The director of the Cat Tien National Park, a UNESCO listed biosphere reserve, says he is determined to stand by opinions contrary to state agencies pushing for the development of projects that will put the park's diversity and ecological balance at risk.
Two planned hydropower projects have attracted controversy recently as they would encroach on an area of 137 hectares of the national park.
The Dong Nai 6 and Dong Nai 6A projects have been approved by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, which was assigned to be a consultant for the government in evaluating the projects.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has rejected a request to have environmental impact assessments done for the plants by their investor, the Duc Long Gia Lai Group.
The ministry said the projects must be discussed by the National Assembly before any decisions are made by the government.
Local scientists and the management board of the Cat Tien National Park have strongly protested the projects.
The Sai Gon Tiep Thi newspaper interviewed Tran Van Thanh, director of the park, in its July 8 issue. Excerpts from the interview are published below.
It seems that your statements about the construction of the two projects are different from those of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
I was assigned to manage the Cat Tien National Park so I must strive to protect the park, even if my opinion is different from that of higher authorities (the ministry). I will maintain my opinion that environmental assessments must be made before any hydropower project is approved that will affect the park.
I myself have been put under quite a lot of pressure recently, but I am determined to maintain my opinion.
If I keep silent, it is not only the government but also the people who will have to suffer serious consequences from the two projects in the future.
What do you mean when you say "pressure"?
I have sent to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development a report on why I dared to express contrary opinions to what the ministry has stated.
Do you think you will be removed from your post as director of the park because of your statements?
I am not afraid of losing my position for telling the truth. The truth will be verified by people with conscience, not only now, but also coming generations.
What do you think will happen if the projects are approved?
Although the two projects would encroach on a small area of the 72,000 ha park, their impacts on the park's ecosystem would be huge. For example, wild animals will have to find new places for food and breeding.
Currently, more than 10 hydropower projects near the park are under construction, with the furthest one being just several kilometers away.
All investors affirm their projects would do no harm to the park, but who knows if investors or workers will connive with illegal loggers?
When a hydropower plant is built, it must carry out site clearance and local residents must relocate to other areas around the plant. The residents will be just several steps away from the forest; if they cut off trees, will the investors be held responsible?
If the investors of the two projects gets the license, I propose they make a written commitment that they will take full responsibility if something bad happens. These responsibilities must be stated very clearly so that the investor cannot avoid them.
In your opinion, is the report (on the feasibility of the two projects) submitted to the government by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development objective enough?
I don't want to comment but I don't understand why no representatives from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment were invited to join a field trip organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to the park.
One more thing, why were all expenses for the trip paid by the investor of the projects?
As the manager of the park, what would you say about the lack of environmental assessment for the projects?
The Institute of Tropical Biology is making an assessment of all hydropower projects surrounding the park. It will review all impacts of hydropower projects on the forest; therefore, there can be an objective assessment of the two planned projects.
I think any project must abide by the laws and value scientists and their opinions. In the past, several projects were carried out without proper assessment, and have caused serious losses.
It would be too late when we realize the bad impacts of hydropower projects and try to replant the trees.