Fines fail to leave polluters shaking in their boots

May 01, 2011 | 08:00
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Despite the biggest-ever fine in Vietnam inflicted on a foreign environmental violator, it may not dishearten other polluters.

Southern Long An province's People's Committee on April, 21 imposed a VND350 million ($17,500) fine on Nivl Joint Stock Company, a sugar manufacturer from India, because it had been caught discharging toxic untreated water into Vam Co Dong River many times.

Nivl, which is operating a $30 million - 30 megawatt thermo-electricity plant fired by sugarcane dregs in the province's Ben Luc district's Luong Hoa district, was found in early this year to be discharging toxic waste water whose pollutants had concentration 1,000 times higher than permissible limits.

The fine was the highest punishment ever inflicted on an environmental violator in Vietnam now, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment's Vietnam Environment Administration.

For example, Taiwan's Vedan company, which was found in September 2008 discharging nearly 18 million cubic metres of untreated toxic waste water into Dong Nai province's 27 kilometre Thi Vai river between 1994-2008 without being detected, was hit with a VND216.5 million ($10,825) hit, though the company's violation was considered to be dangerous. However, Vedan had to spend $10.96 million as compensation for losses it caused to farmers from Ho Chi Minh City, Ba Ria-Vung Tau and Dong Nai provinces.

Taiwan's Tung Kuang Industrial Joint Stock Company, which was found in 2010 discharging untreated toxic water into Hai Duong's environment for years, in early April was fined VND312 million ($15,600).

However, Nivl's punishment resulted from that the company was many times found to have been destroying the environment, but still repeated its violations though already facing punishments, according to the committee. Compensation for farmers had yet to be tabled.

In May 2010, the committee fined Nivl VND100 million ($5,000) for dumping dust, ash and untreated waste water into the environment, with pollutant concentrations 10 times higher than permissible standards. The polluting action was found by in April, 2010.

In early June, 2009, Nivl's similar action was also caught in the act, which earned the company a fine of over VND85 million ($4,250).

However, Nivl continued repeating its violations. In October, 2009, the provincial Department of Natural Resources and Environment halted the company's alcohol producing facility due to its poor waste water system, while imposing fines on the company.

But, the National Assembly's Committee for Science, Technology and Environment vice chairman Nghiem Vu Khai said that such a fine (VND350 million) for Nivl remained low and would not prevent other violations.

"While the environment is being increasingly destroyed, no violator has ever faced with criminal charges," he said.

Long An's Industrial Parks Authority head Phan Thanh Phi agreed that this fine was not "strong enough" to "scare" existing polluters or potential polluters.

Under Decree 177/2009/ND-CP on imposing fine on environmental violations, environmental polluters are subject to a maximum fine of VND500 million ($25,000).

Deputy minister of Public Security Pham Quy Ngo said that the number of foreign polluters in Vietnam was on the rise. They were capitalising on Vietnam's open-hearted investment climate and lax environmental management regulations to damage the country's environment to reap big profits.

"Due to environmental pressure in their countries, many foreign enterprises stand ready to invest backward technologies into Vietnam with wicked schemes. In many cases, polluters are ready to be punished rather than investing much cash into installing waste water treatment facilities, which are often costly," Ngo said.

Ben Luc district fined 171 environmental polluters some VND900 million ($45,000) in 2007-2010. However, only half of enterprises here have equipped with proper wastewater treatment facilities.

By Thanh Dat

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