Government proposes 6-month shutdown of scrap iron industry

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds addresses the media on Friday at his Abercromby Street, Port of Spain office. With him are acting Commissioner of Police Mc Donald Jacob and Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales. Photo by Sureash Cholai

Government’s announcement of its intention to implement a six-month ban on the scrap iron industry is expected to negatively affect about 20,000 people, says president of the TT Scrap Iron Dealers Association Allan Ferguson.

To combat what the Government has now described as a national security issue, legislation is being drafted to regularise the industry.

The ban is expected to come into effect after the Finance and General Purposes sub-committee of Cabinet finalises the plan.

This was announced on Friday by National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds during a media conference at his ministry’s Abercromby Street, Port of Spain office.

He said the need to put a ban on the industry arose after continuous acts of vandalism on state assets including water pump stations where copper wires have been stolen, cable barriers, electricity poles and other assets.

Hinds said, intelligence suggests the acts are not random theft but deliberate attacks against the State by some who may be affected by the restructuring of the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA).

He said the regularisation will place the scrap iron industry under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and only authorised dealers will be allowed to continue.

Speaking with Newsday after the media conference, Ferguson said many people will be affected. He said he will not say more on the issue until he meets with his attorneys, as he is contemplating filing for an injunction to stop the move by government.

A Cabinet committee comprised of Hinds, Energy Minister Stuart Young, Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon and Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, agreed to temporarily ban the industry. The committee was formed after the Prime Minister, on July 2, chastised cable-wire thieves and said he will speak with Armour on banning the entire industry.

Hinds said he met with Fergusson’s association two weeks ago. However, sources within the industry said they were only informed on Thursday that a decision was made to temporarily shut down the industry.

Acting Police Commissioner Mc Donald Jacob said in the past 30 months, 129 people, including two scrapyard dealers, were arrested in relation to the theft and sale of copper and other metals. Given the hint by him and Hinds that the thefts are not simply larceny but malicious attacks against the State, Jacob could not say how many WASA and other state employees were among those arrested.

Hinds interjected saying the culprits had working knowledge of the compounds vandalised, suggesting that they had inside help.

Jacob said police have increased patrols around state-owned compounds.

“We have decided to offer a reward of $100,000 for any information that can lead to the arrest and prosecution of the persons responsible.”

Also at the media conference was Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales who said vandals and thieves caused the State to find an additional $22 million to repair and replace state assets.

Hinds dismissed the notion that the plan is a roundabout way of taking the industry away from the average citizen and putting it in the hands of his party’s financiers.

He said the malicious attack is part of a larger plot which may need the Anti-Terrorism Act to prosecute.