River polluter Vedan Vietnam has agreed to pay compensation to affected farmers, but the story is not over by a long chalk.
On September 19, 2008, after admitting his company had polluted the Thi Vai River with untreated wastewater, Director General Yang Kun Hsiang bowed his head in a press conference, apologizing to the Vietnamese people.
However, since then farmers and local agencies have had to struggle to make the Taiwanese MSG manufacturer show how apologetic it is.
Finally on Tuesday, Vedan promised to pay farmers in HCMC and Ba Ria Vung Tau the compensation of VND45.7 billion (US$2.39 million) and VND53.6 billion
($2.8 million) respectively; and two days later, it offered to pay affected farmers in Dong Nai Province nearly VND116 billion (($6.26 million). All these sums were estimated by the Institute of Environment and Natural Resources.
But, so far, this is just a promise.
Although the company said it would work with local governments to draft agreements on paying compensation, there is no guaranty that it would complete drafting and signing the agreements with thousands of farmers before September 12 the deadline for affected farmers to sue it.
(Ed. Note: The statute of limitations under Vietnam's Environmental Law allows affected farmers to sue the polluter for damages within two years of finding that the company was polluting the river.)
What if Vedan "failed" to sign all the agreements before the deadline? Will the farmers be able to sue the polluter then?
Worse still, under Vietnam's Civil Law, there is no contract of "compensation," so the agreements may not be enforceable by law. What if Vedan doesn't stick to commitments made in the agreement?
Then there is the question of who will bear the court fee expenses if farmers drop their lawsuits now, considering the courts have received thousands of claims?
So, we have to exercise due caution in dealing with the notorious polluter.
For now, affected farmers in the three localities need to continue with the procedures to bring Vedan to court where all negotiations should be conducted. If Vedan has genuine goodwill to end the case properly, the company should deal with it in accordance with the law in the court.
By Dinh Van Que*
*Former Tribunal president of Criminal Court under the People's Supreme Court