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.