Thu | Feb 22, 2018

Samuda gets tough on copper thieves

Published:Saturday | February 11, 2017 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Karl Samuda
This file photo shows a motor vehicle with burnt cable.

Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Karl Samuda, is defending his decision on Thursday to suspend with immediate effect the export of copper by scrap-metal traders in a bid to thwart thieves who continue to disrupt Internet and other telecommunication services within entire communities.

"We can't have this! It's no way to build a country. So I've decided that I'm going to terminate all exports of copper until we are assured that a proper monitoring mechanism is put in place and we can protect the communications industry primarily, which seems to the main source now of their (thieves) attention," Samuda told The Gleaner on Thursday.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force and Jamaica Customs Agency have been notified of the decision, with the minister also flexing his muscles by ramping up the maximum fine upon conviction for certain breaches of the Scrap Metal Regulation 2013, from $2 million to $3 million. The maximum term of two years' imprisonment, however. remains unchanged.


Impact on Internet


The commerce minister admitted the intervention had been triggered by the unrelenting onslaught of the criminals on the infrastructure of telecommunications provider FLOW, even in the face of regulatory strictures designed specifically to address this scourge.

"Although we have initiated a programme whereby only authorised holders of copper can export, we find that the proliferation of this illicit activity is having a devastating impact, where Internet is affected," the minister said in clarifying the urgency of the implementation of the ban.

"You can't have a whole community without Internet and the whole communications industry (affected) at a time when we are talking about BPOs (business process outsourcing) because some people want to cut up the wire and sell it? No, that can't work. These drastic situations require drastic actions, and at no stage on my watch will I be reluctant to take drastic action in the protection of the majority," he declared.

... Caught off guard by scrap-metal ban

Certified scrap-metal traders caught off guard by the ban will be hard hit in their pockets by the snap decision, with none of them officially advised of the change up to press time.

Ralph Ferron, who buys scrap metal to onsell to exporters, only learnt about the ban when The Gleaner contacted him via telephone.

"Me look bout copper, so it a go affect me a whole heap if them stop export it," the Portland-based businessman admitted. Estimating the volume of the valuable metal he has in store at anywhere between 500 and 700 pounds, he explained that he doesn't participate in the illegal trade.

"The only copper me buy is from the man dem who do electrical work, the old piece a wire dem have. Me buy dat from dem and burn it out. If me go bush and find any wire inna old vehicle, me take dat out too. Me nuh do nutten illegal."

Another dealer, who heard by the way about the ban but had no clear understanding of why it had been done, admitted to having purchased about 600 pounds which had not yet been resold.

Meanwhile, Kevin Edmond, who operates out of Riverton Meadows, Kingston 11, noted that the suddenness would seriously hurt his operation given the amount of money spent on sourcing, transporting, sorting and packing the copper. The businessman was still hopeful he would not be left holding the bag.

"Dem coulda give we a time, like say, by February 25 dem a cut off, and we could get some fi sell off, but if it just lock down braps so, me naw go able fi ketch no sale," he lamented.


Action necessary


However, while acknowledging the negative impact for legitimate operators, Samuda made it clear that they would have to absorb the financial fallout in the interim.

"I can't allow the lives of arguably thousands of people to be affected for the interest of one or two or a few who have legitimate copper to export. They'll have to sit on it until we are through with what we are doing, but the kind of action I am prepared to take is necessary in the short run," he insisted.

... Telecom provider gives move thumbs up

Upon learning about the trade suspension from our newsroom, Garry Sinclair, country manager and president, Caribbean, CWC welcomed news, hailing the increased fines as a long overdue step in the right direction.

"We have been advocating this course of action for some time now and are encouraged by the administration's recognition that the matter of copper theft is, in fact, a national security issue which has far-reaching impact outside of our industry. The ongoing theft and vandalism of telecommunications infrastructure severely impacts the country's economy and compromises the security of all Jamaicans.

"Over the past three years, we have incurred losses conservatively estimated at J$300 million, as we have had to attend to replacement costs and the additional security of our network; this, in addition to the negative impact on our customers. Many communities across the island have been left without critical services because of repeated acts of theft and vandalism of the copper cables in their areas.

"We, therefore, commend the Government and also the Jamaica Constabulary Force for supporting us and other affected entities in our attempt to stamp out this scourge on our Jamaican people and on our economy," he said via email.