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Moonilal: Don’t ban scrap iron industry, let police do their work

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Elizabeth Gonzales Oropouche MP Dr Roodal Moonilal refers to a 2013 scrap-metal policy, prepared by the Ministry of Trade, at the Opposition UNC media conference on Sunday at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, Charles Street, Port of Spain. Photo by Ayanna Kinsale
Oropouche MP Dr Roodal Moonilal refers to a 2013 scrap-metal policy, prepared by the Ministry of Trade, at the Opposition UNC media conference on Sunday at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, Charles Street, Port of Spain. Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

OPPOSITION MP Roodal Moonilal doesn’t agree with the Government's proposal to impose a six-month ban on the scrap iron industry to deal with an increase in the theft of copper and iron.

At the UNC’s weekly press conference on Sunday. Moonilal said theft of any kind was solely the responsibility of the police. He said legitimate scrap iron dealers should not be punished for the increase in copper and metal theft.

On Friday, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds announced the ban at a joint press conference with acting Commissioner of Police Mc Donald Jacob and Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales.

The ban is expected to come into effect after the Finance and General Purposes sub-committee of the Cabinet finalises it. In the meantime, legislation is being drafted to regularise the industry.

Hinds said the Government had to act because of the riise in the number of acts of vandalism on state and private infrastructure.

In response to the announcement, president of the Scrap Iron Dealers Association Allan Ferguson said he was working with his attorneys to file an injunction to stop any ban from taking place to preserve the jobs of some 20,000 scrap iron dealers.

He said if the ban happens, the industry will go out of business.

Last week, police recovered over $1million in iron I-beams and steel poles belonging to the Ministry of Works which were found at a scrap iron yard in central Trinidad. TSTT and WASA are the two utilities severely hit by vandals who have carted off millions of dollars worth of cable. Two weekends ago, vandals struck TSTT's underground fibre optic and copper installation in San Fernando, interrupting service to tens of thousands of customers. Last Thursday, vandals attacked WASA's California Booster Station, carting off electrical cables. The estimated cost of damage is $400,000 and the timeframe to execute repairs were said to be between three-four weeks.

A reward of $100,000 has been offered for information that leads to the successful arrest of the perpetrators.

In June, the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association called on police to act as copper thieves were caught targeting businesses in the capital city, hacking away copper lines attached to air-conditioning units on rooftops.

Angered by the growing public nuisance, the Prime Minister, in July, said he will approach the Attorney General to draft laws that would thwart the sale of stolen scrap iron.

But on Sunday, Moonilal said any move to interfere with the operations of the industry will dent the fast-growing export market.

Moonilal said the indirect effects of this move will do more harm than good.

“I can tell you in the seven years they have been there, they have done absolutely nothing to regulate this industry to deal with the scrap iron dealers to address some of the areas in this industry that can lend itself to criminal activity.”

Moonilal questioned why the Government decided on such drastic measures when the 2013 scrap-metal policy, prepared by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investment, stressed on the high socio-economic benefits the industry creates for the country.

“It is a critical sector that you're closing down and you say you're closing it down for six months when we all know there will be no regulations, no change of law, no new regime in six months.

“If they close they will close down for years. This is a recipe for the criminalisation of Trinidad and Tobago. This will lead to further criminal activity. This will lead to a loss of income.

Moonilal called on the Government to consider all the factors and rethink its decision.

“So, because we have people stealing copper wire and scrap iron from the Ministry of Works, and manhole covers, you would battle the export of that?

“This is the work of the police, it is the police. Their job is to ensure people don't climb over a fence and steal in the government building. That’s their job. Cars are being stolen. Would they ban the sale of cars?”