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EDITORIAL: Slow down the gold rush, please

Published:Saturday | November 6, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Speculation is rife that recent robberies of jewellery stores in the nation's capital are linked to the lucrative cash-for-gold business that is fuelled by the high demand for the commodity that now sells for a record US$1,200 per ounce. The fact that one of these robberies took place within metres of the New Kingston Police Post could be an indication of how high the stakes are in this modern-day gold rush.

High gold prices and tough economic times combined to spawn a new industry as the world recession started to take root. It was anticipated that persons who fell on hard times would hive off their gold jewellery to stay afloat. A gold rush was ignited.

What began in America was quickly followed with a vengeance in other parts of the world. From the United Kingdom to St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, the authorities have now become nervous about the cash-for-gold industry. There are fears that this business is merely a licence to steal for those intent on making a fast buck.

Long before there was the cash-for-gold trade, jewellery was the target of local thieves who would burglarise people's homes and snatch chains and bracelets from persons on the streets. Presumably, these thieves can now find ready outlets to dispose of their loot. It is a fair assessment to say we have effectively given respectability to criminals.

Is there a link between the cash-for-gold business and crime? Yes, say the police, who earlier this year lamented the puny fine applicable to persons found guilty of trading in gold without the requisite licence. How widespread is this problem? Are the police doing enough to warn citizens about this growing menace in society?

Scrap-metal nightmare

We have seen how the scrap-metal trade created a nightmare for utility companies, the Government and citizens alike, because of the indiscriminate theft of metal from public places and critical facilities, such as bridges and manhole covers. This industry has been shut down on several occasions in an attempt to avert the widespread theft of metal.

It stands to reason that for the cash-for-gold trade to succeed in a poor country such as ours, the prospectors are not dredging creeks for the shiny metal as the forty-niners did; instead, they are invading people's homes to snap up any little nugget they can find. This can't be any good for Jamaica.

There needs to be strict monitoring of the trade. For example, those licensed to trade in gold should have guidelines demanding that they determine how the seller came by the item(s). They should keep a record of the transactions, photograph the items and ensure the seller has proper identification and provide contact details. Additionally, the purchaser should hold on to the goods for a specified period before it can be sold or melted. The police should inspect these places of business on a regular basis. If these measures are in place, perhaps we can put a dent in the shady side of the trade.

If this industry is allowed to get out of control, every householder will become a target of these thieves. As we approach the Christmas season we do not need another reason to cower behind our doors.

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