Vietnam trade villages need more gov't support: lawmakers

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Vietnam's government needs to put more investment into trade villages where locals are facing critical environmental pollution threats, lawmakers said at the National Assembly's session on Monday.

Representative Tran Du Lich from Ho Chi Minh City said that Vietnam seems to pay more attention to projects worth hundreds of millions to billions of dollars, while nearly ignoring trade villages.

Only when trade villages are developed, can the country handle the flow of immigration from countryside to urban areas, lessening the pressures of urbanization, Lich stressed.

Representative Nguyen Thuy Hoan from the northern province of Thai Binh, agreed with Lich and stressed that the government needs to invest more into villages' waste treatment infrastructures.

In fact, local trade villages are facing critical pollution threats with figures of concern, as pointed out in the report by the National Assembly's Standing Committee.

The report said of more than 3,200 trade villages across the country with 11 million laborers, food processing villages are seeing pollution concentrations at levels 10 times more than regulations allow.

The same situation was found in villages that focus on plating and recycling metals toxic metals and impurities were recorded at concentrations higher than regulated, according to the report.

The committee quoted the national report on environment in 2008 as saying that at some villages with critical pollution, locals' life expectancy is 10 years shorter than the country's average.

Too lenient

Also in its report, the committee said that companies keep violating environmental regulations because fines are too low when compared to the investment they need to put into waste treatment systems and other related infrastructure to prevent pollution.

Meanwhile, management agencies fail to enforce laws strictly, according to legislators.

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Le Phuoc Thanh, chairman of the central province of Quang Nam's People's Committee, suggested the government invest more in environmental protection efforts by providing support in terms of capital, land and tax incentives to companies that make environment investments.

The government needs to double its environmental fees from 1 percent of its budget, Thanh said.

Nguyen Anh Son, a representative of the northern province of Nam Dinh, agreed, saying that: "It's better to spend another 1 percent than much more [of that] percentage later yet still fail to overcome consequences."

Meanwhile, Nguyen Minh Lam from the southern province of Long An suggested authorities should suspend the licenses of companies that commit violations on purpose or keep violating environmental regulations.

Economic zones should only be allowed to go into operation when companies complete their waste treatment systems, he stressed.

Financial difficulty

On the sidelines of the meeting that day, Deputy Environment Minister Bui Cach Tuyen told the press that his staff is facing difficulty conducting environmental inspections, because they rely on budgets approved by the Ministry of Finance.

Every year, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has plans to inspect industrial zones across the country, but such inspections' expenses, including transport and accommodation fees for inspectors, still depend on the finance ministry, Tuyen was quoted in Tuoi Tre Tuesday.

Meanwhile, it is well-known that budgets for ministries to conduct their mission recently didn't satisfy the demand, he added.

"Since 2008, we have inspected more than 1,600 places, which isn't a small figure," he stressed.

Asked about the fact that most of the massive environmental violations were detected by environment police divisions, Tuyen said it was due to differences between regulations on the two forces' operations.

Inspectorate from the ministry are asked to inform companies that they will be inspected about one week before, and are only allowed to publicize their findings when the companies are found to have made certain violations, according to the official.

"It's regulations, so if we do something against them, companies can sue us, and we'll probably serve our time," Tuyen said.

While agreeing that the current fines for environmental violations --which is up to VND500 million (US$23,800) -- are low, the deputy minister said laws allow his department to fine violators many times.

Moreover, the fines are almost equal to those in other countries like the Netherlands, where regulated fines are some $20,000.

"In my opinion, we need to apply many measures, instead of relying on fines only, to make it deterable," Tuyen said.

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