Vietnam environment minister admits violations, shirks blame

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Cranes arrive at a coal excavation site in Quang Ninh Province in northern Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Nguoi Lao Dong

Vietnam's minister of natural resources admitted at a meeting Tuesday that half the excavation permits handed out since 2011 were issued improperly, causing legislators to question if corruption was the major reason why.

Nguyen Minh Quang, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, said that among 957 excavations given licenses since July 2011 when he was appointed to his post, 103 were issued by unauthorized agencies, while 52 went to companies that were not registered for the job, and 37 were in areas where mining activities had yet to be approved.

He said there were other violations as well.

Quang passed the buck to local authorities, saying that most illegal licenses had been issued by them.

"The ministry's units provided only some of them, but I do not feel comfortable naming names."

As members of the country's legislature mentioned Quang as playing a major role in the situation, he continued to blame local authorities.

"I accept part of the responsibility, but the government should also ask city/provincial leaders to beef up their surveillance."

He asked the PM to censure 14 provinces with the most violations, including nine central provinces, and four southern ones.

As legislators questioned whether bribery and corruption were responsible for so many violations, Quang said they should ask city/provincial leaders.

Nguyen Sinh Hung, the house speaker, said he believed the answer was yes, and that Quang should know that better than anyone.

Hung expressed frustration about the lack of management on the ministry's part, and the fact that no person has been punished despite years of rampant violations.

He said the ministry should work with the police to launch more vigorous inspections, and that legislators from each city and province need to punish those responsible and repair damage that has been done to the environment.

"If we keep giving out licenses like this, we're dead," Hung said.

"This is corruption. This is environmental destruction."

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