Scrap dealers: Ban copper trade until thieves are found

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

President of the TT Scrap Iron Dealers Association (TTSIDA) Allan Ferguson. – File photo/Ayanna Kinsale

President of the TT Scrap Iron Dealers Association Allan Ferguson has called on Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon and the police to stop the copper trade for a few months, until the dealers responsible for peddling stolen goods are caught.

At a press conference on Monday at the association’s head office, Kelly Village, Ferguson said it will accept a two-three month ban on the export of copper to give police a chance to investigate thefts from government agencies such as the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) and the Telecommunications Services of TT (TSTT).

On Saturday, Newsday reported complaints by residents of Upper Bournes Road, St James. Several above-ground WASA pipelines in the area were damaged by bandits who stole brass fittings and accessories, causing leaks and difficulty accessing water.

“We want to hold up the export of copper,” said Ferguson. “When you don’t have a market, then we can stop copper theft. If we don’t do it, it will get worse.”

He said he understands some dealers are to blame for accepting stolen goods, but said only a few scrapyards were doing it, and dealers cannot take all the blame for the illegal trade.

His plan would be simple to carry out, he said.

“You must have a licence to export copper,” he explained. “The ministry knows all who have licences. So it has to be one of these licensed dealers moving copper out of TT. I know it is more than one.

“It is easy to hold up these containers, because even if it reaches the port, you will know because the documents will show (if there are stolen items).”

He said the association, from reports coming in to its offices, had identified at least ten scrapyards accepting stolen items. Hewas unwilling to identify them by name. There are about 130 yards across the country, he added.

He said police don’t need a search warrant to enter the yards to investigate.

“Police can stop by at any time (and search) a container.”

He said containers should also be searched on the port before they are exported.

“We have to keep defending ourselves. We fed up warn them. Whatever happens, happens.”

He said there are also many dealers operating without a licence, which needs to be investigated, as they are causing trouble for legitimate dealers trying to do the right thing.

Ferguson also said foreign dealers who come in and out of the country pose a problem.

“We sat down with (foreign dealers) and let them know what to stay away from, but they change people all the time, and then leave the country and go to another country to cause problems.”

He said police have sufficient time to investigate suspected dealers engaged in fraudulent behaviour, as dealers are required to leave items “on the ground” for at least 14 days before they are put in a container to be exported.

Ferguson said people who wish to sell items at a scrapyard will have to give their personal information and, depending on the circumstances, provide proof of ownership before a transaction can be done.

“When you come into the site, there is a camera that sees everything you do. The camera will pick up your vehicle number. Before we could take the material from you, we must take information from an ID card or permit.

“Then someone will inspect the material. If anything looks suspicious, you have to prove ownership. If you can’t prove it, you will have to leave. If you go and come back with proof, then we will take it.

“This is supposed to go on in all the yards. If a person comes in with an old vehicle, they must have a certified copy and a driver’s permit. You can’t come in the yard without showing proof.

“I cannot say everybody does it, but the majority (of yards) take this action.”