Since the announcement of the closure of State-owned oil company Petrotrin, people have been stealing tonnes material from the company’s installations and presenting them for sale at scrap yards throughout the country, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Scrap Iron Dealers Allan Ferguson has said.
This theft of material from Petrotrin is a “major problem” currently affecting the scrap iron industry, Ferguson said and as such the association is now calling for a meeting with Police Commissioner Gary Griffith so they can properly deal with the issue.
“Right now there is a major problem which is Petrotrin. A lot of the material from Petrotrin is being stolen and the association is trying to get a meeting with Gary Griffith to give him that concern because we as the association will get the bad name and this industry could be in serious problems if they don’t put a stop to it,” Ferguson said.
“And the majority of the people buying that material is people who come from outside of Trinidad and Tobago and have scrap yards here and they are buying the material and if anything happens they can move out and go and we as locals here will be in serious problems if the industry crashes,” he said.
“We want to have a meeting with Gary Griffith with reference to a lot of things going in the industry so we can draw some light on where the stealing is taking place,” Ferguson said.
This problem of material being stolen from Petrotrin and being bought by scrap yards with foreign owners highlights two of the major concerns now facing the industry, Ferguson said.
“We are trying to save our industry because the last time because of a bridge they tried to close down our industry,” Ferguson said.
In 2012 thieves stole large chunks of the 68-foot metal bridge across the Cap-de-Ville River, Cedros for sale as scrap metal.
The thieves used a blowtorch to cut away huge beams from the base of the bridge, as well as large chunks of the railings.
This prompted then Minister of Works and Transport Jack Warner to question whether the scrap iron industry should be outlawed.
Ferguson is fearful that if the Petrotrin issue is not properly addressed the authorities may again use the industry as the scapegoat.
“The last government wanted to close down the industry and we had to fight and we don’t want to have to be put in that position again so we want to try and solve a problem that has started to occur,” he said.
“We know this situation will cause a lot of problems, we drew it to some people’s attention already but nothing is taking place, a lot of stealing is taking place with Petrotrin material,” Ferguson said.
The theft of material from Petrotrin, however, is not an anomaly though as other local utilities have over the years complained of their infrastructure being stolen as part of the scrap metal trade.
Telecommunication cables, water pumps, manhole covers, and conveyor systems have all been reported stolen due to the increase in the level of economic activity with scrap metals.
Local utility companies such as the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC), the Telecommunication Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT), the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) have all been adversely affected in this regard.
Apart from this situation, Ferguson said a lack of proper regulation in the industry has also allowed foreigners to be able to set up shop here with relative ease and benefit financially.
“These people who come from foreign and open up yards, we had brought them here to buy scrap iron from us and they are now opening up yards,” Ferguson said.
“And they are causing a lot of problems in the industry and that is why we are asking the Government to please assist us to try to deal with this because you see if we don’t put a halt to it this industry will crash,” he said.
Phenomenal rise in scrap iron business
In 2013 the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Investment prepared a Scrap Metal Policy for this country.
“Over the last decade, the Scrap Metal Industry has provided viable business opportunities for a number of small and micro enterprises in Trinidad and Tobago. The industry contributes to the attainment of some of the country’s socio-economic objectives as envisioned in the policy of the Government which includes employment creation and trade promotion. Despite these benefits, there are many issues that have been raised by stakeholders relating to procurement, pricing, and the marketing and distribution of scrap metal that continue to stymie the development of this industry in Trinidad and Tobago. The development of this Scrap Metal Policy is, therefore, an attempt to introduce new regulatory measures to govern the industry. Specifically, the policy seeks to provide the framework that will ensure compliance with health and environmental requirements, registration and other issues to ensure sustainable development of this Industry,” it stated.
The policy came about as result of consultations held with the Scrap Iron Dealers Association but since then nothing has been done, Ferguson said.
Among the concerns the association raised then was the fact that the industry has evolved well beyond the Old Metal and Marine Stores Act of 1904 which regulates it.
“The global Scrap Metal Industry has been growing at a rapid rate over the past decade. Since 2001 the industry processed more than 1,451 million tonnes of recyclable material per annum into raw material feedstock around the world, contributing over US$65 billion to global GDP in the process. The growth of this industry globally has also been reflected domestically. According to figures provided by Trinidad and Tobago’s Central Statistical Office (CSO), scrap metal exports escalated from TT$69 million in 2009 to TT$96 million 2010, registering an increase of 39 per cent over a 12 month period,” statistics have shown.