A dispute has broken out at the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, over the use of decorative coconut carts.
President of the Coconut Vendors Association Baldeo Babwah, accompanied by members, met with Port of Spain Mayor Louis Lee Sing last Tuesday and requested his immediate intervention in the fight over Savannah turf.
According to Babwah, businessman Ian Wiltshire approached the vendors four years ago and offered them a deal—he (Wiltshire) would give each vendor a new decorative coconut cart, a freezer, uniforms, security and maintenance for the carts—for free.
Babwah said Wiltshire earned his profits by advertising to corporate clients on each cart.
Babwah claimed that Wiltshire reneged on the oral agreement made and was seeking to put association members out of business by bringing in new carts and vendors to the Queen's Park Savannah.
"He (Wiltshire) is trying to put me out of business. I have been there for decades and he is now bringing in new people and selling spots by the Savannah. He took back the carts from me and is now demanding that we pay for maintenance. That wasn't the agreement. He making plenty money by selling these carts and getting advertising and also want to demand money from us," said Babwah.
"There are now people occupying those carts who are not part of the association and they must leave immediately because they are affecting our business that has been established there for years. He cannot just come and do his own thing there, we are waiting on the Mayor to take action and bring an end to this madness. There are select coconut stands around the Savannah and Ian is now bringing in a flood of carts and new people to his own gain," said Babwah.
He added that since the carts were given to the vendors four years ago, Wiltshire bore the responsibility of maintaining and upkeeping the carts and this changed recently.
Babwah claimed that Wiltshire was now selling the decorative carts at $35,000 to $40,000 apiece.
Contacted Tuesday, Wiltshire told the Express that the carts were given to the vendors for free and he never took any money from them.
"I am not selling the carts. The carts are given to them for free. I am not familiar with any association; all I asked was that they maintain the carts and he (Babwah) did not do so," said Wiltshire.
He said he took back all the carts from the vendors to have them refurbished and he re-distributed the carts to the vendors- except Babwah.
Wiltshire said he was born on Dundonald Street, Port of Spain, and as a boy he remembered seeing beautiful donkey carts around the Savannah and he wanted to re-create that image and remove old coconut trucks that were an eyesore.
"I pay for everything. I pay for the electricity for the carts and all they had to do was clean it," said Wiltshire.
He denied bringing in new vendors and selling the carts at exorbitant prices.
Wiltshire said he was willing to work with the vendors and come up with an agreement in writing to prevent future problems.
He added that the carts are a hit and have attracted attention from the Jamaican High Commission, which expressed interest in having carts in Jamaica.
Vendor Jagdeo Babwah, a member of the association, who sells coconuts opposite the United States Embassy at the Queen's Park Savannah, told the Express the carts were given to the vendors for free but he has difficulty now with Wiltshire's request for a maintenance fee.
He said this was not part of the agreement.
Giwanlal Hitlal, who sells coconuts opposite the National Academy for Performing Arts (NAPA), said his cart was also given for free but Wiltshire requested a maintenance fee which was not yet worked out.
Lee Sing told the Express last week that it was "unacceptable" to have a proliferation of carts around the Savannah, where the vendors who have been there for years are not the beneficiaries.
The outer areas of the Queen's Park Savannah fall under the purview of the Port of Spain City Corporation.
Lee Sing assured that the corporation would intervene and bring calm to the coconut cart confusion.