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Environmental protection plan requires ‘radical policy changes'

Update: April, 21/2012 - 09:37

Bui Cach Tuyen, Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, spoke with Thoi bao kinh te Viet Nam (Viet Nam Economic Times) about the country's environmental problems.

What is the main reason for such high pollution coming from industrial parks, processing zones and traditional handicraft villages over recent years? Has the law on environmental pollution, issued in 2005, been brought into full play?

The implementation of the law has largely been a failure at the lower levels of our ministry's industries.

One of the reasons may be the low level of public awareness. Managerial agencies have also failed to grasp the idea of sustainable growth. The lack of expertise on environmental protection has compounded the problem.

For one thing, agencies must appeal to employees who work in other industries. Despite inspections, the situation is still complicated. Around 1,600 producers have been inspected, and fines of VND40 billion (US$1.9 million) have been collected in three years.

You have to realise that the law on environmental protection were issued in 2005. This was a long time ago, and many of them are not up to date, leaving loopholes that industries take advantage of.

The law drafted at this time do not differentiate between economic zones and industrial parks. In reality, the workings of the two are different. An economic zone may contain a number of industrial parks. The assignment of these titles industrial parks and economic zones has been unclear thus far. The law should be changed to meet new socio-economic realities.

But there is a legal framework in place that covers both industrial parks and economic zones. Why are violators of the law not forced to cease their operations?

In the first phase of economic development in all countries, if their economies strongly grow so does the environmental pollution.

Until the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita increases to a certain level, both governmental agencies and individuals will be able to take action to reduce pollution levels. According to the experiences of other countries, when the GDP per capita rises to a certain level, pollution will be reduced. Historically, once the GDP per capita reaches US$6,000-12,000 per annum, pollution will decline.

Viet Nam is still a developing country, and currently the GDP per capita is just over $1,000. Still, we can set realistic targets that could help with this problem.

The most important thing is to raise the awareness of both enterprises and individuals. It is also necessary to set up automatic observation stations to help authorised agencies to monitor and control sources of air and water pollution. Another priority is to establish a Law system that can deal with the various sources of pollutors in a legal and fair way.

For example, local leaders order the closing of polluting enterprises, while local department heads say that such decision are not in line with investment or commercial laws. This lack of co-ordination adds to the inability of agencies to enforce the law.

Also, jobs must be taken into account. Many of these companies, while they might cause pollution, also provide jobs to many people.

In your opinion, what is the best solution to solve the pollution problem?

As far as I know, in the northern province of Bac Ninh, the People's Committee has approved a VND80 billion ($3.8 million) project to treat the pollution that comes from Phong Khe traditional paper-making village. However, we still have to keep in mind that this is just one craft village. There are many others around the country that pose the same problem.

In reality, the Government has made efforts to reduce the pollution coming from these villages. But, because of a lack of managerial mechanisms, much of these investments to curb their harmful effects have been wasted.

If we want to properly tackle this problem, it will take drastic measures from the Government and local people's committees, as well as the co-operation of social and political organisations, interested individuals and non-governmental organisations. — VNS

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