Investigation of state-owned polluter Sonadezi still underway
Environmental police inspect a Sonadezi Corporation factory in the southern province of Dong Nai. The company's chair Do Thi Thu Hang (below), also a newly-elected National Assembly member (inset), has been criticized for favoring the company in the case.
A storm of criticism has surrounded businesswoman Do Thi Thu Hang ever since her election to the National Assembly, Vietnam's legislature, in June.
Vietnamese analysts and her constituents have been infuriated by her response to allegations that state-owned firm Sonadezi, of which she is general director and chair of the members' council, has been viciously polluting the sick and dying Dong Nai River.
On August 15, Hang met her constituents at Bau Ham 2 Commune in Dong Nai Province's Thong Nhat District following her election to Vietnam's parliament.
Nguyen Van Long of the commune's Ngo Quyen Hamlet fired tough questions at point-blank range: "What is your opinion on Sonadezi's illegal discharge of untreated wastewater?" Long asked. "We are really concerned because there will be many others companies in Dong Nai discharging waste and polluting the environment."
Hang dodged such questions until the end of the meeting when she finally replied.
"We are waiting for conclusions from concerned authorities," she claimed. "We will coordinate to handle the case when the conclusions are available. If there are shortcomings, we will amend them following the company's operation norms."
After the meeting, Long told the media that many constituents were not at all satisfied with Hang's answer.
"What happens to other companies if an "˜amendment' is enough for such shortcomings?" he said. "Fines following repeated violations won't solve anything. Besides being a National Assembly deputy, Hang is also a company leader and she should not be giving such general answers."
On August 4, Dong Nai environmental police caught the state-owned Sonadezi Corporation red-handed discharging untreated waste into the Dong Nai River.
After finding odorous sewage flowing from the sluice gates of the company's waste treatment facility into the river, the police raided the plant and discovered that the waste treatment system did not work, and untreated waste was being dumped through three underground pipelines into a ditch that runs into the river.
Senior Lieutenant-Colonel Cu Nam Tien of the Environment Police Department told Thanh Nien that it is estimated that the plant has discharged around 14 trillion liters of sewage into the Dong Nai River over the last five years, adding that police are investigating the case further.
Nguyen Ngoc Dien, vice rector of the HCMC University of Economics and Law, said it would not be easy for a lawmaker like Hang to solve the problem, due to her conflict of interest.
"In this case, the conflict is between the private benefits that she wants to defend as company chair on one side, and the community's benefits that she has committed to defending as a [National Assembly] representative," he wrote in an op-ed in the Sai Gon Tiep Thi (Sai Gon Marketing) newspaper on Wednesday.
"People expect that the deputy-cum-entrepreneur is willing to sacrifice the company's own benefits for the greater good, or at least for the benefits of the constituents who voted for her."
Dien said Hang had instead favored the company's position.
"It seems to me that the representative forgot that she was speaking as a deputy with constituents, not at her office where she is coping with claimants harmed by the company's activities," he said.
Sonadezi was established in 1990 under the name Bien Hoa Industrial Park Development Company. In 2006, the company was granted the government's "Labor Hero" title for contributing to the province's development and creating jobs for more than 100,000 people.
Tran Van Tu, chairman of the Dong Nai People's Council, the local legislature, said the company had made great contributions to the region and that its wrongdoings would be dealt with. "The fact that the company has the Labor Hero title does not mean that it can't be punished," he said.
On Tuesday, the Environment and Natural Resources Institute said tests of discharged wastewater samples of a Sonadezi affiliate have been completed and were being forwarded to the Ministry of Public Security's Environment Police.
A source familiar with the situation told Thanh Nien that tests revealed several harmful elements were present in the samples at levels several times higher than those deemed safe.
The Tam An Commune administration in Dong Nai Province's Long Thanh District said that by August 16th it had received petitions from 122 local residents demanding that Sonadezi compensate them for relevant damages.
A group of scientists has also said they are preparing a petition asking the National Assembly to reconsider a project to build two hydropower dams upstream on the river that provides sustenance to some 15 million people.
Vu Ngoc Long of the Vietnam Rivers Network said scientists from his agency, the Union of Technology and Science Association, and several other environmental organizations, have signed the petition.
He said the dams would seriously damage the local ecosystem, including the area's rare fauna and flora that play important roles in maintaining biodiversity.
"A project environmental assessment made by the Southern Institute for Water Resources Planning has failed to address many issues and thus is unacceptable," he told Tuoi Tre in an interview.
John Sawdon, a social and environmental economist at the environmental think tank International Center for Environmental Management, said there are already a number of hydropower plants in the basin as well as reservoirs.
"The question this raises is in the context of the substantial development that has already taken place - what is the incremental impact of these new plants? How much hydro can a river sustain without major negative and permanent effects on the ecosystem and other sectors? " Sawdon told Thanh Nien Weekly. "In this case, the government does not know because adequate cumulative assessments have not been conducted.
"The experience elsewhere in the country would suggest that such cascades fundamentally transform the aquatic and linked terrestrial ecology of the catchment," he said.