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Scrap metal discipline

Published:Friday | August 8, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton (left) and Chairman of Factories Corporation of Jamaica Clive Fagan (right) tour the new Trade in Metals Logistics Centre, on Spanish Town Road, which was opened by the minister on April 17, 2014. - File
This man is seen transporting scrap metal on the streets of Kingston. - File
Aubyn Hill, Financial Gleaner Columnist
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Aubyn Hill,  Financial Gleaner Columnist

On April
17 of this year, Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton declared open a new centralised scrap metal facility at Spanish Town Road in Kingston.

At the opening, Minister Hylton was heartened by the strategies that were adopted by his ministry in order to have scrap metal entrepreneurs develop a greater respect for the rule of law as it applies to their business sector.

The minister was proud to report that: "There is a restriction on the export of irrigation pipes used in agriculture; railway lines; copper; I-beams; bridge (railings); manhole covers and sign posts. Special permits must be obtained from the minister in order to export these items. Customs and the police will be posted at all sites and there will be 100 per cent inspection of all containers."

Candidate Hylton campaignedextensively on bringing the scrap metal trade back into operation after the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, at the behest of then Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Chris Tufton, decided to close down the sector in July 2011. The scrap metal trade exporters were livid and threw their support to candidate Hylton, who is now the minister.

Tufton had acted because he felt he had no alternative. There was a significant spike in the theft of metals and critical parts of the metal infrastructure equipment and facilities of the country.

GRAND THEFT OF EQUIPMENT

In making what then Minister Tufton called "not an easy decision", he cited government figures which claimed valuable equipment and infrastructural metal materials worth $1 billion had been stolen to feed the scrap metal business.

While I led the team to divest the government-owned sugar assets, the management of the sugar estates reported theft of power distribution cable and other metal equipment from their properties to feed the scrap metal trade.

The Scrap Metal Federation of Jamaica (SMFJ) had a very strong lobby to keep the sector operational and stave off what it claimed would be sure bankruptcy for most operators in the industry.

The SMFJ did not seem to have an answer as to how to stop its members from trading in stolen non-scrap metal.

Anthony Hylton reopened the scrap metal trade in January 2013. Given the snail's pace at which the machinery of government works, the minister clearly moved with enormous speed to open the trade and keep his commitment to the practitioners in the scrap metal business. The SMFJ members needed to "eat a food" again.

According to comments in Minister Hylton's Sectoral Debate on May 14, 2013, vigilance was kept during the five months since the scrap metal traders went back to trading.

He disclosed that three persons had been brought before the court up to that point, and a government worker had been suspended as the authorities fought attempts to breach the new rules governing the scrap metal trade.

The minister also told Parliament that an exporter who had been under investigation was facing suspension of his export licence because of breaches.

METAL SOURCE

We all know that the economy has been in such prolonged slow, or no, growth motion that even metal has been rusting and rotting. And, while Anthony Hylton praised the scrap metal traders for earning well-needed foreign exchange in his April 17 statement at the centralised facility opening, one has to wonder how does a small country like Jamaica produce so much scrap metal in such slow-growth economic conditions.

The persons who operate the scrap metal trade must be really intrepid entrepreneurs to find such an unending supply of scrap metal.

In times past, there used to be a constant outcry about the stealing of copper cables, bridges and other important pieces of our country's infrastructure. These days we hear none of those complaints.

Is it that the new regulations put in by Minister Hylton are so tight and effective that these intrepid and risk-taking traders in the scrap metal trade have all decided to behave like respectable and law-abiding businessmen? Or is it that those who suffer from the theft are very wary of complaining publicly because they know of Minister Hylton's unequivocal support of the business people in the scrap metal trade?

Maybe Anthony Hylton can give us an update on those investigations to which he referred to on April 19 2014. Time also to report on how much foreign exchange has been earned since January 2014, how many complaints have been received of theft of non-scrap metal since the trade was reopened at the beginning of this year - and the value of those claims, and how many times the three sorting centres were able to identify and stop the attempts to export illegal contraband material.

Transparency, exposure and timely reporting will help to keep the scrap metal trade in relative good standing and away from egregious thefts and illegal activity.

Aubyn Hill is CEO of Corporate Strategies and chairman of the Opposition Leader's Economic Advisory Council.Email: writerhill@gmail.comTwitter: @HillaubynFacebook: facebook.com/Corporate.Strategies