|Minister Thang reacted swiftly, issuing a decision to suspend, demote and reprimand consultants as well as officials at the Railway Project Management Unit, which had been tasked with supervising the project. — Photo vtv
by Thu Van
An opinion piece published in the Chinese Global Times earlier this month pontificated that Viet Nam's Transport Minister Dinh La Thang should not have reprimanded a Chinese contractor after a fatal railway project accident.
Thang's reaction, the editorial said, was an attempt to rekindle anti-Chinese sentiment in the country.
I am among most Vietnamese people who thought the minister's reaction was actually muted.
Vietnamese leaders have reiterated many times the nation's consistent willingness to co-operate for development, but this cannot extend to accepting negligence or other actions that ignores people's safety.
One person was killed and two others were injured when a steel beam fell off a crane at the construction site of a section of the Cat Linh-Ha Dong elevated railway project last November.
Just over a month later after resumption, a similar accident occurred on December 28 when the scaffolding at the project's Ha Dong Terminal collapsed, smashing a taxi but luckily, caused no human casualties.
Minister Thang reacted swiftly, issuing a decision to suspend, demote and reprimand consultants as well as officials at the Railway Project Management Unit, which had been tasked with supervising the project. Viet Nam Technology Consultant and Construction Investment, the project's subcontractor, was barred from all work on the railway, and the China Railway Sixth Group was asked to take all responsibility and bear all costs for the incident.
The author of the piece on Global Times backed his argument by quoting Qi Jianguo, former Chinese ambassador to Viet Nam, who said that the incident should not be blown out of proportion and that accidents on construction sites are relatively commonplace in the country.
I suggest to the writer that he or she is the one blowing things out of proportion by collating efforts to ensure quality construction work and workers' safety with attempts to fan anti-Chinese sentiment.
In June last year, Thang banned seven Vietnamese contractors and consultants, who were responsible for building a US$132 million highway section that sank soon after opening, from working on public transportation projects for three years.
In August, the transport ministry temporarily banned three other Vietnamese contractors from bidding for transportation projects, citing their incompetence.
Perfectly reasonably, the minister said that the investment for most urban railway projects is huge, and the ministry has to use them effectively and ensure best quality. It does not matter if the funding is from ODA (Official Development Assistance) or the State Budget, because it is the people's money that is being spent, he said.
I can recall being impressed with the response of Japanese contractors when the Can Tho Bridge, funded by Japanese ODA, collapsed in 2007. They apologised immediately and distributed compensation for the accident's victims. Every year thereafter, they visited the accident site to show remorse. The then Japanese Ambassador to Viet Nam, Norio Hattori, expressed deep regret for the incident, and promised there would never again be a similar accident.
So far, his word has been kept. The most recent projects funded by Japan, the Nhat Tan Bridge and Terminal 2 of the Noi Bai International Airport, were completed on time, and there were no accidents.
Ultimately, it's the Chinese company's responsibility to manage the project properly. But the Ha Dong-Cat Linh elevated railway project has suffered repeated hiccups. It was scheduled to start in November 2008 and be completed by 2013, but it began only in October 2011. The cost for the project has doubled. The Chinese contractor earlier this year asked to add $339 million to the project's initial, 2008 estimate of $552 million. Then came the accident.
What would you do?
In 2011, when a high-speed train crashed in the coastal city of Wenzhou in 2011, killing 40 people, China's former minister of railways Liu Zhijun was singled out as one of the disaster's primary culprits. He was investigated and sentenced to death for bribery and abuse of power in 2013.
When China has chosen to be so strict in dealing with actions that cause loss of lives and property, why would the author of the opinion piece in Global Times expect Viet Nam to do otherwise?
Minister Thang did what he had to do. As the leader of the transport sector, he is responsible for ensuring quality projects as also safety of the projects' workers. There is no condoning mismanagement by a contractor, irrespective of the latter's nationality.
As a colleague of mine says, "We should always remember this. If we fail to walk in the other person's shoes, we will soon find that the shoe is on the other foot." — VNS