Sunday, January 21, 2018

Ripping off T&T with impunity

The Sunday Express exclusive about stolen aggregate being used in the construction of the highway to Point Fortin is a good example of much that is wrong in the management of this country. As long as people can benefit from wrong-doing without consequences, corruption and criminality will hold sway. What makes it worse in this case is that the state, as owner of the highway, is actually facilitating the receipt of stolen state property.

Let us remember that it was two years ago that the quarry racket was busted wide open when the police seized an estimated $70 million in equipment at an illegal quarrying site in the Matura Forest. Fast forward to 2014 and we find that nothing has come of it except a rusting collection of depreciated and unclaimed excavators and trucks. The police apparently have no idea of how to go about tracking down the owners. It would also seem that illegal quarrying is such a lucrative business that those involved can afford to turn their backs on millions of dollars in equipment and acquire a new fleet because, as the Sunday Express reported, they are now back in business.

According to this latest report, the quarry criminals have illegally bulldozed and excavated approximately 400 acres of state and private lands in search of aggregate. The fact that they have no royalties and fees to pay allows them to undersell licensed quarry operators.

This entire situation calls into question the oversight being provided by the Ministry of Energy which has responsibility for managing the country’s mining resources. It also raises serious issues about the effectiveness of the police in investigating major wrong-doing. According to the report, the efforts of the police have been twice undone by tip-offs to the thieves from within the Police Service itself.  

Patently lacking in this matter is effective management with a will to protect the public interest and bring law-breakers to account.  

Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine and acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams need to explain why, two years after the lid was blown on the illegal quarrying at Matura, nothing has been done to end the racket and bring the perpetrators to  justice. Instead of action and justice, we have word of yet another report, this time from an inter-agency committee mandated by the Energy Ministry to look into illegal quarrying. While we do not wish to undervalue the importance of such a study, the Minister of Energy must recognise that the priority here is to ensure that not one foot of the country’s natural resources is stolen. All T&T has been failed by the system designed to protect public resources. 

With an estimated daily take-home income of $150,000, illegal quarry operators would have the money to grease enough palms to slip by the system. It is now urgent for Minister Ramnarine and the acting CoP to combine forces in cracking down on the law-breakers now.