As the suspension of scrap metal exports continues, dozens of dealers yesterday staged a picket outside of the Ministry of Business for the reopening of the trade, while claiming that an estimated 1,500 workers were affected.
Armed with placards, the members of the Guyana Metal Recyclers’ Association Inc (GMRA) assembled neatly yesterday morning on South Road in front of the Ministry, where they emphasised that their survival is becoming increasingly difficult since they have not been able to engage in any business for the past year.
“The suspension was effective from June 15 last year and when we did our inquiring, we found out that it was to facilitate the forensic audit which was done. It was completed sometime in December and since then we have been in talks with the Ministry [of Business] to resuscitate and resume the sector since almost 1,500 workers are out of jobs,” the GMRA Secretary Michael Benjamin, told Stabroek News on the picket line yesterday.
Benjamin explained that they have been offered many advances from foreign importers that are willing to get into contractual agreements but the local traders are unable to accept any since the suspension closed off all exportation, which is their only source of income. He highlighted that since the suspension, he has been engaging the government in consultations to revamp the industry, since the administration was not satisfied with it. However, Benjamin explained that the association was not happy with the pace at which the government was addressing the situation and said the picket was done to remind them to “keep their eyes” on the ground.
“The consultation said they had to do some amendments and another two weeks they will return to Cabinet. When it goes back to Cabinet, it still has to go to Parliament for passing of the legislation and legal affairs and they are looking at a November date. They can’t say when but we don’t feel like that’s soon enough,” he said, while pointing out that the dealers and their employees are finding it hard to make ends meet.
The APNU+AFC administration last year removed responsibility for the administration of the scrap metal trade from the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) to the Ministry of Business. An audit by accounting firm Ram and McRae had found that the Scrap Metal Unit located within the CH&PA was guilty of a slew of irregularities including some related to the mishandling of packing procedures for scrap and the questionable expenditure of millions of dollars. It also said that under the watch of the unit there had been instances in which the Guyana Revenue Authority had neglected to collect export duty on scrap metal leaving the country.
Benjamin said that as a result of the suspension of the trade, most of the exporters were forced to lay off their workers and are currently in heavy debt to banks. “The banks will give leverage but sometimes they pull their buck,” he said, while noting that the suspension has “damaged the scrap metal fraternity” because their foreign importers are labeling them as “unreliable.”
“As much as they [the government] say they are working, we are not satisfied because the process is being too long. We are hoping to have the president’s intervention so that the process can be sped up,” he said as he pointed out that a lot of young men are now unemployed and they are hoping that the situation does not escalate.
He added that there are about 25 exporters who are currently suffering. “You have the school year coming up and a lot of guys are saying that they don’t know how they are going to send their children to school. It has to be prioritised and we cannot afford to stretch this out,” he added, while urging the quick intervention of the government.
Benjamin also highlighted that there are illegal “underworld” traders from the situation as they are smuggling the scrap metal out of the country.
One of the reasons why the sector was suspended was because of the constant vandalism of GTT cables, which were linked back to the scrap metal dealers and Benjamin said that the association has always encouraged the dealers to be fair and legal. “Knowingly, we ask our dealers for best practices and if our dealers buy stuff that are stolen, then he should be prosecuted but they have to encourage the law,” he said, while emphasising that they are legitimate businessmen and have the right to work and earn like everyone else.
One of the exporters, Fazil Bacchus, who has been in the trade for more than six years, pointed out that his business and his income have been at a standstill ever since the ban and his employees that he had to lay off are still questioning him about when they would be able to gain employment again. “Basically a lot of people are out of jobs. Contracts are available to move materials but you can’t move anything. I had to lay off workers and they are hanging around asking when they can come back again but this is the situation,” he said, while highlighting that the trade creates employments in a range of fields, since truckers, welders, labourers and even brokers are all involved in the exportation process.
Bacchus said that instead of suspending the sector, it should have been allowed to go on with closer supervision while the adjustments were being made. He said that while there are calls for foreign investors to do business in Guyana, as it will be easier than it was years ago, the “natives are being treated with double standards.”
One of the exporters pointed out that while the suspension on the sector has been going on for over a year, GTT is still experiencing problems and he believes that the dealers are being used as scape goats. “The trade has been closed for a year and couple months but still GTT was almost down for two weeks and still giving us lousy service. We are being blamed wrongfully,” he said.