Making a case for the poor, president of the Scrap Iron Dealers Association (TTSIDA), Allan Ferguson, has pleaded with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley not to shut down the industry, as it will put thousands of people on welfare.
At a media conference in response to Rowley’s statements at a post-Cabinet press conference on Thursday that Government would consider banning the marketing of scrap metal for a period, Ferguson said the TTSIDA wants to work with Attorney General Reginald Armour to find solutions.
Ferguson was confident the parties could find answers to brazen theft and vandalism of State infrastructure by some dealers, as he said there were only about eight scrap yards that export copper. One proposal to deal with exporting stolen copper was to have a police or Customs and Excise Division officer present when loading shipping containers. This would ensure what enters the containers are the particulars of export documents.
“I am begging you, please, Mr Prime Minister, hear our cry. Hear our plea that this industry employs thousands of poor people. Every single day people eat food out of this industry. It is the last industry that poor people have in this country, and I know you care about poor people,” Ferguson said.
On Thursday, Rowley said some people did not care who they harmed while making a living by destroying infrastructure and marketing stolen metal materials. He said as a matter of national security, he has asked Armour to consider whether the Government should prevent the marketing of scrap metals for a significant period.
But Ferguson yesterday said the TTSIDA tried to prevent the Government from reaching this position. He said the TTSIDA was proactive in reaching out to stakeholders to find solutions.
It wrote to acting Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob on February 23, seeking a meeting to discuss the thefts of Telecommunications Services of T&T (TSTT) cables.
The TTSIDA also wrote to TSTT CEO Lisa Agard on February 8, requesting a meeting to discuss the thefts and make recommendations.
Ferguson said Jacob and Agard acceded to the meeting. The TTSIDA then wrote the Ministry of Trade and Industry, asking them to implement a temporary ban on the export of used copper. He suggested a three-month ban.
Ferguson said not all dealers engage in stealing TSTT cables and other public infrastructure. He said as TTSIDA president, he met with members around the country and felt sure only a handful engaged in the illegal activity. He said he would not fight Rowley, as he respects him and agrees the industry needed reform.
However, he said he cannot agree to a shutdown of the industry that helps put food on the table of thousands of people.
He said landfills at Beetham, Arima, Claxton Bay and Point Fortin were refuges for people struggling to make ends meet, as they scavenge scrap metal to sell in order to have a meal.
“I would never agree on that because in Trinidad & Tobago, thousands and thousands of people live off this industry. This industry helps the Government because most people, if they do not come and do something in this industry, they would have to apply for public assistance.”
Ferguson said from 2019 to now, the scrap metal industry had increased export by 47 per cent. He said it fills the most containers at ports in Port-of-Spain and Point Lisas every month. “That is what I am about, to make this industry bring in foreign exchange. This is what we do, you know, bring in foreign exchange into Trinidad & Tobago, and we help with the employment. We help with a lot of employment in Trinidad & Tobago, so we need to stay on that course.”
Ferguson said shutting down the industry would also affect several shipping and transport companies and scrap yards. He believes crime would worsen if more people fall into unemployment.