Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Callous remarks by Formosa representative sparks public outcry - A year looks back

While the authorities are struggling to deal with the mass fish deaths in the central coast, a company representative in Vung Ang Industrial Zone has sparked public outrage by stating people must make the false choice between massively polluting steel industry or fishing.
As it becomes increasingly likely that wastewater from the Vung Ang Industrial Zone is responsible for mass fish deaths now blighting the coastline from Ha Tinh to Thua-Thien Hue provinces since early April, no business until now has had the nerve to make a public statement on the issue.
However, this changed when Chou Chun Fan, public relations director of Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Ltd., under the Taiwan's Formosa Group, decided to address the issue on April 25. He said there was no way fish could live around a steel factory. "Of course, we tried to meet national standards but we have to exchange something for the project. Previously, the farmers could still harvest a rice crop there once a year but now there's no crop, there's a factory. Sometimes, we can't have it all, we have to choose. Do we want to fish or do we want to develop a modern steel industry?" he said.
Chou Chun Fan, public relations director of Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Ltd
Le Dang Doanh, former head of the Central Institute for Economic Management, thinks that Fan's statement was provocative and insulting to Vietnam. "We let Formosa invest in Vietnam and asked them to ensure that we preserve the environment for our future generations," he said. "We can't choose to sacrifice natural resources. It's a violation of various international conventions on environment that we’ve signed."
Le Dang Doanh
He asked the Ministry of Planning and Investment, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to review issued licences, import permits of toxic substances and Formosa’s environmental commitments. According to Doanh, Formosa had imported a huge amount of toxic substances to clean their pipes.
"They must report on the use of all these dangerous chemicals. Where are they now and who gave them the permit?" Doanh said. "Such statements display indifference to a national problem. We can't ignore it and I strongly criticise this statement. It's not true to our spirit and to the privileges and preferential treatment that we had offered to these investors. It's unacceptable that an investor can say they decided to choose steel over the environment."
He went on to say that this was a severe consequences when government were too lenient on foreign firms. If the official investigation pointed out that the water was contaminated because of Vung Ang's wastewater, Vietnam can sue the firms, he said.
Luu Bich Ho, former Director of the Development Strategy Institute, also opposed the Formosa statement and said Vietnam did not have to sacrifice anything.
"I can confirm from my experience that steel factories and nuclear-power plants do not automatically mean environmental devastation. I went to Japan and the locals could swim in the water near a nuclear power plant. They treat the water so carefully before they discharge into the environment and that is potentially an area with radioactive water," he said.
Ho also said since Vietnamese government trusted Formosa enough to let them build discharge pipes leading to the sea, they must follow requests and regulations in Vietnam so both steel factories and fish can co-exist.


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