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Tufton calls for suspension of scrap-metal industry

Published:Friday | April 23, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is again reeling from the impact of vandalism to critical infrastructure, as scrap-metal thieves struck the Colbeck irrigation system in St Catherine on Tuesday.

The vandals destroyed the Colbeck pumping station, with losses totalling approximately $5 million.

The National Irrigation Commission (NIC) had just completed and was about to commission this system, which was funded by the Inter-American Development Bank. The system would have benefited 100 farmers with more than 200 acres of productive land.

The incident relating to the Colbeck system is the latest in a series of attacks on critical irrigation infrastructure, as well as infrastructure supporting the sugar industry.

In January, scrap-metal vandals inflicted damage, of approximately $12 million, to the NIC's pumping station in Port Henderson, St Catherine, which supplies irrigation water to the Bernard Lodge Sugar Estate.

The sugar industry has also been targeted by scrap-metal thieves, suffering losses of approximately $87 million in 2009.

In these attacks, the Sugar Company of Jamaica Holdings lost motors, electrical wires, poles, transformer oil and parts of bridges, in addition to the loss of production time, productivity and revenue.

Against the background of the sustained attacks on the ministry's infrastructure, and the impact on agricultural production and productivity, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Christopher Tufton, is again calling for a suspension of the scrap-metal trade to allow for a thorough review of their operations in order to eliminate damage to production facilities.

One location

As part of this review, the minister is proposing that all scrap-metal operations in the island be concentrated in one location, from which the metals will be sorted and exported. A single state entity should also be charged with the res-ponsibility of monitoring the operations of scrap-metal operators. The consolidation of locations and single oversight body would allow for stricter monitoring of the operations of this industry.

The minister is further proposing a closed season for scrap-metal operations. Outside the closed season, legitimate operators would be allowed to collect and export legitimate scrap metal during a restricted period of three months.