Building materials stolen 'every day'

Companies and police running a campaign which they hope will save them the cost of replacing labourers caught trying to steal and supplement their income.

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ABU DHABI // Construction companies and police are pushing to curb building materials theft - a campaign the firms hope will save them the cost of replacing labourers caught trying to supplement their income by selling on the black market. "Materials are a lot cheaper than people," said Charles Mallice, director of operations and training for the security company Adsecc. "People need to be educated so they don't steal.

"The investigations have gone up. The police are looking into reports of theft a lot more seriously now than ever before." He said police hoped to send a message to the workers that there are serious consequences to stealing material from construction sites, even though the items themselves might not be worth much. Abrar Ali Khan, the general manager of Trans Middle East general contracting, said the greater opportunity to steal construction materials stemmed from the disbanding of a committee four years ago that oversaw the disposal of scraps from building sites.

The panel had established designated areas in the city where contractors could dispose of their unused material. Nowadays, he said, there is a brisk demand for scrap material from collectors who sometimes even bribe or otherwise entice workers to steal. One of the most commonly stolen materials is cable, from which the scrap dealers extract the metal, mostly copper. "Cables mostly make good money," Mr Khan said. "If you leave something lying around today, you won't find it the next day. It is very common."

He said that to discourage the practise, workers should be educated through awareness campaigns that address the consequences of theft. "For some people, Dh1 is not enough, for some Dh5 is not enough," Mr Khan said. "It is human nature. They go for it for the money." A senior police official said the scope of the crime was minor, however, "considering the massive construction projects going on in the capital".

Statistics on the number of recent cases of construction theft were unavailable. Still, "abandoned wealth teaches stealing," the official said. "Companies usually leave their construction sites without security guards and this encourages people to come and take the cables." He said stolen materials were often sold to scrap shops, then resold in Sharjah. This week seven men from Sri Lanka and three from Bangladesh appeared before the Abu Dhabi Criminal Court of First Instance in two separate cases, charged with damaging and stealing electrical cables from construction sites.

Their lawyers claimed the cables had been dumped and abandoned, and that their clients simply took what had been thrown away. Prosecutors argued that the men cut and stole the cables to sell them to scrap shops. Two construction companies brought the legal case. The Sri Lankans initially denied the charges, but changed their pleas to guilty. The Bangladeshis all pleaded not guilty. The court will issue verdicts next month.

Security officials said construction site raiding was widespread. Ahmad Barki, an executive at a security company who has been working in the country for the past four years, said thefts from construction sites have been consistent since he arrived. "Now there are more [court] cases but it has been the same otherwise," said Mr Barki, whose company oversees 400 locations across the UAE, including construction sites. "Not one day passes without a report of something being stolen."

Mr Barki said that not all companies noticed theft, especially if it involved small quantities of materials. In those cases companies often assume that the missing items have been damaged and discarded. Construction zones are hard to monitor, given the amount of workers, material and equipment in one place, he said. "If the system is perfect then there will be no more cases, but there are more problems when there is less security," he said.