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State-sponsored deforestation

Son Nguyen
Friday,  Apr 28,2017,13:19 (GMT+7)
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State-sponsored deforestation

Son Nguyen

The question of competence and ineptness emerges these days in Phu Yen Province when large swathes of the protective forest there are chopped down to make room for tourism projects. The apparent violations, unfortunately, are not attributed to investors whose aim is to pursue profits, but to State management agencies in the south-central province whose mandate is to safeguard balanced and sustainable development.

As covered in local media, it is not one or two projects that are encroaching on the invaluable forest, but there are dozens of such developments. Nevertheless, the latest deliberate acts of deforestation make the final straw that breaks the back of a camel.

Some 140 hectares of protective forest in Phu Yen Province’s Tuy Hoa City has been being wiped out to prepare ground for two tourism projects, including a golf course in the New City Tourism Complex.

Irregularities in this golf course project are reportedly rampant.

According to Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper, this project has not had an environment impact assessment report approved; its land has not been converted from forest land into other purposes, and the area has not been handed over to the investor. That is to say key procedures required by the law to develop the golf course and other auxiliary facilities have not been accomplished, but the investor has hurriedly stepped up construction.

Next to this golf course project is another five-star beach resort by a company named Sao Viet, which has also devoured tens of hectares of forest, Tuoi Tre reports.

Such irregularities, however, are committed in broad daylight without any State intervention. Worse still, some senior provincial leaders have been knowingly supporting the investors to speed up deforestation.

At a meeting this week, the provincial leadership admitted that numerous problems remained to be solved, Vnexpress reports. According to the news website, the Prime Minister has not approved the land conversion; the Ministry of Natural Resources has not endorsed the project’s environment impact assessment report; while provincial authorities have not performed land handover procedures.

Phap Luat Online newspaper cites a decision of the Prime Minister issued in 2009 as saying that Phu Yen has gravely breached regulations. Under the decision, forest land shall not be used to build golf courses.

However, an official of Phu Yen’s Department of Planning and Investment argues that the Prime Minister’s decision was issued in 2009, while the New City project had been licensed a year earlier. This argument is swiftly rejected by an official with the Ministry of Planning and Investment, who explains that golf courses licensed prior to the decision must also abide by provisions in the decision if such projects have not been executed, which is the case of the New City Golf Course.

Tuoi Tre points the finger at the provincial government, saying senior leaders have issued correspondences urging quicker deforestation while pending procedures being accomplished.

According to the paper, Phu Yen’s Vice Chairman Nguyen Chi Hien on October 11, 2016 issued a decision, demanding that land be handed over to the golf course developer no later than November 15, 2016. The vice chairman also demanded that “departments, branches and localities create favorable conditions for the investor to develop the project in line with the timeline.”

Ironically, on October 31, 2016, the provincial government even awarded a certificate of merits to New City for “excellent performance in site clearance” to build the tourism complex, says Tuoi Tre. This move is seen as a strong encouragement for the investor to speed up deforestation, because at the time the award was conferred, only a section of the forest had been cut down, while the forest area at the golf course site remained intact.

In fact, Phu Yen Province has had a history awash with deforestation cases.

Lao Dong newspaper says that in 2016, Phu Yen led five central provinces in terms of  natural-forest losses, estimated at 4,700 hectares.

The provincial government a month ago allowed a company to slash 273 hectares of forest to create a pastureland for a cattle farming project by Thao Nguyen Company, according to Nguoi Lao Dong. Upon news reports on the abnormal deforestation, the central Government demanded a halt to the project and an inspection into the case, and by then, as much as 11 hectares of forest had already been eradicated.

The provincial government has also approved numerous projects that are to encroach on over 1,000 hectares of forest.

Tuoi Tre gives a long list of 20 projects that have secured approval from the provincial government for development either in the forest or encroaching on the sea. Apart from the New City and Sao Viet projects mentioned above, authorities in Phu Yen have also agreed to hand over forest land to a horse race course project, a resort project by Thuan Thao Company, and another villa resort by Bac Au among others.

It is also worth noting that the provincial government allows project owners that encroach on forest land to pay money instead of forcing them to plant new forests in compensation.

According to Tuoi Tre, from 2014 to April 10, 2017, the provincial Department of Agriculture had collected over VND11 billion from enterprises who paid money instead of planting 198 hectares of forest in compensation.

Needless to say, forest plays an important role in securing the ecological balance by preventing land erosion, regulating water flows, and limiting flashfloods among others. Keeping the forest means protecting the environment and ensuring balanced and sustainable development.

The Prime Minister has recently stressed that the environment shall not be sacrificed for economic growth.

In the latest development concerning the scandals, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has issued an urgent correspondence ordering the Government Inspectorate to probe State-sponsored deforestation cases in Phu Yen Province. The inspection results shall be reported to the Prime Minister before May 30.

Given the failure to protect the forest in many cases lately, it is clear that the competence of provincial authorities remains to be questioned, no matter how the inspection results will be.


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