Unite against vehicle fires!

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This picture taken on October 27, 2011 shows a man using an extinguisher to put out a fire on a motorcycle which is almost completely destroyed on a street in downtown Hanoi. From small scooters to luxury SUVs, dozens of vehicles have mysteriously burst into flames in Vietnam this year, triggering mass panic among motorists, who say the government is failing to respond. Photo: AFP

Please, someone tell me what needs to happen before someone in the government decides to do something about the mysterious vehicle fires? Do we need a person to die? Two? Five? Ten?...

At the end of the day, asking the government/politicians to do a proper, independent, accurate, relevant investigation of why these fires are happening, and actually solve the problem, should not be something difficult, or extraordinary. Actually it should not even be necessary, because it is their job! They should be protecting citizens, and ensuring their safety!

I read with horror the various articles published by the local media, in which the outcome is more or less that the Vietnamese government does not seem to care much, or at all about the issue. Disgraceful!

Two questions cross my mind: 1) Why is the government ignoring such an important problem, and 2) What can be done before someone dies or gets seriously injured? I can only speculate!

So far it seems that the various government investigations on the matter are vague, ambiguous, and, how should I put it (?), useless! As a former employee of both the Health & Safety Executive and the Department for Transport in England, I would be ashamed to work for a government organization providing such responses. Those responsible in Vietnam should be named and shamed! Have they actually done any investigation at all?

I doubt that "lack of resources" can be claimed as a reason for either doing next to nothing, or requesting a year to do an investigation report. The same applies to "lack of expertise," which I believe exists in Vietnam, but could easily be outsourced.... so why is the government ignoring the problem?

It is becoming apparent that either the government cannot control the fuel adulteration, and is ashamed to admit, or, more probably, someone high up (probably many), are making good money by either selling us water at the price of petrol, or allowing others to do so.

With most Vietnamese oil products being imported, I am sure that quality measures are agreed upon with overseas suppliers and checked on arrival, and therefore gasoline arrives here meeting quality requirements. So why allow it to deteriorate unless there is a huge financial reward? Has bribery ever been mentioned before in relation to this problem?

So, what can we do to press the issue? After the Buncefield fire, even though less than one out of 1,000 petrol samples were contaminated, the British government took a series of costly measures to guarantee that no accidents would happen.

As far as I know, Vietnam does not have such a thing as the British Manslaughter Act, by which if someone died as a result of these fires, several people (senior management mostly) would be likely to spend some well deserved time in prison... so there is no motivation for the big cheeses in the government and oil firms to act.

If I was working as a Risk Manager for the Vietnamese Transport Minister I would advise him to act quickly with this, because if someone died as a result of these fires, it could put parts of the country on stand-still if people decided not to travel or not to transport goods due to fear (high impact but low probability of happening).

However, if a foreigner died... it would be broadcasted all over the world, seriously affecting tourism in Vietnam, hence losing face and hundreds of millions of dollars as a result. Would this make the government do something about it?

I do not want to volunteer to be the one dead or seriously injured, and rather than saying what to do, I would like to open a debate to receive suggestions from Vietweek and Thanh Nien readers about what we can do, before it is too late!

Would writing to our embassies make any difference? What about encouraging both Vietnamese and foreigners to write to the international press reporting the issue? Are there any local scientists who would like to do some private research and help society while building a reputation as a result?

Let's get together and do something before it is too late!

By Alfredo De La Casa
The writer is a British lecturer who lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City. The opinions expressed are his own.

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