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Environmental laws have to be tightened

Update: November, 19/2010 - 10:02
Workers at a waste-water treatment plant in Ha Noi's Soc Son District. Inadequate penalties for environmental abuses and ambiguous laws mean that polluting firms are damaging the environment almost with impunity. — VNA/VNS Photo Bui Tuong

Workers at a waste-water treatment plant in Ha Noi's Soc Son District. Inadequate penalties for environmental abuses and ambiguous laws mean that polluting firms are damaging the environment almost with impunity. — VNA/VNS Photo Bui Tuong

HA NOI — Penalties that were too lenient together with ambiguous laws were to blame for the numerous breaches of Viet Nam's environmental protection regulations, Deputy Public Security Minister Pham Quy Ngo said in Ha Noi yesterday.

The deputy minister reported that environment police had detected more than 11,000 violations during the past four years.

Of these, almost 200 were prosecuted and the offenders fined more than VND250 billion (US$12.7 million).

But the use of more sophisticated methods coupledwith a lack of consensus among agencies, localities about penalties together with laws that were open to various interpretations had made their task more difficult.

The current law provides for fines of up to VND500 million ($23,809).

The breaches had also become more complex as environmental pollution travelled from developed to developing and underdeveloped countries via investment, technology transfer and import-exports, he told the plenary session of the third national environmental conference.

The deputy minister said breaches deeply affected the country's socio-economic development while water, air pollution and poor-quality food transgressed people's rights.

But many domestic and investors ignored the need to install waste treatment facilities for their industrial projects.

Others, who had the facilities, slyly pumped untreated waste into the environment, he said, naming MSG maker Vedan Viet Nam; the Tungkuang Aluminium Company and the Viet Tri Paper Company as examples.

"Breaches also occur in import-exports, especially illegal imported waste materials and obsolete technology for production and more seriously household waste, dioxins, contaminated food and even radioactive substances," he said.

Deforestation and the poaching and trafficking of rare and valuable wild animals was also endemic.

Ha Noi-based Lawyer Nguyen Thai Hoa complained that penalties were not sufficiently heavy.

"The fine should be higher than profit made from breaching environmental rules," he said.

A lack of experience and the limited professional skills of the environment police were also a hindrance, he said.

Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Bui Cach Tuyen said several environmental protection regulations contained proven shortcomings and did not match reality.

They also duplicated or contradicted investment, construction and water resources laws.

The deputy minister emphasised that a lack of awareness among some administrators about the importance of environmental protection as well as their responsibility to make it a habit among people was also a major cause of pollution.

Improvement

Deputy Prime Minister Truong Vinh Trong told the conference that although the quality of the environment had improved, it was still poor.

A number of locations were still polluted, particularly the Cau, Nhue, Day and Sai Gon-Dong Nai rivers and breaches of environmental protection regulations continued but were devious, he said.

Basic challenges facing environmental protection included:

The contradictions between environmental protection and sustainable development, economic growth and job generation;

The need for infrastructure against outdated environmental protection technology and the increasing amount of waste; and

The increasing demand of capital for environmental protection against a limited State budget and investment.

The deputy prime minister emphasised that environmental protection was a common task for the entire population and political system.

Trong also applauded the achievements made in environmental protection.

These included the writing of laws and the development of environmental monitoring with the focus on key economic and industrial zones, urban areas and seriously polluted river valleys.

An environmental impact assessment had been made of about 7,000 investment projects during the past five years, he said.

Inspections were made regularly and the ministry continued to monitor the consequences of such major violations as the dumping of untreated waste at the factories of Sao Mai Xanh Co Ltd and the Bai Bang paper company.

Trong had instructed relevant ministries and agencies to take measures to prevent environmental pollution.

United Nations Resident Co-ordinator, Viet Nam, John Hendra said the environmental risks the country faced had been recognised and several important decisions made to address them.

These include allocating up to 1 per cent of the State budget to environmental management since 2007 and formulating or revising legislation, such as the laws governing environmental protection and biodiversity as well as newly-passed legislation for payments for environmental services.

"It is crucial for Viet Nam now to make the clear strategic choice of having its economy grow without having its natural resources destroyed," he said.

"It is also crucial for Viet Nam not to repeat the mistakes of many other countries, including those which became trapped in middle-income status by wrongly sacrificing their natural resources and short-changing the well being of their population due to a single-minded focus on growth – at any cost," he added. — VNS

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