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Poor mountainous villages struggle to pay debts

Update: March, 20/2018 - 09:00
A resettlement area in Nước Biếc Village in Trà Thọ Commune.Cor ethnic people in Trà Thọ Commune are now suffering usury’s consequences. — Photo
Viet Nam News

QUẢNG NGÃI – Receiving billions of đồng in compensation, several residents in Nước Trong water reservoir project area, Tây Trà District’s Trà Thọ Commune, thought they’d be able to escape debts they had accrued through high interest loans.

Tre Village in Trà Thọ Commune was home to many Cor ethnic people. Looking in the direction of the old village which is now submerged under Nước Trong reservoir, Hồ Văn Trăm, 70, said that he had never imagined being given VNĐ770 million (US$33,800) to give up his house and farm. However, the trouble that came later was even bigger than the compensation he received.

“The money that I planned to divide among my six children was taken away by strangers. They said that my youngest son had taken out a loan and I was responsible to pay it back,” said Trăm.

Even before Trăm received the compensation, his son had borrowed money at an interest rate of 50 per cent. Therefore, from the initial VNĐ770 million, Trăm was left with savings of just VNĐ200 million ($8,784). The family still depends heavily on a small garden to make ends meet.

Hồ Văn Khánh, 30, Trăm’s neighbour, is facing the same situation.

“The loan shark just took my only motorbike away. I have nothing to pay back,” he said.

Khánh did not receive any compensation but his parents did. This made him fresh bait in eyes of lenders. They were too generous back then in letting him borrow money. With oral contracts, Khánh cannot remember how much he got.

When the lender asked him to pay back a loan of VNĐ400 million ($17,568) Khánh went to his father for help. The father, however, had only VNĐ40 million ($1,756) left as he split the rest among his children.

“I am at a dead-end. My two farms are on sale at VNĐ100 million ($4,392) but no one wants to buy,” he said.

Among people who took out loans, Hồ Văn Tập had a good reason. Buying buffalos, pigs, a farm of 3ha and a motorbike for his child, he hoped his life would turn around soon. In reality, however, the compensation of VNĐ600 million ($26,352) was just enough to pay the old debt as Tập made an oral contract and was forced to pay high interest.

“After every storm comes a rainbow,” the old words of wisdom, unfortunately, are not sufficient for these Cor ethnic people. Hồ Văn Nhít, head of Nước Biếc Village in Trà Thọ Commune, told Tuổi trẻ (Youth) newspaper that 20 out of 37 households receiving compensation were burdened with high debts.

“Parents received compensation, then their children were tempted to borrow money at high interest rates. Some families were not able to clear their debts, even with the billions of đồng that they received,” said Nhít.

Hồ Tấn Vũ, head of Trà Thọ Commune People’s Committee, said that although local authorities had warned against usury, Cor people could not resist the temptation of surprisingly generous lenders. Since there is no written contract between people and lenders, it was impossible to handle the situation.

“Leases were arranged by word of mouth so we do not know how to intervene and help settle debts,” said Vũ.

Hoàng Như Lâm, deputy head of Tây Trà District, said that there was no record indicating the high interest that lenders asked people to pay.

“We have demanded the police force to investigate and propose solutions,” he said.

According to Nguyễn Văn Quang, deputy director of the Nước Trong water reservoir project, 450 households were moved to the resettlement area when the project was implemented. The State has paid total compensation of VNĐ342 billion ($15 million) in three batches.

The Cor ethnic people occupy the majority of Tây Trà District. With poor households accounting for 75 per cent of the population, the compensation from the Nước Trong reservoir project was expected to bring them better lives. – VNS  




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