(Jamaica Observer) The Government yesterday banned the scrap metal trade in a desperate move to save the country’s infrastructure by putting a new breed of brazen scavengers out of business.
Thieves, hoping to cash in on the lucrative international trade in scrap metals, removed more than J$1-billion worth of metals from businesses, private residences as well as state property, in three years, with scant regard for their importance to national safety and commerce.
Industry, Investments and Commerce Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said Cabinet was forced to take the drastic action of imposing the ban in the national interest, in order to curb the wanton theft and mangling of valuable property.
Railway lines, water pipes, telephone cables, bridges, road signs, gates and even handles from exhumed coffins were vandalised by scrap metal thieves to sell to rogue dealers for export.
“This has not been an easy decision; it took some time to deliberate over the issues because we felt we needed to get as much information as possible so that we fully appreciate the nature of the industry, the persons involved, and the cost-benefit analysis of maintaining the industry,” Tufton told journalists at a press conference yesterday at his ministry’s offices in New Kingston.
It was Tufton’s biggest test since getting the job as industry minister less than a month ago and he immediately faced criticism from the Scrap Metal Federation, which called the decision unfair.
Executive federation member Rohan Brown said it was unfair that law abiding exporters and dealers should be penalised for the failure of Government to properly police the trade over the years.
Brown said that the federation, which consists of 25 exporters, had always expressed concerns that too many licences were being granted, despite the lack of an adequate number of regulators to monitor the trade.
“We are not the ones who issued the licences; they issued licences beyond the capacity to regulate and now we have persons of all nationalities in this business…,” he told the Observer, suggesting that Vietnamese and Africans, are among the group.
Brown said scrap metal dealers, who have invested hundreds of millions in the trade and are said to employ about 20,000 persons directly, would be consulting their lawyers on the way forward.
Tufton suggested that based on the cost-benefit analysis, it was better for the economy not to have a scrap metal industry at this time, than to have one that would lead to the negatives that had been taking place.
He said Cabinet had, however, taken a decision to allow companies which generate their own scrap metal to apply for permits by year end to export it.
“Generators of scrap are the ones, over time, who would be allowed, based on a permit application and approval basis, to get rid of that scrap,” Tufton told reporters.
The minister said industrial scrap had been a major part of scrap metal exports with major companies such as Caribbean Cable, LIME, Jamaica Public Service Company, Jamaica Railway Corporation, Caribbean Cement Company, sugar factories as well as bauxite companies, among others, which have suffered from vandalism because of the scrap metal trade.