"...SCRAP AYAN, ole battery buyin'." The ubiquitous refrain of the scrap iron bard ricochets off my office walls. I nearly broke my neck running downstairs to catch the passing Sanford and Son truck.
The only meal I ever accomplished in a set of cast iron pans was rust. I thought I might salvage at least a portion of my investment.
“What ah pong are you buying at?” The loader, who looked as rusty as the discarded materials he was collecting, shot back, “Price fuh ayan real low now.”
I asked again, “So how much?” He said, “Nothing really, you know.” I see your play, my friend. You know I ain't taking this crap back inside. He's the scrap iron dealer, not me. I need to get rid of this stuff. Off he went with my cast iron pots that were apparently, by all market standards, worthless; that is until they arrived at the scrap yard.
The scrap iron industry has always been a feature of the informal business landscape in TT. With China's increasingly voracious appetite for metal to feed its growth spurt, the industry has seen some lucrative leaps recently. It should be noted, though, that not all dealers are making bank deposits and not all dealers are crooks and cable thieves.
The shutdown of the industry for six months feels like a scorched-earth response. The Government, not surprisingly, is hopelessly detached from society and the impact of its rudderless take on the crisis.
The brainless trust near the seat of power can't fathom the damage of this singularly uni-pronged strategy. The scrap iron industry employs thousands who would otherwise struggle to find work elsewhere. Money spun by the industry in turn feeds other small businesses like parlours. The Government is throwing the baby out with the bathwater and throwing the basin right behind it. This is an easy sell for the State as it has been able to chime with public perceptions that anyone in the scrap iron industry must be a common thief.
Countries around the world have struggled to contain illegality in the recycled metals industry. In the UK the Scrap Metals Dealers Act of 2013 stipulates that all dealers must be licensed and prohibits cash trade, presumably to create a paper trail for transactions.
Moreover, legislation in the UK dictates that all dealers must be able to identify sellers of scrap metals. These are just a few of the provisions to regulate the industry and reduce theft. In examining the performance of the legislation, it's estimated that theft in the UK of metals fell by 75 per cent in four years.
If only we had a policy, some guiding document, to bridle the industry. As it happens, we do! A policy document was drafted by the Ministry of Trade as far back as 2013. Does this surprise you? It shouldn't. The policy is comprehensive and contains many of the provisions applied in other countries to tame lawlessness and streamline the sector: licensing, inspections, certification of traded materials, etc.
Still, the Government appoints another one of its superfluous committees to reinvent the wheel, beneath which now-jobless scrap metal workers will be crushed. This isn't a new problem, but we treat it with the same five-star incompetence applied to all our challenges.
When I worked as a reporter eons ago, TSTT was constantly under siege from copper raiders, an outgrowth of the burgeoning wild west industry.
Over the years the scourge exploded. Bandits stole costly drainage grating and manhole covers, exposing the public to serious harm. Something had to be done, so quite naturally, nothing was done.
As overseas demand for metal grew, dealers became more desperate. A few months ago thieves made off with a church bell believed to be more than a hundred years old.
Recognising that the fallout of criminality in the sector would inevitably land on their heads, the Scrap Iron Dealers Association had been calling for regulation of the industry for quite some time. It was ignored.
Adding insult to joblessness, the Ministry of Social Development has announced that those affected by the export ban can apply for “grants;” a joke for people who hate laughter.
Shut down Petrotrin, BWIA, Tidco, TTT, and now the scrap iron industry – the Government specialises in manufacturing monsters, either by action or omission, which it then tries to vanquish through closure. As usual, it's the small man who suffers the consequences of small-mindedness.