Legislator who approved Formosa’s Vietnam operations deflects blame
Vo Kim Cu gestures during an interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on July 24, 2016. Tuoi Tre
A former top official in the north-central province of Ha Tinh may have licensed Formosa to begin operations in the area, but believes he should not be blamed for any failures of the Taiwanese company following his approval.
Vo Kim Cu was deputy chairman of the Ha Tinh administration and head of the management board of the Vung Ang Economic Zone in 2008, when Formosa Plastics Group received the investment license for its steelmaking project in Vietnam.
That year, Cu signed a proposal on behalf of the province’s chairman, calling on the government to consider allowing the Taiwanese firm to invest in Vung Ang.
Later the same year, as head of the economic zone, Cu granted the license for Formosa to officially start operations.
In January 2015, Cu held three high positions at a time: chairman of the provincial administration, secretary of the province’s Party Committee, and a lawmaking National Assembly member.
He is now a member of the assembly and chairman of the Vietnam Cooperative Alliance, but keeps no post in the Ha Tinh administration.
While it is obvious that Cu held a crucial role in approving Formosa’s steelmaking facility in Ha Tinh, he has never accepted any request for comment on his responsibility, when the Formosa facility was hit by the fish death scandal in April and May.
He refused to answer calls from the media, and tried to avoid reporters who attempted to meet him on the sidelines of the recent National Assembly meetings.
On Sunday night, he finally agreed to talk with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, but consistently deflected blame for all the damage Formosa Ha Tinh has caused.
Cu said he had rejected the media over the last three months because “[I] was too busy,” and because “a 20-minute break at the National Assembly meeting is too short to talk anything in detail.”
“Some reporters also contacted me when the government was conducting studies to find the cause of the fish deaths, so I just could not make any statements then as it was beyond my authority,” he explained.
Asked if he had ever thought of the negative consequences Formosa may cause when licensing their investment in Ha Tinh, Cu said the news of the company’s environmental disaster had hit him like a bolt of lightning.
“I was really surprised,” he said. “We insisted that Formosa strictly follow the Vietnamese law and environmental protection standards, and we thought they would do so, given their huge investment in the project.”
The lawmaker said that when he was the top official of Ha Tinh, Formosa was only doing the site clearance task and there was no environmental impact then.
“When the company started bringing their machinery and equipment there in 2015 and 2016, I had already left Ha Tinh and could not oversee their operations anymore,” he explained.
On June 31, Formosa admitted that untreated water dumped directly into the sea from its steel mill in Ha Tinh was the main cause of the deaths of hundreds of tons of fish along four central Vietnamese provinces.
The environmental disaster also affected some 100,000 fishermen and local laborers of the fishing and seafood industries, according to a government report.
Formosa has pledged US$500 million in damages.
A corner of the wastewater treatment system of Formosa in Ha Tinh
In 2008, Cu told the media that Formosa would open a new, brighter future for Ha Tinh with multibillion-dollar revenue and numerous new jobs for locals.
But the reality is that fish died en masse and fishermen were impoverished by the Formosa project.
Cu said he “feels sorry for these losses,” but asserted that “if it had not been for the fish death scandal, Formosa would have indeed generated jobs for thousands of local residents and revenue for [Ha Tinh].”
The official refused to admit that his Formosa forecast was wrong.
“In 2014 Ha Tinh made nearly VND10 trillion [$446.43 million] in revenue, and surpassed that number the following year,” he said. “So if the environmental disaster had not happened, things would have gone in line with my prediction.”
With Cu insisting that he did not do anything wrong, Tuoi Tre asked if he can feel totally relaxed when a huge number of people remain affected by the scandal.
His answer remains the same.
“The licensing of Formosa was in line with regulations, but the wrongdoings are totally the business of Formosa,” he said.
So does this mean that Cu and other Ha Tinh officials at the time Formosa got its license carry no responsibility for the scandal? Cu simply said, “The licensing [of the project] was right, but its implementation is wrong.”
Asked who will be held accountable for overseeing the project’s implementation, if not the province’s administration, Cu said the responsibility was with “competent agencies.”
In the end, Cu said he is only “partially responsible” and that the Formosa scandal should be made a lesson for other projects before implementation.
The official also rejected allegations that some people want him stripped of the role as a National Assembly delegate.
“I have never heard of anything like that,” he said.
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