After being banned for a year and a half, the export of scrap metal from Jamaica is to resume towards the end of January.
That is good news for many people, especially in an economy that remains in recession; the jobless rate is high and far too many are underemployed and/or live on the margins. They recall that at its height, the sector employed more than 10,000 people and earned, in 2006, upwards of US$100 million. Those are numbers not to be sneezed at.
It is, however, important to remember why the former Jamaica Labour Party administration twice suspended the industry: substantial chunks of the country's infrastructure were being thieved and sold as scrap. Even cultural artefacts were at risk.
Electricity and telephone cables were being ripped down and metal bridges, train lines, manhole covers and so on pilfered. In one case, a prized sculpture by the celebrated artist, Edna Manley, was stolen from a gallery and sent to a scrapyard.
Anthony Hylton, the industry, investment and commerce minister, has outlined a regime, within which the resumed trade will operate, that sounds workable. The export of certain types of scrap will be banned and/or subject to prior verification; the number of processing sites will be limited to three; and they will be manned by the military, police and Customs. All shipments will be inspected. Registered scrap metal exporters will have to post bonds.
But as Mr Hylton should know, the problem of Jamaica is not the absence of systems and regimes. We, perhaps, have too many. Our main failure is implementation and enforcement. So, most people will expect that the police and soldiers will soon become tired of the surveillance and/or the customs officers be corrupted.
Breaches will then go undetected and soon we will be back to the old days. It is the same reason why the stated punishment for murder is not, in Jamaica, an effective deterrent to homicides: too few persons are ever arrested, convicted and punished for the crime.
Mr Hylton, therefore, has to convince people that this project, too, will not soon fall apart. We, therefore, hold our verdict.
Discount and sell student loan debt
The latest loan of J$1.9 billion the Caribbean Development Bank is making to Jamaica to fund the island's Students' Loan Bureau (SLB) will fill an immediate gap - covering the tuition of 5,000 students whose loans were approved, but not dispersed. It will NOT, however, solve the entire problem.
With an increasing number of university students seeking loans, and a high rate of delinquency, the SLB can't keep up with demand. For the current financial year, it has approved $4.2 billion in loans. But the demand is expected to rise to $35 billion by 2017 and more than double that amount by 2020. Analysts say that it needs an injection of $64 billion over the next eight years.
It is important that the Government, with urgency, fashion a credible restructuring and financing programme for the SLB, including, perhaps, participation by the private sector.
In the meantime, the administration needs to consider creative ways with the agency's cash problem and ensuring a faster turnaround of loanable funds.
One suggestion, previously posited by this newspaper, is for the packaging and discounting, and sale to private financial institutions, of the outstanding debts by borrowers.