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Meals on steel

Repeka Nasiko
Saturday, November 03, 2012

MANUELI Sovau is a 53-year-old Lautoka man with 11 children.

The past eight years he has known no other life except salvaging scrap metal from the Vunato Dump in Lautoka.

The Lovu Seaside resident, a father of 11, said income earned from this lifestyle provided for his family. In fact, he said it earned him more than what he was paid in the job he had prior to salvaging metal.

"I was a driver in a government department. I left the job because more money was to be made in the sale of scrap metal," he shared.

Mr Savou presented himself to The Fiji Times Lautoka office this week, saying his family was one of many affected by the recent suspension of scrap metal licences. "This is what we have been surviving on for the last eight years. I can barely feed my wife and children after the closure of all scrap metal dealers here in the west," he said.

He said he only worked out of the Vunato dump and had never been involved in anything illegal.

"The metal I sold were from Vunato and this was a legitimate source of living for me and my family," he said.

"As for the thefts of cable from Telecom and FEA, that is sad but I had nothing to do with it. I can't even comprehend how ordinary collectors like me would be involved because it sounds too sophisticated, complex and dangerous."

Mr Savou said he knew at least 100 households who were affected.

"My only plea now is for authorities to give us alternatives, so we can continue to look after our families. We desperately need help as many os us were also affected by the floods this year and we have not fully recovered," he said.

The scrap metal licences were suspended after widespread theft of infrastructure and assets belonging to major service providers in the country such as Telecom Fiji Limited and Fiji Electricity Authority.

Companies such as the Road Authority of Fiji and the Water Authority of Fiji also reported considerable damage to infrastructure and financial loss in replacing and repairing equipment.

Speaking in the i-Taukei language, Mr Savou, from Nakorovou in Ra, said he understood why government had to take such a drastic step but he believed that those who rely on the business as a source of livelihood should have been given ample warning so they could prepare themselves and look for alternative sources of income.

He said he began selling scrap metal at the Vunato dump when he left work in 2005.

From the $40 a day he earned, he was able to pay for his children's school fees and put food on the table.

In response to Mr Manueli's situation, Commissioner Western Commander Joeli Cawaki said it was an unfortunate situation but the ban was necessary.

"I understand that a lot of people will be affected by this but this is something that needs to be done. This is a temporary measure to allow the dealers to get their act together and comply with the Scrap Metal Decree," said Commander Cawaki.

"The cost of the thefts are far greater in terms of costs and the impact to businesses and individual property and lives."

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