An independent environmental group called on the Vietnamese government on Wednesday to allow it to participate in monitoring the payment of compensation to those affected by the Formosa environmental disaster.
Representatives from Green Trees filed a dossier with Vietnam’s Ministry of Finance, requesting that the group be able to scrutinize payments to people in four central coastal provinces who lost their livelihoods in the fishing and tourism industries following a toxic chemical spill last April by Taiwan-owned Formosa steel plant.
“Today I handed over the document calling for compensation for the victims in the central provinces,” said Green Trees member Dang Vu Luong. “I also want all civil society groups to be able to participate in the monitoring of state stipulations regarding the payouts.”
The report emerged as Vietnamese officials were quoted by their state media on Wednesday as saying that Formosa has been declared fit to launch operations on a trial basis.
Following an inspection of the five-year-old plant in Ha Tinh province, officials from the environment ministry said the site would be allowed to open pending approval from Hanoi, Vietnam Television quoted senior environment official Hoang Van Thuc as saying, according to Agence France-Presse.
Luong said it is necessary for civil society groups to be involved in the payment monitoring process because of several contradictory reports by different sources—victims of the spill themselves and state-run television—about the compensation and settlement of the environment disaster.
“We are citizens so we want accurate information for everyone,” he said.
The dossier concerns authorities in the natural resources and environment, finance, agriculture and rural development ministries, as well as the people’s committees of the four affected central coastal provinces.
Green Trees cited Articles 2 and 28 of Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution as the legal basis for its filing of the dossier.
Article 2 stipulates that all state powers belong to the Vietnamese people, while Article 28 says citizens have the right to participate in the administration of the state and management of society and to take part in discussions and recommendations to state bodies on the issues concerning communities, regions and the country.
Green Trees expects the government to listen and provide favorable conditions for the monitoring work, Luong said.
“Through this work we would want to remind everybody of the right to participation in state work,” he said.
Stipulations about payouts
The company has voluntarily provided U.S. $500 million to clean up and compensate people affected by the spill, but the government has faced protests over the amount of the settlement and the slow pace of payouts.
On Sept. 29, 2016, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc issued a decision detailing stipulations regarding the compensation rates and those who are to receive payouts.
“Since then, according to our assessment based on media news, local people’s thoughts, and our own observations, the compensation process has been slow, and many victims in the affected regions have yet to receive it [payouts],” the dossier says.
“In many regions, local people continue to protest unfair compensation rates,” it says. “In addition, we notice a lot of reflections about discrepancies relating to compensation.”
Green Trees has asked the government, relevant ministries, and local authorities to provide it with all information and documents related to the payout so it we can exercise the right to monitor the compensation process.
“Recently, state media has run news stories that people who live in the central provinces central people are getting bumper [fish] catches and that their lives are back to normal,” said Green Trees member Nguyen Mạnh Cuong.
He noted that a number of protests, however, have broken out over the government’s failure to issue the compensation, including a recent one in the Loc Ha district of Ha Tinh province when hundreds of residents from Thach Banh village stormed the local people’s committee office.
“As an independent civil society group, Green Trees want to join in the monitoring of compensation for victims,” he said.
“Our primary purpose in participating in the monitoring of compensation is to let all people in the country know the state’s policy for victims,” Cuong said. “We also expect other civil society groups to exercise monitoring rights.”
The April spill—Vietnam’s largest environmental disaster to date—killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless in four central provinces, including Ha Tinh.
Two months later, Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group acknowledged it was responsible for the release of toxic chemicals from its massive steel plant located at the deep-water port in Ha Tinh province’s Ky Anh district.
The Vietnamese government said in a report to the National Assembly in July of that year that the disaster had harmed the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, including 41,000 fishermen.
Reported and translated by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.