Government officials have said that the early Sunday morning raid by the Defence Force and the Ministry of Works on the informal scrap-metal businesses in Beetham Gardens was based on credible intelligence that linked the enterprise to the illegal manufacture of guns. Although the soldiers and the trucks from the Ministry of Works remained on the site for well over 12 hours-and carted away many truckloads of scrap metal to an metal foundry in Point Lisas-there were no immediate reports that any illegal items had been seized during the raid. Several issues have been raised by the raid and seizure.
Firstly, the almost reflex response by many of those affected by the strong arm of the State during the state of emergency that this action was discriminatory.
According to John Rennie, he lost $30,000 worth of items and he "can't understand how people in Caroni and everywhere have containers all round dem area but dem ent doing them nothing. This whole thing like it based on politics-they know Beetham is PNM." At some point, the Government ought to address this perception of unfair treatment, which is tinged with racial overtones and is alive in many of those who have been negatively affected by the state of emergency. The second point coming out of the Guardian's reporting of the raid was made by Laventille East/Morvant Member of Parliament Donna Cox, who insisted that the roadside businesses were legitimate. "It seems they're not only clearing up crime, but the scrap metal also. But since people have legitimate business, we wanted to know what will happen to the confiscated material," she said. And the Attorney General, Anand Ramlogam, affirmed that if these businessmen produced valid licences and receipts for the scrap metal, they would in fact be compensated.
But the point needs to be made that throughout the Caribbean the scrap metal business has been associated with illegality. Here in T&T, majority state-owned TSTT has been plagued by thieves who cut the copper wire supplying thousands of telecommunications services to hundreds if not thousands of businesses to retrieve the copper that fetches thousands of dollars on the black-market export trade.
In Jamaica, a grey-market trade in scrap metal continued for decades until, in May, bandits there made off with a bronze statue sculpted by Edna Manley, called "The Trees Are Joyful," at Unity House in Runaway Bay, St Ann. Given Edna Manley's legendary status as a Jamaican artist, as wife of one Jamaican Prime Minister and the mother of another, that would have been the branch that broke the donkey's back.
The sculpture, according to newspaper reports, was handed over to former Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister Karl Samuda after he made an impassioned plea to the leaders of the scrap-metal trade. On July 25, about six weeks following the return of the bronze statue-which would have been smelted and sold for the intrinsic value of the commodity without the least regard to the historical value of the work of art-the Jamaican Government slapped a permanent ban on the export of scrap metals.
There was significant concern about Jamaican historical artefacts, including cannons, being stolen for their metal.
Less than a week after the Jamaican Government action, the Government of the Bahamas imposed a temporary ban on the export of scrap metals. While the factual basis in T&T may not be the same as in our north Caribbean neighbours-given the existence of a great deal of scrap metal here-the underlying message is that the Government needs to regulate the scrap-metal industry. A start would be to acknowledge its existence, view it as a source of urban entrepreneurship and, perhaps, create a space for it within one of the industrial estates for which state-owned investment promotion agency, ETecK, is responsible. Such thinking would remove the scrap-metal business from the verge of a major highway and would create a new, legitimate source of revenue for the Government.