WITH REPORTING BY ELIZABETH GONZALES
From manhole covers to TSTT wires to WASA fittings to a church bell. Scrap Iron Dealers Association President Allan Ferguson was close to tears at a media conference on Thursday as he apologised to the nation after the theft of a bell from the St John’s Anglican Church, Petit Bourg, San Juan.
He said he understood that people in TT were upset by the many inconveniences they had been subject to.
“Up to this morning I would have been listening that they gone with a bell from a church and it’s very hurtful to hear these things. I want to really apologise, because it doesn’t matter if somebody comes off the street and they’re not a scrap guy, and they just decided to steal whatever it might be and they bring it to our yards, or they’re not bound to bring it to our yards and they keep it, it will still look bad for us. We as scrap dealers have to understand that a lot of wrong is taking place in our industry, a lot of wrong is being acted out on people, a lot of people have lost things because of this industry. I want to say I humbly apologise to TT.”
Ferguson said a general meeting of all scrap iron dealers and van men was held on Wednesday to be part of what the executive wanted to send to the government in terms of new regulations for the industry. He said new rules were being formulated for van men and scrap yards in order to reduce the theft being associated with the industry.
“We decided to put some strong rules in place to make sure that all these thefts all around TT are something from the past. I cannot give you the assurance that it will go down 100 per cent, but I could tell you what we decided to do to make sure they stop is to do something serious with this industry, to make it very difficult for people to steal things and bring them to our yards. We decided to put some serious rules in place for the van men and make sure we have a strong data system in place to make sure that these things will be captured easily so we will know who are the people doing things they’re not supposed to do.”
He said he was looking forward to meeting with the government to discuss regulations and new policies to discuss the crime and theft. He said the association had been informed a meeting would take place next week.
Ferguson said he has asked former association secretary general Kenny Plaza and TT Automotive Dealers Association vice president Rhondall Feeles to assist him with getting the measures right and they have accepted.
Plaza said up to 2011 there had been discussions with previous governments, with plans being made to upgrade the recycling of scrap metal to first world status, but little to no progress has been made since then.
“We would like to sit with the government to continue those discussions, and have a conversation with the public about the importance of recycling, recyclers and scrap iron dealers.”
Feeles said he understood the challenges being faced by the association as the used car industry had faced similar challenges in the past.
“I am looking forward to working with them and the government on impartial laws and bylaws that van men and yards will have to abide by. Now that I have a better understanding of what is happening in the industry, I appeal to the nation to forgive the association. I also appeal to the people who may be pillaging the community and casting bad imagery on the industry to behave yourself in a better manner. This is an opportunity to do things the right way.”
Speaking to Newsday via telephone, Anglican Bishop Claude Berkley confirmed that the bell, which he described as medium, had gone missing in the last week of June. He said this is the first incident he can recall of a bell being stolen.
“I don’t know the bell per se but from the discussion of those in the congregation is that the bell is too big for one person to carry, which tells you it’s probably over 100 pounds. It is described as medium because you could have very large bells that you could hardly span or give a hug and cover completely. Their understanding is that it’s not a bell that can be lifted easily by one person, which gives an idea of the size and weight. I think it would mostly be made of brass.”
He said it would be a costly undertaking to replace the bell, especially if it had to be made to the specifications of the original. He said it would have to be imported as those bells are not made here.
“Bells serve as a form of communication with the community surrounding the church, informing people of when services are taking place, funerals, weddings, and other events. It’s strong communication, a community sound because it is sentimental to people, some people would have grown up hearing it all the time. The bells have made significant notice to the community that there is a church here and worship is going on.”
Berkley said the police had been informed and investigations were taking place. He said to his knowledge there were no CCTV cameras present.
“There is a way in which we responded to the church as a sacred place. The church is less sacred for a greater number of people these days. That is a change that has happened or is happening, and therefore we need to exercise greater diligence and apply greater security measures to the artifacts and other devices of the church that assist our worship.”
The PM on July 8 stated his intention to seek advice from Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, on banning the marketing of used metals following the theft of cables, manhole covers, pipe fittings and other infrastructural materials. Attempts to reach out to the AG and Minister in the Ministry Renuka Sagramsingh-Sooklal about the issue were not successful.
In addition to affecting thousands of people relying on water and electricity, at least three people have died while stealing copper cable. Ferguson has been asking for a temporary halt on copper exports to deal with the situation.