Legitimate scrap iron dealers believe that they are being victimised because of what they described as a lack of interest by government in regulating the industry. Members of the Scrap Metal Dealers Association of T&T are now worried that there may be a plan afoot to close down the local industry and possibly hand it over to foreigners.
Speaking at a news conference in Chaguanas yesterday, Alan Ferguson, head of the association said he was appalled to learn through the media of statements made by Works Minister Jack Warner who said on Tuesday that the industry may have to close following the theft of portions of a bridge in Cedros over the weekend.
Ferguson said when operations of the scrap industry were frozen during the State of Emergency last year the association met with a ministerial team and put forward a number of proposals to regulate the industry. He said since that meeting the relevant authorities have since failed to communicate with the Scrap Metal Dealers Association.
Ferguson said operations had reverted to the same manner in which they were conducted before the SoE. He said there were 40 registered members who were regulated by the association to ensure that they operated within the law. However Ferguson revealed that there were around 40 other dealers over whom the association had no control.
He said the persons making the trouble in the industry were the “hustlers” who collect and possibly steal scrap iron and sell it to unscrupulous dealers to make some quick cash. Ferguson said this was the case with the Cedros Bridge. He said the association received information on Tuesday from a scrap iron dealer about the stolen steel beams from the bridge and supplied that information to the police.
He said the association had proposed to the government that persons involved in the collection of scrap metal across T&T be registered and also have their vehicles registered. Ferguson said this would ensure that legitimate people were involved in the business. He said the sale of scrap was a lucrative enterprise that raked in close to half a billion dollars annually.
Scrap iron sells around $2,000 a tonne. The industry rakes in $360-plus million in foreign exchange annually, plus another $100-plus million in scrap iron is sold to Arcelor Mittal, an international steel producer which owns the former Iron and Steel Complex at Point Lisas.
He said the industry was massive and employed around 50,000 people. Ferguson said Warner should not be looking at Jamaica as an example to follow since T&T was the leader in commerce in the region. He said to follow Jamaica was taking a step backwards.
Kenny Plaza, secretary of the association, said the scrap metal dealers want an urgent meeting with the government. He said the scrap industry contributed heavily to the global recycling industry. Plaza said products such as lead/acid car batteries that would normally end up in rivers and landfills were brought and resold for recycling.
He said the scrap industry salvaged as much useable material as it could before it hit the landfills. Plaza said the government as well as households were suppliers of scrap for dealers. Errol Seejattan, vice-president of the association insisted that members adhere to rules and regulations. However Seejattan said he believed that the Environmental Management Authority was grossly understaffed to police the various scrap yards.
He said more resources should be pumped into policing scrapyards to ensure laws were obeyed. Ferguson said association members welcomed the police in their yards at any time and the association was also concerned about a television report that indicated that the government had planned to get involved in a scrap deal with agencies in India.