Root out those mineral gangsters
Gunfire targeting the Cunupia home of a senior State official, in an evident attempt to intimidate or kill, must remind Trinidad and Tobago that tentacles of murderous gangsterism reach way beyond Port of Spain and neighbouring areas.
Director of Minerals Monty Beharry survived the volleys shot into his home, and Allan Bachan, head of the Environmental Management Authority, received death threats, both in criminal counter-attacks presumed to be in retaliation against a crackdown on illegal quarrying. Illegal mining is not new. The fact that two public officials are apparently paying the price for having crossed paths with mineral gangsters speak to the failure of the monitoring and prevention systems that have allowed such activity to flourish with impunity.
As with the illegal diesel racket, big money is being made in the illegal mining of aggregate. As the illegality rises to proportions approaching murder, we have to question the supervisory and surveillance framework that has allowed it to take root and prosper in the first place. In areas throughout the northern and central ranges in particular, chunks of mountains and hills are being swallowed by the national appetite for aggregate. In many cases, the only concerns raised are by communities choking on the dust kicked up by sand blasters. Most have no idea about the legal status of the quarry operators in their midst.
The lush Lopinot community narrowly escaped this fate just over a year ago when a businessman informed the Village Council that he had bought a mountain in the area for the purpose of supplying aggregate to the Point Fortin Highway. Luckily, they were able to mobilise and ask enough questions to discover that he had no permission to do so.
The precious Asa Wright Nature Centre has also had its fair share of pressure at the hands of quarry operators.
The problem of illegal quarrying should never have got to the point where the lives of public officials can be threatened.
Between local government bodies, the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries, the EMA and the police, the surveillance should be effective enough to stop any such activity before it even begins. Quarrying is among the easiest activities to spot from the air by helicopter.
While Monday’s meeting between the Acting Commissioner of Police and government ministers is appropriate, a far more meaningful response would be for Acting CoP Williams to get to the bottom of the police failure to prosecute in the very many cases in which they have intervened.
In addition to illegal mining, there is the additional problem of authorised quarry operators who are mining beyond the scope of their licenses. In both cases, our only defence is a vigilant monitoring system that ensures that everyone operates within the confines of the law.
Given the recent acts of criminality against Messrs Beharry and Bachan, we expect the relevant authorities to mount an urgent and integrated response to bring the situation under control and eliminate it at its roots.