(Jamaica Observer) With the economy estimated to have lost $1 billion to metal theft over the past three years, new Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has called scrap metal dealers to a meeting this week in an effort to end what he described as the trade’s “destructive impact on businesses”.
“I will be meeting with the scrap metal dealers in order for them to come up with a formula to end the practice or I will shut the industry down until we can put a workable measure in place,” Tufton told the Observer on Saturday.
Tufton said that since April this year scrap metal theft has increased significantly to the detriment of businesses and the country’s vital infrastructure.
The sugar industry, in particular, has been hard hit, losing J$170.6 million since 2008. Monymusk alone has suffered losses of just over J$77 million in damage to property and equipment; Frome has been hit with losses of J$66.4 million; and Bernard Lodge has recorded losses of J$27 million.
At Monymusk, for instance, scrap metal thieves have stripped the property of electrical transformers and power lines, metal electrical poles, pivot cables, irrigation pump columns, pumps and starters and a sub-station and base.
The scrap metal thieves have also stolen hoist doors at Frome and relieved the plant of power lines, effectively disrupting harvesting conditions at the mint hoist and increasing the chance of flooding as the pumps were rendered inoperable.
The sugar industry also said that further losses, due to the loss in power supply, irrigation disruptions and factory closure because of equipment theft amounted to more than J$400 million since June 2009.
An official of the National Irrigation Commission estimated that over the past three to four months it has lost equipment valued in excess of J$50 million to scrap metal thieves. In one case, a water pump that provided the commodity to chicken farmers on more than 245 acres in St Catherine was stolen, jeopardising the farmers’ investments and the jobs the farms provide.
“This is not sustainable,” Tufton said on Saturday. “This is now an issue of infrastructure for businesses being dismantled for scrap.”
In April last year, then Industry and Commerce Minister Karl Samuda, after a meeting with scrap metal dealers, shut down the scrap metal trade, with the exception of manufacturers who generate their own material, and who do not buy from other sources.
Samuda contended that the situation, which had intensified over recent months, was untenable, and that the scrap metal industry was failing to operate in the best interests of the country.
The lockdown was eventually lifted, and the thefts resumed.