|Local residents in central Thừa Thiên Huế Province receive compensation after the disastrous Formosa incident caused mass fish deaths in April. — Photo thanhnien.vn|
HÀ NỘI — Local authorities should get more involved and significantly improve their management of environmental issues, Chu Phạm Ngọc Hiển, Deputy Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, said yesterday.
Addressing a conference on environmental inspections held in Hà Nội, he said his ministry cannot be the first responder to major crises because it is not equipped to do so.
Lê Quốc Trung, the ministry’s chief inspector, said that in the last two years, they had conducted 157 inspections on around 2,200 organisations.
Fines of VNĐ72 billion (US$3,2 million) had been imposed on more than 600 organisations and agencies for wrongdoing in environmental management, and for violations of environmental regulations, he said.
A key issue discussed at the conference involved the division of responsibilities between management agencies, especially in response to environmental crises.
Hiển used the environmental catastrophe caused by Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa in April as an example to stress the importance local authorities being actively involved in resolving environmental issues.
A chemical spill from a steel factory owned by Formosa had killed thousands of tonnes of fish and destroyed the livelihoods of fishing communities in central Việt Nam.
Hiển admitted that the ministry had not collaborated well with the authorities of Hà Tĩnh Province to respond in timely fashion to the Formosa incident.
However, the People’s Committee and local environmental department should have been the agencies that provided “the closest and most direct inspection” of the corporation’s industrial activities, he said.
He said the ministry by itself did not have enough human and financial resources to cover environmental crises nationwide.
The ministry’s current inspectorate consists of just 63 inspectors, one for each province.
There are currently 800 specialist inspectors in the whole environmental sector from the local to central levels, which is “nothing compared to 4,000 officials in the public security sector,” Hiển said.
The Government’s annual financial support for environmental inspectors was just VNĐ19 million ($850) per inspector, which barely covered the costs of travelling to provinces, let alone taking and analysing samples, he added.
Since inspection trips can only be arranged occasionally, it was hard for the central inspectors to follow closely all environmental issues in local areas, he said.
The ministry is collaborating with the Hà Tĩnh environmental department to conduct online environmental observations as part of efforts to improve central-local communication, he added.
Hiển stressed that with regard to the Formosa disaster, no ministry official was denying their responsibility. They are all willing to accept disciplinary measures decided by the Central Inspection Committee, he said.
Asked why the ministry’s environmental bureau failed to respond to seven reports submitted by Formosa’s steel corporation on testing a number of assembly lines and industrial machinery before the disaster happened, Hoàng Văn Thức, deputy director general of the bureau, said that it was partly due to a loophole in the 2015 Law on Environment.
The law requires enterprises to operate industrial machines for six months before sending reports on their operation to the environmental ministry. It is only after this that the ministry would examine and evaluate the machines to decide whether their operations are safe for the environment.
The steel corporation sent the reports between January and April this year, which means that by the time the mass fish deaths happened in April, the 6-month testing period was not over, Thức said.
By law, it was not compulsory for the ministry to examine the machinery as soon as it received the reports.
Thức said that the administration has admitted the shortcoming and the law should be revised to allow inspections as soon as companies report on their operation. — VNS