Dennie Quill, Columnist
I cannot count the times my friends have chastised me for having a 'goat mout', which in Jamaican parlance means you have a way of foretelling disaster and bad luck. But to have 'goat mout' is nothing more than having foresight and to be discerning.
I don't mean to put 'goat mout' on Minister Anthony Hylton, because I believe he is sincere, but I believe the scrap metal trade will become his Waterloo shortly. Jamaica has a law and order problem - on the street, in school, in church, in the workplace, in Parliament. In short, everywhere.
The evidence is all around that the country has drifted into lawlessness. We ignore traffic signs and refuse to pay tickets; we don't pay our taxes; we pirate DVDs; we avoid paying customs duties, and much more.
Here we are five years or so into trying to tame the lottery scam, even with external assistance from law-enforcement partners, and we are still not able to crush this illegal activity which thrives on embezzling elderly foreigners of their life savings. Latest reports from the police suggest that it is spreading from its cradle in the west to parishes like St Thomas in the east.
Recently, there was talk about strengthening the anti-litter law. Is there such a law, really? This law was never really implemented, for citizens of this country have been disposing of their garbage indiscriminately, without any fear of prosecution.
Many of the people involved in the scrap metal trade are in a desperate fight for survival. There is no denying this sorry state of affairs. Mostly uneducated and unskilled, they have to hustle the best way they know to put food on their table. The route to their survival often involves robbery, extortion, trafficking in guns and drugs, and fraud.
While we empathise with the hardships being endured by so many of our countrymen, I submit that empathy and emotion make for very bad law. So it was kind of hilarious to hear Minister Hylton exhorting some of his constituents to abide by the new rules of the scrap metal trade.
THERE GOES MY PROPERTY
The scrap metal trade is ready-made for the hustler who sees nothing wrong with removing a householder's iron gate. The mindset is that "him can always buy anodda one".
The link between the scrap metal trade and the theft of metal has been fairly well established, because reports of metal theft decreased dramatically when the trade was shut down. The utility companies, which have been hardest hit, will now have to redouble their efforts (read: spend millions of dollars) to secure their premises.
I believe the reopening of the trade is a kind of subjective response by the Government to the people's suffering, but it is not sustainable. As someone asked recently: Where is all the scrap to come from? After all the derelict motor vehicles have been cleared from police stations, where will the material come from to sustain the trade?
The minister recited an impressive list of requirements and sanctions for prospective participants in the trade. From all appearances, the trade will be highly regulated and monitored. But the farther we travel into time, the more lawless we have become.
Had this happened 50 years ago, one could anticipate that it could possibly work, for then more people had a healthier respect for other people's property. But this is 2013, and we need to wake up and realise the parlous state of Jamaica.
Dennie Quill is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.