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Happy New Year for scrap-metal dealers?

Published:Friday | January 4, 2013 | 12:00 AM

By Peter Espeut

ANOTHER YEAR has begun on our fair isle, and I am sure we all hope it will be better than the last. But few of us have any reason to think 2013 will be better.

One group that I am sure is looking forward to a Happy New Year is the scrap-metal dealers because despite widespread objections, the Government has announced that it will reopen the scrap-metal trade later this month. The former Jamaica Labour Party government shut down the trade after numerous complaints of theft of metal items currently in use by private firms, government entities and householders. Perfectly good gates and grilles and fences and water pipes were sold as scrap to feed the insatiable appetite of the trade.

The present People's National Party government has announced that it is going to prevent all that with new regulations. Restrictions will be placed on the type of scrap metal to be exported, and all containers must be loaded under the supervision of the police, customs officers and, in some cases, the military, at three designated sites in Clarendon, Riverton City and Hagley Park Road. In my view, these measures will help a little, but are inadequate to prevent large-scale vandalisaton of public and private property.

Take the big announcement that scrap material will be on display at the sites for five days to facilitate public viewing before loading of containers commences. Is this practical? If I have lost something, must I travel to Clarendon, Riverton City and Hagley Park Road to search for my property? If I was a metal thief and I stole something from Kingston, I would try to sell it in Clarendon - far away. What about a victim from Lucea?

And then I might not sell it right away; the owner might see it. I would wait six months or so, and then sell it far away. By that time, the owner would have tired of searching the display sites.

And when I, the victim, arrive at the display site, will all the scrap be heaped up in a pile, where I will have to dig down to search? Or will it be spread out in a mono-layer where, at a glance, I can see everything? If I was a metal thief I would take the stolen items to the display site, but put them out of sight in some hard-to-find spot.

As a metal thief, I would be a fool to sell my ill-gotten gains in the original shape and size; I would cut it up, or bend it, or beat it out. The victim of metal theft would never be able to recognise his or her property.

If I were a metal thief, I would be very happy with these new 'regulations'. Minister Hylton tells us that "anything remotely suspect will be detained for investigation by the police and customs for an additional 10 days, to allow for viewing by the public", and that a website will be set up for the public to lodge complaints of theft. Ten days is not enough; if I had waited months to sell my stolen metal, I would almost be 100 per cent sure no one would persevere to see it in the 10-day window.

And then remember: there is so much money involved in the scrap-metal trade that there is lots of room for the police, custom officers and military inspectors to be bribed.

Regulations will not stop theft

No! These so-called regulations will not stop metal theft; the thieves will only be slightly inconvenienced, and the major impact will be to drive up the cost of the scrap-metal business.

I can't believe that the Government has not thought of all of this; it would have to be guilty of rank incompetence and/or intellectual deprivation not to have worked out how the metal thieves will circumvent these regulations. From this PNP government got into power, it seems to be in an indecent haste to reopen the scrap-metal trade, as evidenced by Minister Hylton making an announcement within three months, then having to wheel and come again. Why, I wonder?

And then during the pre-election political debates last year, were you as taken aback as I was to hear the unsolicited assurance by Mrs Simpson Miller that she would re-examine the buggery law? Her remarks were not in answer to any question asked, or in support of any other argument she was making. It is as if she had given an undertaking to say what she said.

We begin a new year, still with a lack of transparency surrounding political donations: who is contributing the money, and how much. What political favours might these donors hope to receive? How might they be seeking to influence public policy and practice?

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and an environmentalist. Send feedback to