Friday, February 23, 2018

Coconut vendors upset over $700 fee


SAVANNAH SALES: A vendor pours coconut water into a bottle for two customers at the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, in June. Vendors will have to pay $700 a month come next January to operate around the Savannah. —Photo: Anisto Alves

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Coconut vendors will have to pay $700 a month from next January to park and operate around the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, chief executive officer of the Port of Spain City Corporation Winifred David said yesterday.

The vendors, however, are not happy with this decision as they are saying they don't make that kind of money.

"Why do we have to pay a fee to park on the road and sell, this is victimisation and discrimination. We have been doing this for more than 40 years and they want to come now and ask us to pay," said Jessika Babwah-Mohammed.

Babwah-Mohammed's father, Baldeo Babwah, is the president of the Coconut Vendors Association.

The five-member association met with the Corporation CEO at City Hall, Port of Spain, yesterday to discuss the issue of the fee — which was initially set at $750 — and the carts vendors use to sell coconuts.

They were told that come January 1, 2013, or once the Corporation has implemented toilet facilities near the carts, they will have to start paying the fee.

Should they fail to do so, they will not be allowed to ply their trade.

Babwah said vendors were part of the tourism industry and they should not be subjected to any fees.

"In fact the Government should be paying us for our service to tourism because tourists always come to us and we always advise them where to go," he said.

Coconut prices have been going up over the past few years and a cold coconut currently retails for $10 around the Savannah.

Babwah said there has been contention surrounding the carts used to sell the coconuts.

Port of Spain Corporation CEO David told the Express that, in addition to the fee, the vendors will not be allowed to sell from any other vehicle except a cart that has been designed to hold the coconuts and is aesthetically pleasing.

But Babwah, who does not have a cart, questioned this decision.

Businessman Ian Wiltshire approached vendors four years ago and offered a decorative coconut cart and a freezer free of charge, providing that he could use the carts to advertise.

The vendors agreed, without signing any document, to use his carts providing he maintained them free of charge.

However, Babwah said after a disagreement with Wiltshire, his cart was taken away and sold to another group of vendors.

"These vendors now want to come and use our space, which we have been using for the past 50 years," he said.

Commenting on the issue via telephone, Port of Spain Mayor Louis Lee Sing said the $700 fee was the same paid by the Charlotte Street, Port of Spain, vendors "and they are there three days a week".

He said he had to spend a lot of money to clean up the mess left by the coconut vendors on a daily basis and a monthly fee would go towards that.

Lee Sing further questioned the validity of the Association, saying they had "no constitution, and they are not registered", but they were making demands.

"If you check it, you would see this association is really only family...and as far as I am concerned, this is an issue that is over with and has gone away.

These vendors charge people $10 for a coconut so how could they complain of not making? What is good for the goose is good for the gander," he said.

As for the issue with the carts, Lee Sing said the administration has made a decision.

"Mr Wiltshire has five carts around the Savannah, but we have told him that we will only be allowing four, so he has to remove one."

"We have also decided that it will be one cart per family so as to give other people an opportunity (to earn a living)," he said.

Efforts to reach Wiltshire about his cart arrangement were unsuccessful yesterday.