Deadly conflicts of interest
It is unprecedented when top leaders of a province are threatened by an underground ring like what happens in the gangland. But it is the case in Bac Ninh Province these days when the provincial government sent an urgent correspondence to the Prime Minister seeking help, as senior leaders there as well as the provincial chairman have got threats while trying to prevent the chaotic exploitation of sand in the Cau River.
In its correspondence last week, the provincial government proposes that the Prime Minister instruct the Transport Ministry to put on hold a project to dredge the riverbed, and order the Ministry of Public Security to launch an investigation since “there exists a protection racket with people from central agencies to local bodies involved.” Such a claim, according to local media, is unthinkable.
In the correspondence dated March 9 signed by Bac Ninh Province’s Vice Chairman Nguyen Huu Thanh, the provincial government suggests that the project to dredge the Cau River, which flows through two provinces, Bac Giang and Bac Ninh, and also serves as a border between the two, be postponed. Bac Ninh also proposes that the Prime Minister instruct the Ministry of Public Security to probe the case to find out “individuals at central and local levels who stand behind the protection racket, threatening officials, leaders of departments, and even the Chairman of the provincial People’s Committee,” according to Dan Tri.
“While we performed our duty, there have been some people spreading messages. Some even sent to my phone asking me not to take a tough stance, in short it is a threat,” Thanh Nien quotes Nguyen Huu Thanh, who signs the correspondence, as saying.
Meanwhile, Chairman Nguyen Tu Quynh confirms in Tuoi Tre that the province sent the correspondence to the Government given the severity of the situation, especially after the Transport Ministry and its Inland Waterway Department issued new papers to uphold the dredging project. Each day, some 40 vessels are exploiting sand from the riverbed, asserts the provincial chairman in the newspaper.
The whole story evolves around a project to dredge the riverbed said by transport officials to improve waterway navigation. As allowed by the Transport Ministry and its Inland Waterway Department, project operator Ha Luu Dredging Co. can exploit sand from the riverbed for sale. Given this permission, the company has pumped sand from the riverbed on the side of Bac Giang Province precincts to a depth of between 15 and 23 meters, causing landslides and even causing the dike along the Cau River to crumble. Bac Ninh authorities said up to VND30 billion was drained from the provincial budget last year to repair the dike and prevent landslides, Dan Tri reports. Meanwhile, provincial authorities assert that the Cau River is just the third-grade waterway that can allow vessels up to 300 tons to navigate, and therefore, the water passage with a depth of 2.8 meters can allow vessels to move through.
Bac Ninh Province says that the provincial leadership in a meeting earlier with the Ministry of Transport has stressed the need to stop dredging the riverbed, but despite the spirit of that meeting, despite several petitions sent to the Ministry of Transport, transport authorities have still issued several correspondences allowing for the project to continue, according to Tien Phong.
According to a correspondence signed by Deputy Minister of Transport Nguyen Nhat, the Inland Waterways Department under the ministry has determined that some sections of the river are shallow and fail to meet the navigational standards as per the design. Therefore, the Ministry of Transport “requests Bac Ninh to instruct the province’s Transport Department to work with the Inland Waterways Department to make plans for dredging such sections,” says Tien Phong.
Bac Ninh Province rejects the ministry’s claim on shallow sections, and upon the insistence of the ministry to allow for the continued dredging, the provincial government has no other choice but to send its urgent petition to the Prime Minister for help.
When asked by Thanh Nien why the province calls for help from the Ministry of Public Security at a time when Bac Ninh Police Department is investigating and processing the case, a provincial leader explains that “the case is complicated and those individuals giving the threats are not only people in Bac Ninh, but from elsewhere as well.”
The heated case, therefore, reflects the conflict of interests, with one side wanting to make the most from sand exploited when dredging the riverbed, while Bac Ninh authorities on the opposite side insists on protecting its infrastructure from being harmed by dredging. The conflict amounts to a deadly one, with the involvement of a protection racket that gives a legal mask to the sand exploiter.
Tuoi Tre quotes a National Assembly deputy to pinpoint shadow forces behind the case.
Ngo Duy Hien, deputy head of Hanoi City’s National Assembly Delegation, is quoted in the paper saying that “in the riverbed lie natural resources, and it is also where an underworld persists, with shadow forces, with protection rackets, with crimes.”
Sharing concerns with Bac Ninh Chairman Nguyen Tu Quynh, the NA deputy stresses that “when the top leader of a provincial government has to send a petition like this, it means the situation has amounted to great severity.”
As the case unfolds, the Ministry of Transport in its latest correspondence yesterday says that the dredging project has come to a standstill since December.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc yesterday urged relevant agencies to quickly address the issue, according to Vnexpress. The Ministry of Public Security is told to launch an investigation and report to the Prime Minister right this month, while the Minister of Transport is tasked with making a report on the dredging project to the Government prior to next Monday. Such reports are expected to shed light on the types of interests in the conflict.