This newspaper’s attention is drawn to a story carried in its Monday, February 25th edition under the headline, “Former Speaker Tyler Was Aware of US$2M Scrap Deal”.
The story, written by Daily Observer court reporter Abednego Davis, quotes Bomi County Attorney Cllr. Juma P. Karnley as saying that former House Speaker Alex Tyler was aware of an unscrupulous scrap deal involving Bomi County Superintendent Adama B. Robinson and others, although the former Speaker has strenuously denied Cllr. Karnley’s accusations.
According to the story, a truckload of ‘scrap’ equipment was arrested by the police at the gate of Sethi Brothers Steel Rod Plant near Jamaica Road. The ‘scrap’ equipment from Sackie Town in Bomi county was under the jurisdiction of the court when it was surreptitiously removed from there and taken to the Sethi Brothers Steel Rod Plant, near Jamaica Road.
The case was initially heard before the 11th Judicial Circuit Court in Bomi County, but was later transferred to Monrovia where it is currently being heard before Criminal Court C at the Temple of Justice.
The scrap, which includes an assortment of metal, including earth moving equipment, is said to be valued at US$2m dollars and is reportedly owned by an investor, a British national who goes by the name of Hans Armstrong. From all indications, Armstrong might be a middleman acting for the foreign business outfit which is said to hold a monopoly on the sale of scrap in Liberia.
All around Monrovia, one can see mostly young men from the lowest dregs of society prowling neighborhoods and scavenging dumpsites in search of scraps of metal, wood or even discarded clothes. Neighborhood residents are usually alerted to their presence by their filthy and unkempt clothing and even footwear — usually rundown discarded sneakers or worn out rubber slippers. These young men are generally called “Zogos”.
Zogos are individuals living at the very margins of society where they eke out an existence by scavenging dumpsites and garbage heaps. Most are drug addicts and their activities appear all geared towards one thing. And that “one thing” is a fix on narcotics commonly called dugee, codeine syrups or the popular drug of choice, traumadol.
These Zogos, found mainly in urban, peri-urban, or rural urban locales, constitute what are virtual foot soldiers in the service of unscrupulous businessmen involved in a form of looting of national assets called “Scrap Dealing”.
It can be recalled that the country’s infrastructure was massively destroyed by the effects of the prolonged civil war. And like a dying elephant on the plains of the Serengeti, with flocks of vultures hovering overhead awaiting the last dying gasps of the elephant, so have scrap dealers descended on Liberia to feast on her remains.
This newspaper learned, much to its shocking surprise, that a well-known foreign business outfit now has the sole monopoly on the sale of scrap in Liberia. And it does appear that in its style of operation, anything goes.
That includes cast iron covers for manholes around the city. Nearly every manhole with a cast iron grill or cover has been looted by Zogos and sold to scrap dealers who have a series of local outfits around the city buying scrap metal.
Besides manhole covers, electric cables, rail tracks from railroads currently not in use, and even metal poles are all being looted.
On its website, the Ministry of Commerce lists scrap metal as one of Liberia’s major exports currently. In the month of January 2017, export of scrap metal, according to the Ministry of Commerce trade statistics, was valued at US$135,000.
But who benefits and how does the country benefit from the export of scrap metal other than export duties? For example, how much did the country benefit from the sale of scrap metal from the Executive Mansion currently undergoing renovation?
Most public schools around the country, especially those in rural areas, face a critical lack of learning materials in addition to qualified teachers, while all public hospitals around the country are faced with critical shortages of drugs and medicines in addition to other inputs.
Given the dire economic straits in which the country finds itself, funds realized from the sale of scraps could very well be ploughed back into the economy in the form of social services so critically lacking in rural areas, for example.
In view of all the foregoing, this newspaper finds itself constrained to draw the attention of officials and policy makers to what is a clear and present danger to our national infrastructure, especially considering the hard fact that infrastructure and other assets, including vehicles, are being deliberately and consciously scrapped by unscrupulous individuals eager for self-gain.
As part of measures to protect vital infrastructure from the activities of vandals, government should consider placing a ban on the export of scrap metal for at least five years. This should be accompanied by the imposition of harsh penalties on individuals caught involved in the looting or sale of national infrastructure and other assets.
Indeed, the protection of the nation’s infrastructure is a task that must be accomplished, if this country is to ever record progress in its development drive.