Scrap Dealers Association struggling to stay on course following row between Chairman, Technical Director

A major confrontation has erupted between two of the key players in the Guyana Scrap Metal Dealers Association (GSMDA) dealing a further blow to the already beleaguered industry and threatening to derail the GSMDA’s negotiations with government over the reopening of the scrap export trade.

The Association’s 77-year-old Chairman, Percy Cole is accusing Technical Director Malik Cave of improprieties and of authoritarian practices and has served Cave with a letter terminating his services. Cole told Stabroek Business that he has also written to both President Bharrat Jagdeo and Prime Minister Samuel Hinds notifying them that Cave is no longer authorized to conduct negotiations on behalf of the industry.

However, in a sharp response Cave told Stabroek Business that under the rules of the Association Cole has no authority to remove him from his post as Technical Director. Cave said that apart from the fact that there are no provisions under the rules of the Association’s constitution for his removal, he continued to enjoy the full backing of most of the members of the GSMDA.

Stabroek Business was present at a tense meeting summoned by Cave at the Tower Hotel last Wednesday at which the primary concern of scrap dealers appeared to be with ensuring that the ongoing negotiations with government are not affected by what some dealers say is a power struggle between Cave and Cole. During the meeting the two men had a short sharp exchange of words when Cole made a brief appearance in the Hibiscus Room of the Tower Hotel and handed Cave a letter, purportedly containing notice of his dismissal.

Scrap dealers who attended the meeting acknowledged that differences had surfaced between Cole and Cave but insisted that both men were being urged to set aside their differences and focus on concluding the ongoing negotiations with government to restore some semblance of normalcy to the industry. Several dealers who attended the meeting and who say that they have large sums of money “tied up” in scrap they are still unable to export openly voiced their irritation over what a dealer told Stabroek Business was no more than “a silly and distracting confrontation.”

The GSMDA was established in November 2006 after the Prime Minister moved to place restrictions on the trade in the wake of frequent complaints of theft of metal by the country’s utility companies. Stabroek Business has been told that while Cole was never formally elected Chairman of the Association he was holding the position with the general approval of the membership.

Those dealers who attended last Wednesday’s meeting confirmed that Cole was serving as Chairman with their approval. However, the dealers also told Stabroek Business that they were persuaded that Cave was making satisfactory progress as the designated GSMDA spokesperson in the talks with government.

Cole told Stabroek Business that his move to remove Cave as the Association’s Technical Director had stemmed from the latter taking a number of decisions without first consulting with him and other members of the Association. He also accused Cave of being directly involved in the scrap metal trade in collaboration with dealers in the industry.

In relation to the former charge Cole told Stabroek Business that Cave had blatantly refused to accede to his advice in relation to the composition of the GSMDA team for talks with President Jagdeo earlier this year. He said that Cave had also excluded him from the meeting and that he was only present because he had insisted on going.

In response to the charge that he had disregarded Cole’s recommendations with regard to the team to meet with the President Cave said that as the lead negotiator with government he had “acted in a manner that was in the best interests of the scrap dealers.” In response to Cole’s allegation that he had become directly involved in the scrap trade Cave told Stabroek Business that he was not engaged in any activity that conflicted with his obligation to the GSMDA.

Cole told Stabroek Business that while progress had been made in the discussions between government and scrap dealers during Cave’s tenure as Technical Director, Cave had isolated some GSMDA members on account of concerns over his highhandedness. He said that his move to remove Cave as Technical Director had secured the backing of eight of the thirteen members of the Association. Stabroek Business has been given the names of the eight dealers whom Cole says are seeking the ouster of Cave from his position.

However, at last Wednesday’s meeting summoned by Cave at least two of the dealers whose backing Cole claims to have turned up. One of those dealers told the meeting that he believed that there were “personal differences” between Cole and Cave and that those differences were hurting the industry. He advocated early elections for executive positions within the body which, he said, would allow the GDMDA to decide on Cave’s future with the Association.

Evidence of divided loyalties between Cole and Cave surfaced during the meeting with some dealers opting to seek to have the two meet in an effort to bring the impasse to an end. However, another group of dealers including GSMDA Secretary Emily Nedd told Stabroek Business that a meeting of the body will be convened later today at which fresh elections will be held. Cave had earlier told Stabroek Business that GSMDA elections would be held before the end of 2007, however, the disclosure by Nedd that elections will he held today appeared to arise out of a decision taken by some GSMDA members during hurried consultations at the Wednesday meeting. Stabroek Business have spoken with both Cole and Cave regarding their willingness to meet and discuss their differences and both grudgingly agreed that they would consider meeting. Several weeks ago Cave told Stabroek Business that he was uncertain that he would continue to serve as the GSMDA’s Technical Director beyond this year’s elections. Talks between scrap dealers and government appear to have slowed in recent weeks following President Jagdeo’s assent to the export of more than 50 containers of scrap some of which have been held up at wharves since government placed a ban on exports in May this year. Over the months millions of dollars in demurrage fees have accrued and shippers have refused to handle the containers until the fees are paid. At last Wednesday’s meeting Cave told Stabroek Business that government had indicated a preparedness to have the shippers receive a tax write off in lieu of payment of the demurrage fees. He said that he was currently engaging the shippers on the matter.

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