As propounded last week and applying the words of the late Oxford legal philosopher, HLA Hart, whom I have frequently quoted, Trinidad and Tobago is now firmly in a situation in which “the laws of the land have legal validity but cease to be effective, leading to a breakdown in ordered legal control in the face of banditry or anarchy.”
Similarly to the continuing surrender to the unlawful use of fireworks, the boiling turmoil of the scrap iron industry is a prime example of that situation. That particular turmoil could turn out to be a potential catalyst for even wider anarchy.
First, before further comment on the scrap iron turmoil, I note that in the face of the breakdown of ordered legal control there has been a deepening of the defeatist attitude to this terrifying breakdown and the consequence that we must live in even more jail.
Mr McDonald Jacob, the acting commissioner of police, was quoted in the Trinidad Express newspaper last week Tuesday as “not discouraging” liming. But he gave such a long-winded list of cautions that the distinction between “not discouraging” and the restrictive cautions was lost on me.
In the same report we were reminded that in the previous month the Prime Minister advised citizens that there may be better alternatives to liming. He was quoted as saying: “One of the activities that they should not be engaged in is liming. Because you would have read so often, or heard so frequently, that X or Y was liming, (that) A and B was liming, and usually it appears as though that liming ends up with people getting into trouble or being killed.”
Although ill-considered and possibly also a procedurally improper planning decision amenable to judicial review, should we in fact regard the Minister of Tourism and Culture’s announcements for Ariapita Avenue as an invitation to come out and lime, but then risk being mugged—as has happened on the Avenue—or being shot at like those outside a nearby high-end night club?
Liming is a feature of Caribbean life. Limes are one source of our constant supply of witticisms. Discussions of what is really happening on the ground also take place and the latest perceptions of the constant political antics are shared. Moreover, it is in outdoor limes that one’s range of acquaintances is broadened.
Equally impotently and indifferently as they do in the cases of the multiple killings daily, the authorities sat by while the incidence of theft of material to supply to the scrap iron industry grew overwhelmingly.
The theft was done with such impunity that there were whole neighbourhoods where cut utility lines drooped in a manner symbolic of the limpness of the authorities.
Another newspaper stated that: “brand-new metal fittings were being ‘recovered’ and painted metal joists more than six feet long—which were government property and said to be worth over $1 million—were found in a scrap yard.”
There was reference also to “welded girders painted in the distinctive blue of government infrastructure”. (See Newsday editorial of 22 August 2022.)
The receiving of stolen material constitutes an offence separate from the theft of it. Many of these receivers are the big fish of the criminal enterprise, without whose presence there would have been no one to purchase stolen metal.
Their activities took place, with only one alleged exception, unhindered by the police work of surveillance of commercial scrap yards and the execution of search warrants.
Statistics about the number of persons subject to prosecution for theft of scrap material is an unimpressive and vapid response to the failure of the police to move swiftly to make cases against the big time receivers.
Now the ordinary folk, who made a living from the collection of material that was genuinely scrap, have been punished by the reactionary ban on scrap iron exports.
The Acting Commissioner of Police has talked scrap and its regulation as well as his own brand of sociology in the past two weeks while, day by day, the gun killings soar. No assailants have been caught.
It is unacceptable that the impotent authorities, only full of old talk, now wish us to live in more jail.