Civil society groups, political activists and religious organisations have condemned the government’s handling of the environmental disaster off the central coast, which saw millions of fish poisoned by toxic emissions from a steel plant.
More than twenty groups signed a statement condemning what they see as the government’s lenient treatment of Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, which was found responsible for the disaster.
They said the recently completed Taiwanese owned steel plant in Vung Ang should have been shut down to ensure a safe environment in the future. They also demanded that government officials be held accountable for their failure to respond adequately to the disaster and for their suppression of demonstrations called to demand justice.
“We severely condemn the communist government for allowing Formosa to continue its existence and operation to cause environmental disasters, instead of taking it to court and closing it permanently,” said the signees, which include the Civil Society Forum, led by Dr Nguyen Quang A, independent representatives of the Hoa Hao Buddhist church, and the environmental group, Bauxite Vietnam.
They said the government has not taken any effective measures to clean up the marine environment or to support those whose livelihood was damaged by the mass fish kill.
Call for people power
After weeks of delays and prevarication, the government announced on June 30 that the emission of toxic chemicals from the steel plant was solely responsible for the poisoning of waters off four central provinces.
The company’s bosses offered a public apology, after earlier denying any responsibility, and agreed to pay US$500 million in compensation.
The government concluded that the plant should be allowed to continue its operations after company officials pledged to rigorously enforce all environmental regulations.
The civil society representatives said government officials had accepted compensation before conducting any assessment of the extent of the damage caused to the marine environment and the livelihood of fishermen.
They said the government should also have offered an apology to the people and prosecuted those officials responsible for regulating the steel company’s operations.
The activists urged people to take to the streets and put on a display of people power to force the government to accept its responsibilities and offer justice to the victims of the disaster.
They said the incident had exposed the lack of conscience, morality and reason in an administration blighted by corruption.
“Ha Tinh Steel should be expelled”
The call has gone out for a month of action, culminating on August 6, in which demonstrators are encouraged to wear white shirts emblazoned with pictures of dead fish.
They will call for the closure of the steel plant and for material and legal support for the victims so that they can sue the company.
Some fishermen in Thua Thien Hue province said their priority was a clean environment.
“What we need is for Formosa to return us a safe marine environment so that we can live on as we did in the past,” one of the fishermen told Vietnam Right Now. He warned that it would be years before the sea returned to normal.
“We want a clean sea for younger generations. If Formosa continues to still operate here, they will discharge toxic waste into our sea. So it should be expelled from Vietnam,” said a fisherman in Ha Tinh province.
By Joseph Nguyen, a reporter on social and religious affairs based in Ho Chi Minh City.