Facing threats about a shutdown of the country, Trinidadian Prime Minister Keith Rowley has defended a recent move to temporarily ban scrap iron exports saying the country’s existence was under threat from vandals damaging equipment at key utility companies causing major disruption of normal life in the republic.
Speaking at a governing People’s National Movement (PNM) forum this week, Rowley said authorities were left with no choice but to impose the ban as the nation’s security was at stake. The cabinet had to act.
His defense comes amid calls from the dealers association for protests that would shut down the country. The association had asked authorities to place a temporary ban only on copper and allow scrap iron products to leave the country but officials say the overwhelming and increasing number of acts of vandalism had pushed them to shut down the industry until new regulations, laws and governance systems are put in place. There are nearly 140 scrap yards in Trinidad. The sector is estimated to employ about 30,000 people.
“All of a sudden, the scrap iron industry decided to physically shut down T&T. We were exporting steel in this big industry to the point where our very existence was being threatened. It became a national security issue. What is the government supposed to do? Say you’re making an honest living — shut T&T down,” Rowley said.
He said vandals had even yanked away the gate to a major fuel bond at the Piarco International Airport, leaving it vulnerable to a major explosion. Others had stolen manhole covers, entire fencing at state and private properties, church bells and state water lines among other pieces of equipment.
A month ago, vandals had removed underground fiber optic cables severely disrupting telephone services to thousands. Others blacked out some districts after carting off power lines and in other instances water piping. The number of police arrests have doubled in the past year even as the dealers association has appealed to vandals to stop sullying its name and disrupting operations of a sector employing hundreds, many of them ex-convicts.
Minister of Social Development, Donna Cox, meanwhile, said members should quickly apply for state grants as these could help prepare children for the new school year and provide a cushion at this time.
“Anyone can apply for our grants which is a grant for small business entrepreneurs to start a business or to grow a business,” Newsday quoted Cox as saying.
Police have offered a $16,500 reward for information leading to the arrests of any vandals as authorities work to update colonial era laws governing the industry. New fines and jail terms will be imposed on anyone guilty of illegal activity while a new and updated register of companies and players in the sector will be in place.
“This register will, under the new legislation, be available on our website so that everybody will know who is dealing in this trade. It will also give enhanced powers to the police to enter premises of offences suspected of being committed and also to inspect containers in which scrap metal is stowed before exportation,” Attorney General Reggie Armour had said as the ban was imposed.
Police in recent weeks had seized a large quantity of beams and steel poles belonging to the works ministry. End/bw