The copper conundrum

Pres­i­dent of the Scrap Iron Deal­ers As­so­ci­a­tion Al­lan Fer­gu­son ex­plained the sit­u­a­tion was akin to a typ­i­cal mar­ket as it had sim­i­lar sup­ply and de­mand fac­tors

Over the course of last week­end, many peo­ple woke up un­able to ac­cess the In­ter­net and make phone calls be­cause thieves stole hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars worth of fi­bre op­tic ca­bles from a Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Ser­vices (TSTT) in­stal­la­tion in San Fer­nan­do.

How­ev­er, po­lice be­lieve the thieves made a mis­take, as they were in­deed look­ing for cop­per wires.

Ei­ther way, it cost the com­pa­ny po­ten­tial­ly mil­lions of dol­lars.

In­ci­dents such as these have placed re­newed fo­cus on the scrap iron busi­ness, as the stolen wires are of­ten sold to scrap deals who ex­port them out of the coun­try.

Pres­i­dent of the Scrap Iron Deal­ers As­so­ci­a­tion Al­lan Fer­gu­son ex­plained the sit­u­a­tion was akin to a typ­i­cal mar­ket as it had sim­i­lar sup­ply and de­mand fac­tors.

“It’s like any oth­er busi­ness (where) you are buy­ing and sell­ing. If you buy for $100 and you sell for $200 you make a prof­it in just like any oth­er busi­ness. Be­cause we buy and we will buy from the guys who go out with the vans, we call them the col­lec­tors. The col­lec­tors, they will go al­so to pur­chase from peo­ple some­times they get free. Some­times they make mon­ey or we will make mon­ey be­cause we buy from them and we sell. We are the ones that ex­port it out of Trinidad,” Fer­gu­son told the Busi­ness Guardian.

The com­mon re­frain “Buy­ing Scrap Iron, Old Bat­tery Buy­ing” has be­come one of T&T’s na­tion­al memes, but for many look­ing to earn an ex­tra dol­lar amid a dif­fi­cult pe­ri­od of food in­fla­tion, it is a sig­nal to op­por­tu­ni­ty.

Un­for­tu­nate­ly, some are try­ing to seize the mo­ment through il­le­gal meth­ods, Fer­gu­son ex­plained.

He not­ed that the theft of cop­per wires are not sole­ly com­mon to T&T.

“What you see tak­ing place with the cop­per is be­cause the cop­per price went right up. And then what would have tak­en place with that al­so, is that Trinidad al­so copy­ing what is tak­ing place out­side of Trinidad and if you see a lot of coun­tries, all parts of the world be­cause of the cop­per price a lot of steal­ing tak­ing place be­cause of the cop­per price,” he said.

The cop­per price has sky­rock­et­ed as it is in high de­mand in emerg­ing economies like Chi­na and In­dia which re­quire cop­per for their in­fra­struc­ture.

The ram­pant act of steal­ing has not on­ly af­fect­ed TSTT but al­so the T&T Elec­tric­i­ty Com­mis­sion and even Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Au­thor­i­ty pipelines as well lead­ing to pow­er out­ages and wa­ter short­ages in some ar­eas as well.

It has al­so oc­ca­sion­al­ly lead to the in­jury or death of thieves who touch the wrong lines and get elec­tro­cut­ed.

Fer­gu­son said this sit­u­a­tion had been cre­at­ed by the es­tab­lish­ment of yards owned by for­eign own­ers, who were less fa­mil­iar with the lo­cal in­fra­struc­ture of the util­i­ties.

He not­ed that typ­i­cal­ly scrap yards would buy steel prod­ucts based on spe­cif­ic heavy melt­ing steel des­ig­na­tions (HMS 1 and HMS 2) as well as mixed or light ma­te­ri­als. He said cur­rent­ly the in­tro­duc­tion of these yards had cre­at­ed a free for all where col­lec­tors were less pru­dent about what they were pick­ing up.

“That is why I’m so dis­ap­point­ed with peo­ple who pur­chase ma­te­r­i­al that you’re not sup­posed to pur­chase. And we have that prob­lem not be­cause of Trinida­di­ans alone. We have that prob­lem be­cause of for­eign­ers com­ing in and open­ing up yards and don’t know the dif­fer­ence be­tween a man­hole cov­er or a WASA pipe or a TSTT or what­ev­er it is. And that’s a big prob­lem for us in the in­dus­try,” he said.