Government names officials over Formosa disaster

Protests against the government’s handling of the disaster have triggered a violent backlash by police. File photo courtesy AFP

Vietnam has for the first time named government officials deemed responsible for the environmental disaster off the central coast last year.

It identified 11 officials, including a former environment minister, saying they should be disciplined or face an official review.

The move comes ten months after tonnes of dead fish began washing up on 200 kilometres of coastline, killed by a toxic leak from a steel mill owned by the Taiwanese company, Formosa.

The officials were accused of being “irresponsible in leadership and direction, lax in management and administration, lack of inspection and monitoring”, said a report conducted by the Communist party’s inspection committee.

The government said last month that four officials had been found responsible for playing a role in the disaster, but it did not name them or give any indication of action taken against them.

Groundswell of public discontent

The belated acknowledgement of shortcomings at high levels in the bureaucracy appears to be an attempt at damage limitation, in the face of a groundswell of public discontent over the handling of the disaster.

Officials have warned that it could take ten years for the central coastline to recover from the impact of the disaster, which decimated local fish stocks.

The government has shown alarm at a growing environmental movement and large scale protests called to demand full government accountability, and adequate compensation for residents.

The police have increasingly resorted to violent attacks to try to cow demonstrators and petitioners.

The report named the ex-environmental minister, Nguyen Minh Quang, former vice-minister, Bui Cach Tuyen, and the former head of the Ha Tinh provincial people’s committee, Vo Kim Cu, amongst the officials found responsible.

A government investigation identified more than 50 violations of regulations at the Ha Tinh steel mill, including the use of a dirtier production process than was authorised.

Environmental campaigners have long accused government officials of attempting to cover up their responsibility. They suspect a wholesale failure of regulation, which permitted the Taiwanese plant to dump toxic chemicals through a waste pipe into the sea.