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CARIBBEAN Policy Research Institute (CaPRI), a regional think-tank, has recommended 10 ways to address the two main problems contributing to theft in the scrap metal industry. CaPRI said the two categories of problems facilitating scrap metal theft in Jamaica were the lack of enforcement of existing regulations and needed improvement in the governing legislation.

The 10 policy recommendations are:

  • Limit the number of dealer sites to a number that is in line with the enforcement capacity of Jamaica Customs and of the police.
  • Make the law explicit that packing can only take place at registered dealer sites.
  • Require that a copy of the seller's identification be taken and kept on record by the purchasing dealer.
  • Prohibit cash payments for scrap metal.
  • Expand the required inspection team to include port security, a police officer from the organised crime squad, and a police officer from the nearest station.
  • Institute a "fit for export" form to be presented before export permission is granted.
  • Institute total video surveillance during the packing of containers.
  • Establish online reporting of metal installation theft.
  • Establish a database on the scrap metal trade and on scrap metal theft.
  • Set the licence fee for dealers at a level that covers the entire cost of enforcement of the regulations.

The CaPRI recommendations were put forward in January, six months after the former Government imposed a temporary ban on the industry because of widespread theft that resulted in damage to the country's vital infrastructure. Over the last three years, thieves cashing in on the lucrative international trade in scrap metals removed more than $1-billion worth of metals from businesses, private residences and state property. At the time,

Commerce Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said the Cabinet was forced to take the drastic action in the national interest, to curb the wanton theft and mangling of valuable property, such as railway lines, water pipes, telephone cables, bridges, road signs, gates, and even handles from exhumed coffins which were vandalised to sell to rogue dealers for export. 

The then Opposition People's National Party (PNP) spokesman on industry, Anthony Hylton, criticised the decision as unfairly punishing legitimate dealers and undemocratic. Hylton, now the minister of industry, came close to announcing a resumption of the trade, but said there must first be improved oversight as well as the creation of a metal processing centre. Last week, frustrated scrap metal dealers staged what they termed a silent protest in front of Hylton's office in New Kingston in an effort to pressure the Government to reopen the trade. 

CaPRI, whose recommendations have taken on renewed significance in light of last week's protest, insisted that the integrity of scrap metal trading in Jamaica is being seriously undermined by a lack of enforcement of existing regulations. "Lapses include site inspections not taking place prior tothe approval of packing sites, goods inspections not being conducted prior to the granting of export licences, unregistered packing sites being accommodated, and the police being absent from inspections," the think tank said.