In recent times, the streets of the country have become occupied with street vendors, selling bottled water, coconut water, fruits and peanuts, some on sidewalks, and others in the middle of two-lane traffic.
Unemployment, compounded by the increased cost of living, has rapidly accelerated street vending in the country, particularly in New Providence.
On Monday, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis addressed them, promising to review the current licensing and regulatory procedures. Dr. Minnis said his government wants to enable street vendors to sell their products in safe and secure venues.
He said street vendors play an important role in the country’s economy. “Accordingly, we will be offering a way for enterprising Bahamians to be able to sell their products on the streets of their respective islands,” Dr. Minnis said.
“We want them to be able to do so in a way that does not pose undue dangers to themselves, pedestrians, or the motoring public. We will put in place the standards that ensure that they are able to meet health code requirements and thus not pose any health risk related to COVID-19 or otherwise. The vendors will be trained in these standards as a requirement of their license.”
This comes after some ‘coconut boys’ have been arrested and charged before the courts for violating the order and selling their products during the pandemic.
Regulations implemented by Minnis to limit the increase of street vendors
In May, Dr.Minnis announced plans to put an end to unregulated street vendors.
In the country’s fight to prevent the spread of the virus, Dr. Minnis said the government will create designated locations for vendors.
“This sprawling of vendors that we see today throughout New Providence will no longer be seen nor tolerated,” he said.
These requirements by vendors are necessary for operation:
- Vendor’s permit
- Valid I.D. card /driver’s license/passport.
- Food Handlers Certificate.
- Letter of inspection from Environmental Health – if selling food.
- Letter from District Head Quarters of Police Department.
- A Valid Business Licence.
Who are the ‘coconut boys’?
Economic hardship experienced by these young people has resulted in the creation of a small street business in search of better livelihoods.
Many of the vendors selling coconut water are males between the age of 18 and 25. Many have recounted stories of hardships and accumulating only enough money to cover expenses and care for their families.
- Jason Williams is an 18-year-old graduate of C.I Gibson who started his own business one year ago, selling coconut juice and jelly to locals and visitors throughout Nassau. He said he operated the small business to help support his family as he searches for a job. Williams said street vending keeps him focused in a society where young men have turned to violence and gang activities.
- Marvin Joseph is a 20-year-old man who sells mangoes, coconut water, and coconut jelly on the side of the street. Joseph said life has been hard for him and the job allows him to make enough money to feed his daughter, and pay rent. Joseph said he was evicted from his home and was living with his aunt.
- Moreko Mackey is a 19-year-old street vendor of Harold Road who sells coconut water and meat.
All of the vendors aforementioned were charged before the Magistrates’ Court. Williams was fined $700, Joseph was fined $800 after three violations of the order, and Mackey was released by the Magistrate with a warning. These fines were paid with the assistance of the public.
Minnis softening his approach
The public has criticized Minnis administration’s hard stance against vendors who have won the empathy and support of the public.
On Monday, Dr. Minnis said his government will make available additional funding to the Small Business Development Center for business loans or grants for the street vendors. He said this will allow them to adjust to the current circumstances and to support or expand their business start-ups or expansion.
He said the coconut boys will be given a financial grant, which is a gift from the government, to establish and expand their business
Minnis added that materials needed for the job will also be provided such as coolers and umbrellas to operate on the street.
Attorney Wayne Munroe and activist Khandi Gibson have since called on Dr. Minnis to assist in the expungement of the coconut boys’ criminal records which they said pose a threat to their advancement.