Gonzales: Millions spent to repair scrap-metal vandalism

Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales. File photo/David Reid
Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales. File photo/David Reid

Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales said millions of dollars were spent in 2022 to repair the damage done by vandals and thieves of the metal used in the various public utilities. He said the measures in the Scrap Metal Bill 2022 will strike a balance between dealing with criminals and people trying to make an honest living in the industry.

He said the utilities sector was reeling under the effects of criminals and illegalities up until the time the scrap-iron industry was closed down in August. He was speaking during debate on the bill on Wednesday.

“Citizens will remember when several booster stations and wells were attacked and vandalised, depriving communities of water. WASA expended over $20 million in restoration activities. TTEC infrastructure was also placed under tremendous threat, with poles in Fyzabad and Penal costing $60,000 to replace, and cable theft in Debe and Pinto Road, all of which impacted on the utility’s ability to provide electricity.

“TSTT suffered $14-$20 million in illegal activities in vandalism. From March 22 to July 2022 this year, TSTT endured 361 breaks in its fibre optic cables. As at June 2022, there have been approximately 90 acts of vandalism each month, three acts per day. The vandals are after copper but since they don’t know the difference between fibre and copper, they cut the lines and while the fibre has no intrinsic value, the restoration costs were high, with an average of $41,422 per incident. TSTT has spent approximately $14.9 million to keep the country connected between March and July 2022.”

He gave statistics for the number of fibre breaks in the last seven years: 2016 - 9, 2017 - 29, 2018 - 68, 2019 - 43, 2020 - 89, 2021 - 325, and in 2022 – 427.

“Is it a coincidence that since the legal notice was signed on August 12, 2022, there has been not one act of vandalism on TSTT’s infrastructure, that WASA and TTEC have reported no acts of vandalism? Is it as simple as that act of signing a legal notice?”

He said the law was targeted at those bent on creating mayhem in the society while protecting the weak, poor and vulnerable.

“I cannot understand why someone who is interested in operating in a legal, regulated manner would have a problem with registering as a dealer or collector, why they would have a problem with a law enforcement officer coming into their premises, why they would have a problem with criminals, those convicted of dangerous drugs, anti-money laundering offenses, and certain other crimes, being barred from participating.”

Gonzales said with the record of illegal development in TT causing flooding and other problems, he wondered at people who questioned why the legislation wanted to prevent people from having scrap-iron yards in their dwelling homes.

He said while the bill gives the minister power to grant, renew, revoke, vary, and suspend licenses, people who feel aggrieved can go before the courts.

In his contribution to the debate, Oropouche West MP Dr Roodal Moonilal said the bill had two objectives: dealing with the recent criminality, and modernising and regulating an industry that has social and economic benefit.

He said he was informed there were 130 dealers, ten significant exporters, and approximately 25,000 people who are collectors of scrap metal.

“I was told that this industry is called an absorptive industry, where when people are retrenched they go into informal sector, and the government has been closing industry after industry, so unemployed people go into these sectors and that is how we can have 20,000 people in this sector.”

He said scrap iron yards usually bring income into communities, employing mainly young men.

“Like the plantation system, the scrapyard gave rise to income, recreation, and fraternal relations in communities. In my constituency there are scrapyards and they have a beverage on a evening with their employees and so on.

“The majority of dealers have their scrapyard in front of their dwelling house. If the government has its way, these people would have to shut down. What would happen to the scrapyard in my community if this bill is passed, will the people working there have to be fired because it has to close down?”

Moonilal criticised the government for not giving a copy of the bill to the Scrap Iron Dealers Association for review before it came up for debate in Parliament.

He questioned why the bill said business could not be conducted after 6 pm, allegedly in order to curb criminality. He said what was needed was harsher penalties and greater law enforcement. He said the requirement for police to watch export containers being packed placed a burden on the police service.

He said the requirement that the Trade and Industry Minister be the one in charge of licences, rather than the present decentralized system, meant that the issuing of licences would be greatly delayed, and recommended a licence be issued for three years instead of one.

Moonilal said some of the measures recommended were unneccesarily bureaucratic, such as fit for shipping certificates, certification of scrap metal for export, and tagging of scrap metal.


"Gonzales: Millions spent to repair scrap-metal vandalism"

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