The operators of several local recycling companies have joined forces to implore the government to rethink its decision to ban scrap metal and copper exports.
On Wednesday, the government issued a statement indicating that, effective immediately, a 90–day ban has been placed on the export of scrap metal while a permanent ban has been placed on the export of copper.
According to the statement, the ban is in response to the widespread theft of copper and various metals, which has had an impact on major industries and utilities whose services have been disrupted.
The government is assessing the scrap metal industry and will engage with various stakeholders and legitimate businesses with a view to better regulating and monitoring the industry, the statement noted.
Bahamas government's decision follows a similar ban imposed recently. Jamaica
During a press conference yesterday, organized by community activist Troy Garvey, the businessowners talked about how this measure is affecting their operations.
Trevas Hall, the proprietor of Presto Recycling, said he is willing to facilitate the implementation of whatever measures the government proposes to regulate and monitor the industry, and does not think it is necessary to shut it down.
"The percentage of people that actually benefit from scrap outweighs the negatives," he said.
His company employs 30 people, he said, but without the revenue generated by scrap metal exports, he would be hard pressed to keep them all on.
"Without any consultations this ban was levied on us now. What am I supposed to do with my employees for three months when this is what we do on a daily basis to make our living. And then besides our direct employees we have hundreds of people – no one is going and stealing people's stuff to bring in – I'm talking about people going into the bushes and cleaning up this island to bring in that scrap and they're getting paid for it, an initiative that the government, nor the (Grand Bahama) Port Authority or no one else seems to have put in place, but we the people, the commoners managed to get in place. And the government did not regulate it. They had a mandate, their mandate was to regulate it," he said.
"I'm not here really to agitate with the government, it isn't a political issue to me, I'm just pleading with the government, because of so many people that I know recycling affects and how many people are actually depending on recycling, to revisit that decision."
Hall suggested that the length of time for the ban be shortened to 30 days instead of 90.
"We could try and cope with that, but anything beyond that is like a death sentence for our business. They might as well tell us close down," he said.
Hall said he has made, especially in recent times, a large investment in his business. He has planned to move to a larger location soon, and expand into the recycling of other materials, such as plastic. However, he is now waiting to see what will be the outcome of the government's assessment of the industry.
"A government is supposed to assist the people and see that we make it...Be fair to us, regulate recycling but please, don't shut us down," he said.
Operator of the Grand Bahama International Trading Company, Dennis Deleveaux, said he currently has six containers full of scrap metal at the harbour waiting to be shipped and two more in his yard.
Following the government's announcement, he said he was notified by the shipping company he uses that he must remove the scrap metal from the containers.
That would require labour and heavy machinery, he noted, and questioned who was going to bear the cost.
"Do we have to pay and go to unload the containers? To unload the containers, it costs us way more than the profit we're actually making off the containers, so we're actually going backwards. Then what about the money that we already invested in that material that's sitting there in the yard ready to go? What about our employees that we can't pay that already worked for us? Who's going to pay them if we can't pay them because all of our money is tied up in our containers? What about the contracts that we signed with our buyers? We have obligations, we are bound to a contract. When we violate this contract we suffer stiff penalties, who will take the cost on that? Will the government pay the cost?"
Deleveaux said he believes the government should have given previous notice to operators that they were going to implement the ban, so as to allow them time to export their stock.
"At least they should give us some type of timetable where we would have a grace period to send our containers out and retrieve our funds so we could pay our employees and not take any losses. But it was immediately, no one contacted us, they gave us no warning," he said.
"So we're begging the government to give us a chance to get our containers out, make our money. And if we need to have police presence at our location, so be it, if we need to have photo ID, so be it, whatever it takes to put us back in business, we are ready to work with the government. But right now our backs are against the wall and we're at a standstill and we feel that we are being wrongly treated."
Deleveaux said the scrap metal trade is the last hope for Grand Bahamians who are seeking to make an honest living.
"This is the only thing that we have to supply money into the community... It's not just affecting the scrap metal dealers, it's affecting the entire island and it's hundreds of people that actually go into the bush and do an honest living by scrapping, digging with their bare hands. We have the Sea Grape dump, the
dump and the Pinedale dump. People go in with bare hands and pickaxes, to bring us scrap metal to sell to put food on their table and without warning the government shut the door on them. So what are we to do as Bahamians? Jones Town Grand Bahama is dead, they might as well give us a noose and let us hang ourselves," he said.
Another businessowner, Theodore Russell of Five Star Recycling, spoke out about his predicament.
"I currently have four containers that are supposed to be shipped tonight into
. The containers were cleared to export on the 25th, this went into effect on the 27th, my containers are currently sitting on the habour and cannot even be shipped tonight to Fort Lauderdale to the buyer, who is waiting on them. I have close to about $30,000 or $40,000 worth of stuff on the ground here in West Palm Beach Grand Bahama, not including what's at the harbour, that I already paid for. What am I to do with them, leave them there for 90 days? It's not fair," he said.
Russell said families around the island are depending on the money generated by scrap metal recycling to make ends meet, and pointed to the high unemployment rate on the island as a contributor to the industry's popularity.
"The unemployment rate in Grand Bahama is skyrocketing, this here is helping Grand Bahama in ways far beyond anybody can imagine, and here it is the government is just coming out and not even sending a letter to the business people. I run a legitimate business, I'm licensed. It's no more than fair for the Minister of Finance, who is the Prime Minister, to come forth with a letter saying, 'This is our intention, we intend to regulate the recycling industry, and this is what we're going to do. You would have enough time to export what you have in your possession and then within 90 days we're going to regulate this whereas it's going to be monitored.' That's no problem. They need to be more considerate and be lenient to the business people," he said.
Russell stressed that his company does not condone the theft of any materials.
Meanwhile, George Pinder of Caribbean Recycling, pointed to the environmental benefits the industry brings, noting that the collection of scrap materials keeps the island clean.
"What we're doing is cleaning up the entire country, so when tourists come they will see that The Bahamas is a clean place. They wouldn't see any garbage in the bush, especially metals because we take up even cans, whatever it is, to recycle it."
The recycling industry is not about easy money as some believe, he said.
"The work isn't easy, we have to work very hard... And it costs a lot to just ship it out, and we don't really make a big profit unless we ship a lot."
Presto Recycling employee Winston Saunders made a special appeal to the local Members of Parliament to speak up for their constituents.
"Please stand up for the people of
Grand Bahama, shine for us for once. It's about that time that they stand up strong for us. This island is hurting and.. We've been suffering for a long time... We need help."
News. By K. Nancoo–Russell (firstname.lastname@example.org) Freeport
29 July 2011.