As the local scrap metal industry awaits the ‘green light’ from government to resume the trade, Secretary of the Metal Dealers Association, Michael Benjamin has told Stabroek Business in an exclusive interview that the feeling had surfaced in sections of the industry that there were people who simply wanted the business to go away.
Stabroek Business has seen a copy of the controversial draft Scrap Metal Bill 2017 which has been in abeyance for an extended period, and the passage of which in the National Assembly will determine the future of the trade. But Benjamin told this newspaper earlier this week that what was perceived by the traders to be “a run around” at the hands of government had created a high level of disillusionment amongst traders. “Frankly, there has been a loss of faith even in the Association since the members feel that we are not doing much to help the situation.”
This newspaper’s conversations with Business Minister Dominic Gaskin whose Ministry has responsibility for the scrap metal sector has found the Ministry taking the position that the necessity to properly regulate the trade which has been replete with irregularities over the years has meant that government has had to take its time to ‘get it right.’ Legislation aside, Gaskin has argued that it is necessary for an institutional framework to be put in place to properly manage the sector. In his interview with this newspaper, however, Benjamin said that the necessity to properly regulate the trade also had to take account of the consequences in terms of the length of time that the thousands of persons who are part of the trade have been out of work. According to Benjamin since the closure of the trade in 2015 there had been a few sporadic openings and closures with a few months of sustained work in 2016. “That has not been enough to sustain the people who depend on the industry for a livelihood,” he said.
The draft Scrap Metal Bill 2017 has given rise to some measure of disgruntlement in the sector particularly over the “restrictions on trading in scrap metal” outlined in Part 11 of the draft bill. The restrictions cover twelve separate categories of activity in the trade including collecting “unowned scrap metal,” restriction on the transportation of scrap metal, restriction on the use of compaction equipment, restriction of the importation of compaction equipment, restriction on the transformation of scrap metal and restriction on trading in or the transformation of copper. The restriction on trading in copper has arising largely out of attempts by the authorities to rein in the vandalizing of telecommunications infrastructure set up by GTT by thieves targeting high-priced copper. It is widely believed that the thieves enjoy illegal trading arrangements with some scrap metal dealers.
The draft Bill, meanwhile, meanwhile, sets out heavy penalties for contravention of offences under an approved Scrap Metal Act including fines of up to $3 million dollars in some instances and imprisonment for periods of up to a year.
Benjamin said that many of the provisions contained in the draft Bill had raised concerns among the metal dealers. “The problem is that we are being crowded by these procedures every step of the way. It is true that rules have to be applied and enforced but then you cannot make the rules in such a way that makes it difficult for us exist”, he said.
Benjamin added that he was concerned that the delay in reopening the scrap metal trade was occurring at a time when unemployment was high.
“Whatever the authorities feel there is a need to open some sort of window through which the trade can continue. With the trade now at a standstill and no one having a clue as to when it will re-open we now have a situation in which dealers’ yards are filled with scrap in which they have invested and there is no way of securing a return on that investment at this time,” Benjamin said.