Date: December 6 th, 2019
On Thursday 28th November 2019 the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) issued a statement that officers of the “Illegal Quarrying Unit” arrested twenty-two (22) persons and seized several excavators for illegal quarrying. Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, (FFOS) congratulate this unit, but where have they been for all these years?
Taxpayers pay for this Illegal Quarrying Unit, yet finally for the first time an arrest has been made. While our aquifers degrade and we continue to suffer from a lack of potable water, our dependence on privately-owned man-made desalinated water increases this unit was invisible. Why has there been no updated legislation for the confiscation of equipment, powers of arrest without warrant, and swift conviction of individuals involved in this escalating crime?
While illegal quarries escalate annually prompting the need for specialized, revised, modern legislation, our Cabinet, populated with attorneys, does not share or consult on its legislative agenda. How can we ever progress without transparency and accountability? What exactly is our Government’s legislative agenda? According to the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries, (MEEI) as of August 2019, only eight (8) Quarries in Trinidad and Tobago had valid licenses, eighty-two (82) have expired licenses and seventy two (72) have new applications which have no license.
Is it good public administration that 90% of “registered” quarries are currently operating illegally without any license whatsoever? Is this not symptomatic of what some call a failed state? Every licensed entity knows that there is no such thing as being allowed to continue operations while an application for the renewal of a license is being processed. Its common sense, right? Is this not a licensing discrimination? The fact is that Government is bending over backwards to permit this lucrative, unsustainable activity without the relevant legislated licensing approval.
This is an outrage, a disgrace, an abuse of the public purse and a far cry from the good governance that we elected. No activity in T&T which requires a license is ever allowed to operate without a license. If you operate without a license you will “go straight to jail” … except of course, if you are a quarry operator. Are they above the Law? Interestingly, many Ministers of Energy, Works, and even several former Prime Ministers have been awarded “honorary” lifetime membership in the Quarry Association. One such currently sitting, and somewhat vocal Minister is the Hon Fitzgerald Hinds who we respectfully now call on to explain this “licensing discrimination” which his Association currently enjoys. What is he doing about it?
In our respectful view it is a gross conflict of interest that a sitting Cabinet member is an honorary member of an association which should be regulated but currently benefits from our Government turning a blind eye in permitting its members to operate illegally. It is now known that extractors pay royalties based on an “honour/good faith basis” without any Government verification of the volumes extracted. For four years the Auditor general in his annual report complained of this tax leakage and nothing was ever done about it. Why? This current licensing discrimination is adding insult to injury.
Now that the election campaign has passed FFOS call on our Prime Minister to advise taxpayers what his government is doing to address these known tax leakages. FFOS also call on our Attorney General to stop the talk and get to work.
Sincerely, Gary Aboud