Govt plays catch-up with runaway ventures
Trade Minister Vasant Bharath seems about to bring long overdue change to the pattern of sluggish policymaking and absent regulation in sectors that covered various ministerial portfolios. This at least was the impression left by the Minister when, addressing the Senate in the Budget debate, he promised change to the State’s anything-goes posture toward the foreign-used vehicle and the scrap metal businesses.
Mr Bharath advertised as an accomplishment the formulation of policy to govern the expanded businesses based on the importation and resale of foreign-used vehicles, and the collection and export of scrap metal. Of the two, the foreign-used is of course by far the bigger business.
The policy paper cited by the Minister saw the foreign-used trade making a “significant contribution to the livelihoods of T&T citizens (especially) small businesses and low-to-middle income earners”. It appears T&T can no longer do without foreign-used vehicles.
Not only do the 13,500 such vehicles annually imported buttress public transport, but their accessibility and widespread use also provide for the convenience, safety and “peace of mind” of citizens, “particularly in the light of personal security concerns”. It is possible, however, to have too much of a good thing, and Mr Bharath’s emerging policy treats with both “benefits” and “risks”.
The Minister noted that the free-for-all increase in foreign used dealers had resulted in spin-off service enterprises and created jobs. He might have mentioned the creation of a bustling, spreading, multi-sector, emporium in Bamboo Village, dedicated to meeting the needs of motorists seeking more affordable vehicles and spares than might be possible at some new-vehicle dealerships.
The downside of all this is that consumers have been left without after-sale support, and generally without official protection from unscrupulous players.
What all this is leading up to is the elaboration by next January of a firm Government position, to be codified in an Imported Used Vehicles (Dealership) Act. Moreover, it has been necessary to register dealers in this sector and to ensure in various ways that rolling stock being imported meet T&T road traffic legal requirements and are equipped with necessary safety features.
Better late than ever, it seems, official T&T is waking up to its responsibilities in this booming field. The Bharath ministry is finally bestirring itself to take control of the also expanding scrap metal business. The Minister referred to consultations that heard reports of criminal activities connected with scrap metal, ranging from manhole cover thefts through money laundering to concealment of arms and ammunition.
Clearly, the vacancy for adequate regulation of the foreign-used and scrap enterprises has both left consumer protection underdeveloped and even facilitated crime. The Trade Minister should, accordingly, not be allowed to miss his January deadline for suitable policy formulation and legislated regulation of these burgeoning industries.