Dec 17, 2015 News
-special Govt-appointed team to overlook trade resumption
More than 40 containers stranded on the wharf since June will be allowed to leave, Government
According to Minister of Governance, Raphael Trotman, the decision was taken by the Cabinet on Tuesday.
Speaking at the post-Cabinet briefings at the Ministry of the Presidency, Trotman explained that in June, shortly after the David Granger administration took office, a decision was taken to halt the scrap metal trade and suspend operations of the Scrap Metal Unit pending a forensic audit.
From the time of suspension, 42 containers have been sitting on the wharves.
The approval is a one-off transaction and should not be seen as a full resumption of the trade, Trotman warned.
Rather, the Cabinet will be appointing a special team that will review the trade and work out the details for the resumption.
Shortly after taking office in May, the new administration disclosed that it had found almost $200M lying in an account at a city bank. It belonged to the Scrap Metal Unit, the body which monitors the trade.
There were some suspicious transactions, including fees paid by dealers, so the bank account was frozen and an audit ordered.
“There seems to have been a deep level of corruption. There seems to have been a deep level of money laundering too and some degree of compromise with the management of the trade. We have to regularize the process,” said Minister Keith Scott. His ministry is charged with the housing sector.
The scrap metal trade had been moved from the Office of the Prime Minister to the Ministry of Trade under the previous Government.
It was taken under the control of the Ministry of Housing, which under the former Government, was headed by Irfaan Ali.
While under the direct control of Ali, the unit’s daily operations were left to CH&PA Director of Finance, Taslim Baksh.
Baksh, in addition to his salary at CH&PA, was supposed to receive a ‘stipend’. The unit was allowed to purchase pickups and pay other expenses and use staffers from CH&PA.
What was strange about the Cabinet’s decision was that it also authorized the transfer of the bank account of the Scrap Metal Unit from Bank of Guyana to a private commercial bank.
It was highly unusual for this to be done, an official close to the investigations said.
The scrap metal trade had been under the jurisdiction of former Prime Minister, Sam Hinds, but alleged irregularities into the trade saw it being halted after utilities companies and other stakeholders complained that copper was being stolen from telephone cables.
The Scrap Metal Unit had come into existence to address the concerns of Government.
It was collecting up to $35,000 to $60,000 for 20-foot and 40-foot containers being exported by scrap metal dealers. Almost 25 dealers across the country are involved in the trade with some of them shipping scores of containers monthly.
The payment of the fee was critical for the processing of Customs export documents.
According to Scott, who did not want to disclose too many details, auditors will be zeroing in on the spending of that “private” bank account.
Under current arrangements, dealers have to visit CH&PA to pay the fees. He said that an audit is also set to start into the accounts of the CH&PA.
Not many staffers at CH&PA were said to be aware of the workings of the unit which fell directly under the control of the former Minister and Baksh.
The trade has been lucrative for hundreds of entrepreneurs who employed a significant number of persons.
As a matter of fact, in 2012, some 32,000 tons of metal was exported from the country.
It has not been without controversy. The trade has been linked to illegal business.
There are reports that US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials cooperated with Greek police to smash a drug ring attempting to smuggle cocaine from South America into Europe.
Authorities arrested three suspects accused of having used a scrap metal import business as a front to disguise their operations. The suspects allegedly first shipped containers with scrap metal from Guyana to a rented warehouse in Aspropyrgos, west of Athens.
During a police raid at a central Athens hotel, Greek authorities arrested a 38-year-old Guyana-born Dutch citizen, who is believed to be the kingpin of the racket. His name has not been made public, but he was reportedly dubbed by police as “fat guy” because of his physical appearance.
Police also arrested two more suspects, a 38-year-old Greek baseball player and a 48-year-old Guyana national, as accomplices. They were arrested at the Aspropyrgos warehouse after they turned up to collect a container. Police found 27 kilos of cocaine hidden inside a metal compartment.
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