Spokesman for the Coconut Vendors Association Jessica Babwah says coconut vendors are willing to pay the $700 a month fee imposed by Port-of-Spain mayor Louis Lee Sing. Lee Sing imposed the charge for the vendors to ply their trade around the Queen's Park Savannah last June.
The association met last Wednesday with the health inspector and CEO of the city corporation Winifred David. Lee Sing was unable to attend because of other commitments. In a telephone interview yesterday, Babwah said from January 1, 2013, every vendor would pay $700 to sell around the savannah.
She said the association was told during the meeting that vendors would also have to operate their business out of a cart instead of a truck. Babwah said 45 years ago, her grandfather started the business out of a donkey cart, which was eventually upgraded to a van. "We are going to pay the fee. It is not that we are not willing. The savannah has to be maintained and cleaned. We are more than willing. "It is not a multi-million-dollar business. We are humble and hard-working vendors. It (the price) is kind of steep," she said.
She said the coconuts were sold at $6 for one, but other vendors had higher prices. "It don't have bathroom or water or facilities around the savannah. We remain friends with business owners and pay a fee to use their facilities," she explained.
Babwah said at a previous meeting in June, Lee Sing "randomly" called rates for the vendors to pay to the corporation. "He started at $1,000 and was not taking it seriously. On Wednesday, they gave us an ultimatum, that if we don't meet the fees or a cart, we cannot sell any longer," she said.
Babwah also denied Lee Sing's comment that there was no coconut vendors' association. "The association has been in existence approximately 30 years. He is a newcomer and he approached my father as president of the association when he could have given the news to the vendors," she said.
Babwah also denied Lee Sing's charge that there was a "coconut mafia" operating around the savannah. "We have been vending for years and they were very discriminatory (at the meeting). We had an agreement with a cart vendor which changed. We were told that we must operate our business out of a cart. Why is the mayor in favour of a cart? We don't have money to pay for a cart," she said.
She said they made arrangements with a cart owner years ago who brought in members of his family and friends. "We made arrangement to put our coconuts in his cart and that was the agreement because it was a prime area. He had advertisements on the carts," she said. "Then he started to bring different people and family and gave us thunder. That is killing our business and is not in our control."