SCRAP metal thieves have hit the sugar cane industry hard over the past 21 months, removing more than $87 million worth of irrigation equipment and frustrating CEO of the Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ) Holdings, Aubyn Hill.

"Vandals have been stealing our pumps, our electrical cables, we buy them back and put them back and they steal them again," Hill told reporters and editors at the Observer's weekly Monday Exchange meeting held yesterday at the newspaper's Beechwood Avenue headquarters in Kingston.

The $87 million, Hill said, represents metal theft in the sugar industry since July 2009.

According to Hill, $75 million of the loss, primarily of irrigation equipment, was from the Monymusk factory in Clarendon and Bernard Lodge in St Catherine alone.

The SCJ Holdings boss said that the effects of the thefts proved even more detrimental, given the ongoing drought, especially at the Bernard Lodge and Monymusk factories where the use of irrigation pumps were critical.

Hill was part of a team from the agriculture ministry, including Minister Christopher Tufton, giving an overview of the industry, considered the largest employer of labour in the island.

Agriculture has been hit hard by vandals, leading up to last week when the Colbeck irrigation pumping system in St Catherine was vandalised twice in three days.

According to the agriculture ministry, crooks first removed equipment from the pumping station on Tuesday night then returned on Thursday and stole more equipment and spray painted the facility.

The Colbeck incident, which cost the agriculture sector in excess of $5 million, spurred Tufton to intensify his call for a halt to the scrap metal trade and a review of its operations.

Yesterday, after a meeting with scrap metal dealers, Industry Minister Karl Samuda put a stop to all scrap metal trade effective tomorrow, with the exception of manufacturers who generate their own material, and do not buy from other sources.

Samuda contended that the situation, which has intensified over recent months, was untenable, and the scrap metal industry was failing to operate in the best interests of the country.

SCJ Holdings was formed to manage the three remaining sugar factories still owned by Government and oversee the divestment exercise.

source: jamaicaobserver


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