Vietnam’s environment minister promised representatives of the fisherman hard-hit by the Formosa chemical spill that the government is toughening safeguards to prevent another disaster and will pay out more money to compensate the victims, RFA’s Vietnamese Service has learned.
Environment and Natural Resources Minister Tran Hong Ha met with pair of attorneys and a half-dozen fishermen from Ky Anh district of Ha Tinh province on Wednesday in an attempt to address their concerns about the April spill that devastated Vietnam’s central coast.
During the four-hour meeting the attorneys and the fisherman questioned the licensing process that allowed the Formosa plant to operate and the compensation regime agree to by Hanoi and Formosa Plastics Group, the Taiwanese company that owns the steel mill, Tran Vu Hai, an attorney representing the victims told RFA.
“There were two issues discussed in the meeting, the first one covered the license issued by the ministry of natural resources and environment to Formosa on Dec. 11, 2015 that allowed this company to release its waste,” Tran Vi Hai told RFA. “The second issue covered anything related to Formosa under the ministry’s watch, such as compensation, the soil and sea environment.”
Tran Vi Hai told RFA that the minister assured them that the Formosa’s operations were up to international standards including those set out by the World Bank.
“I’m impressed that Tran Hong Ha promised to the fishermen that Formosa’s operation has to meet international standards, more specifically standards set out by the World Bank,” Tran Vi Hai said.
Earlier this year the World Bank toughened its environmental safeguards, but critics contend that they include a loophole that allows countries to use their own accountability mechanisms to enforce the standards.
In 2011 Vietnam lowered its environmental standards for steelmakers including the rules regulating cyanide, according to VietnamBreakingNews.com.
Cyanide was one of the chemicals that comprised a toxic cocktail that the company dumped into the sea, killing an estimated 115 tons of fish and leaving fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless in four central provinces.
Even with Vietnam’s lower standard for steel mills, Formosa committed more than 50 violatoins, including the unauthorized use of a dirtier production process, led to Vietnam's worst environmental disaster, according to a November Reuters article quoting an internal government report.
More Compensation to Come
While Tran Hong Ha told lawyers that the licensing granted Formosa complied with the law, he also promised to that more money would be released at a later stage to pay for vocational training and low-interest loans so fishermen can buy bigger boats allowing them to range further out to sea.
The compensation issue has been pushed to the forefront by demonstrators who have mounted protests seeking larger and faster payments.
In June, the Formosa Plastics Group acknowledged that it was responsible for the release of toxic chemicals from its $110 million steel plant located at the deep-water port in the Ha Tinh Province.
The company pledged $500 million to clean it 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 the payouts.
Tran Vu Hai questioned the compensation regime that is supposed to cover six months, saying that is too little time is because the pollution will linger longer than and many fishing boats will have stay idle for many more months.
Le Xuan Vuong, chairman of Ky Anh district’s Ky Loi village, who attended the meeting, blamed some of the delay on disagreements between the victims and the government over the funds.
“Our village has 10 hamlets, and six of them have finished filing and are announcing the rates for people so they know and respond,” he said. “We are still in the process of appraising losses in the other four hamlets. The reason for this delay is that fishermen did not agree with the rates proposed by the government.”
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.