HOURS before the Government officially reopened the controversial scrap metal trade, thieves struck at the Red Hills, St Andrew home of parliamentarian Pearnel Charles.
Vandals removed several metal tables and chairs from a verandah at the MP's home, raising doubts about new measures put in place to prevent the anarchy that forced a shutdown of the trade under the previous Jamaica Labour Party Government.
"They came in and cleaned off every one. Maybe I am being targeted because they know I am defiantly opposed to the scrap metal trade. As far as I am concerned we don't have a scrap metal trade, what we have is metal being scrapped," Charles told the Jamaica Observer last night.
The country, he said, stands more to lose than any financial gain from the trade. "When you put a cost to security as a result of these metal scrapping terrorists you will see that it is zero for the country. We are losing man hours, industries have shut down. When you consider the amount of people who lose work, we are losing millions; 10 times what we are saving," he said.
Charles said it was the second time in two years that he and his family had suffered at the hands of scrap metal thieves.
"Two years ago, they came with a truck and cut up my wife's metal water tank and took it away. We are under pressure. We brought three dogs on board and they killed one and stole the other two. They chopped off the head of a Doberman," a despondent sounding Charles said.
He was adamant that the resumption of the trade would bring a rise in criminality as there was nothing to discourage stealing. "The country will be better off without it, but we are good at politicising the poverty in Jamaica for political support," he said.
Yesterday, the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) lashed out against the resumption of the trade, saying in a release that the Government was incapable of regulating it.
"We are not convinced that the Government has the enforcement capability to regulate the trade. We are also concerned about the Riverton site, and had written to Minister Anthony Hylton, the minister of industry, investment and commerce, on December 20, 2012, expressing our scepticism that the Riverton site was able to accommodate increased traffic, and referring to all the many unsolved public health, environmental and security problems at Riverton," the release stated.
JET said, too, that new scrap metal sites were an environmental hazard and in breach of environmental laws.
"Under the Natural Resources (Prescribed Areas) (Prohibition of Categories of Enterprises, Construction and Development) (Amendment) Order 2003 enterprises involved in the storage of scrap metal, including derelict vehicles, require an environmental permit," said JET. It added that following an Access to Information Act inquiry to the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), it was advised that NEPA had not received applications for the required permits.
In the meantime, scrap metal traders said yesterday that the requirement for exporters to post a $7-million bond with the Factories Corporation of Jamaica could force them out of business.
Minister Hylton, however, defended the decision, saying that in some circles persons wanted the bond to be higher.
"We believe it represents a balance... It is high enough that people will have to take it very seriously," Hylton said yesterday.
"The whole principle is that persons who are at the hierarchy of the chain -- the exporters -- have a vested interest, something to protect, and that is a very important principle," the minister said during a tour of the Riverton City site, one of two specially established processing sites in the Corporate Area. The other is located at Elspeth Avenue off Hagley Park Road.
There was no trading activity at a third designated scrap metal site in Clarendon. A ministry source said the processing site at Clarendon Park was still being upgraded, but should open later this week.
The Factories Corporation will operate the three facilities.
During the Riverton visit, the minister warned traders that officials would be pulling out all the stops to ensure that the trade operated above board.
President of the Scrap Metal Federation Jonathan Aarons said yesterday that the $7-million bond would force some to pull out of the trade.
There were, meanwhile, mixed views from scrap metal traders who participated in the tour of the Riverton City site.
"Right now we really pleased to see that the trade has started back, but there are still a number of issues which we hope to gradually point out, but for now we are happy activities have resumed," said Richard Lewis, otherwise called 'Sonny Dread', a Riverton resident who said he had been eagerly awaiting the restart of the trade.
Norman Evans welcomed the decision by the minister to reopen the trade, but said he was concerned that the strict guidelines could turn off a number of persons from the industry.
Donovan McLeod, chairman of David Scrap Metal, said he was also happy for the resumption. "I have been preparing my operations, ensuring that everything is in place and that all the guidelines have been followed. So it's all systems go, and come next week Monday we will be ready to do business with members of the public," said McLeod
The Trade Board, the Jamaica Constabulary Force, the national security ministry, the Customs Department and the Ministry of Industry will be responsible for monitoring the scrap metal trade.