license from the DCI – the same department which had attempted to levy fines on them for lack of proper licensing.
“It’s wickedness, what they’re doing,” Seymour Silburn, the owner of Seymour’s Jerk Chicken, told the Compass at the time. “Just tell us what we need to do.”
We empathize with the beach vendors – who as small entrepreneurs are the red cells of Cayman’s economic lifeblood, the flow of which is stanched by the government’s tortuous regulatory tourniquets.
We also empathize with neighbors, residents and visitors who wish to enjoy Public Beach in peace without being hassled by hawkers, threatened by rental watercraft speeding too close to shore, or having their views of the sea obstructed by mountains of beach chairs (that are abandoned on the white sand when cruise ships aren’t in port).
Resolving those conflicting interests should have been relatively simple. It’s a matter of government clearly establishing the rules in law, and then enforcing them.
This spring, legislators passed a Public Lands Law, setting up a new commission to regulate commercial activities on Cayman’s beaches and other public areas.
This may resolve the narrow question of who is allowed to operate on Public Beach (i.e., anyone who has a license from the Public Lands Commission) but does not address outstanding issues of whether the vendors are abiding by general regulations, such as health insurance or pensions; if they will have to follow those rules; if government will make more exceptions and exemptions; or if the country is in for another five-year struggle.