Nguyen Dinh Xuan, former National Assembly deputy and director of Lo Go-Xa Mat National Park in the southern province of Tay Ninh, spoke with Nong thon Ngay nay (Countryside Today) newspaper about corruption among forest rangers.
A forest ranger from central Nghe An Province's Pu Huong Forest Management Unit was charged with abetting illegal loggers in cutting down truckloads of timber in the forest. One of the trucks taking the timber away overturned, killing 10 people and injuring four others. What is your assessment of the case? Is there a similar situation in Lo Go-Xa Mat National Park?
I must say that this incident is regrettable and shameful to us. The forest ranger acted unethically and betrayed his comrades. It is a worthwhile lesson in the management of forest rangers. We will study the incident carefully to ensure the same problem does not happen in Lo Go-Xa Mat National Park. I'm sure no forest rangers are in cahoots with illegal loggers at Lo Go-Xa Mat. To be honest, our houses and offices are all made of reinforced concrete. We use low quality wood from our forest plantation to make desks and chairs. For years, we have not lost any hectares of forest. Instead, we have successfully mobilised and forced land squatters to chop down hundreds of hectares of rubber and cashew nuts to plant forests.
Forest rangers are increasingly taking bribes from illegal loggers. What do you think about this trend? What are the main reasons behind increasing illegal logging. Is it due to the unethical behaviour of some forest rangers?
Some forest rangers are corrupt. It is not only the truck loads of timber in central Nghe An Province, another forest ranger was also caught red handed in receiving bribes from illegal timber traders. A series of negative cases occurred during a short period of time, thus it is clear that we need to raise the alarm over corruption among forest rangers. I can affirm that besides many forest rangers who already shed their blood to protect forests there are many who are corrupt. Frankly speaking, one bad apple at a single forest management unit can ruin the whole group.
But it does not happen everywhere. How can forest rangers and illegal loggers join hands and share illicit profits in places where forest destruction and illegal logging do not occur? In addition for every corrupt forest ranger, there are still many forest rangers sweating and shedding their blood to protect forests every day and night.
There is the opinion that low salaries and poor living and work conditions have led to increasing corruption among forest rangers looking to supplement their incomes. What do you think?
First and foremost, we must admit that the salaries of forest rangers are low and they have to work in conditions of hardship and even danger. However, in general, it is not only forest rangers but public servants also who are paid low salaries. It is not right to deny responsibility and say a low salary is justification for corruption.
How about the lack of an effective mechanism to supervise forest rangers?
I think like traffic police, tax officials and customs staff, tight supervision is necessary otherwise negative situations will occur sooner or latter. Local governments, people and other forces must also supervise forest rangers in addition to supervision between forest rangers themselves. I already spoke in front of the National Assembly that negatives and corruption exist wherever severe forest loss and destruction persist. As it is not easy to destroy and transport timber if authorities at all levels, forest rangers, police and people, join hands with each other to protect forests.
Ministers in many foreign countries must come forward to apologise when officials working under them tarnish the reputation of the sector. How about in Viet Nam? If those at the top don't take part of the blame, won't this problem be too difficult to solve?
When a systematic error occurs continuously during a short period of time the leader of that sector must take responsibility first. Then, they have to put forth measures to cope with and prevent similar problems from happening. If anything, that's all when it comes to the leader's responsibility otherwise I'm afraid it is not reasonable to ask him to bear direct responsibility when an official in his sector does something wrong. What we are asking here is responsibility in management, the responsibility of the heads in different sectors, for example in not timely issuing regulations and sanctions to supervise their staff.
In many countries, ministers are able to dismiss staff below them if they do not fulfil their duties for whatever reason. It is not the same in Viet Nam because ministers are not in a position to appoint deputy ministers. Our personnel process is different so the responsibility of heads in sectors is also different from other countries.
The Agriculture and Rural Development Minister has recently issued a decree clamping down on corrupt forest rangers. If the truckloads of illegally logged timber had not been uncovered in Nghe An Province would this decree have been issued? There seems to be no sense of responsibility in taking preventive measures in the forest management sector?
I think the minister's message is a necessary response at the moment. Yet, it is true that we need more economic and tighter preventive measures in the long run. It is impossible to react and carry out inspections only after negative cases happen. Besides this, the law states that protecting forests is the responsibility of all people, sectors and all levels, not only the forest management sector itself. It is hard to solve illegal logging at its root if we do not do so.—VNS