MAC: Mines and Communities

Vietnam bauxite battle intensifies

Published by MAC on 2009-06-16

As reported on MAC over the past six months, proposals for a major bauxite-alumina project in Vietnam's Central Highlands have raised concerns among a large number of citizens. See:

In a strongly-worded pastoral letter at the end of May 2009, the Catholic Archbishop of Saigon - clearly referencing the project - condemned "strategies of economic development" which can "only lead to chaos."

Then, on June 11th, some deputies to the country's National Assembly challenged the government's apparent strategy to split the project into various phases - thus avoiding having to submit the plans for their scrutiny. *

That very day, prominent Vietnamese lawyer, Cu Huy Ha Vu, filed a law suit against the Vietnamese prime minister, accusing him of breaking four laws on environment and Indigenous Peoples by fast-tracking the bauxite project.

And that isn't all:

The Danish ambassador to Vietnam - a member of a group of international donors to the country - has also reportedly warned that the mine would cause "thousands of people to be relocated."

* MAC editorial footnote: This strategy appears similar to one attempted by Vedanta Resource plc in 2004-05 when it argued before a committee of India's Supreme Court that its Lanjigarh alumina refinery in Orissa was not dependent on mining of the adjacent Nyamgiri hills. The company's attempt to separate environmental scrutiny of the two intimately-linked projects proved unsuccessful.

[Commentary by Nostromo Research, 13 June 2009]

Assembly gets hot with bauxite

VietNamNet Bridge

12th June 2009

Minister of Industry and Trade Vu Huy Hoang received the highest number of questions from National Assembly deputies compared to other cabinet members, 28, focusing on six groups of issues. Hoang's question and answer session on June 11 was very hot with questions about bauxite mining projects and the increase of electricity charges.

Deputy Nguyen Dang Trung from HCM City started the session with a very short question. Article 2, Resolution 66 dated 2006 of the NA stipulates that projects of over 20 trillion dong ($1.1 billion) must be submitted to the NA for approval. The bauxite mining projects in the Central Highlands are very big, so why didn't the Industry and Trade Ministry ask the government to submit the projects to the NA?

Hoang said the Tan Rai bauxite mining project, the Nhan Co alumina project, the project to build a port in Ke Ga and a railway from Dak Nong to Binh Thuan are independent projects.

For example, the port and railway projects will be used to serve the people. These projects have investment capital of less than 20 trillion each so they are not subject to Resolution 66. He said projects that will be implemented in the future, such as Nhan Co 2, 3 and 4, which have capital of over 20 trillion dong, will be submitted to the NA.

Deputy Nguyen Dang Trung disagreed with Hoang, saying that the bauxite mining project includes three phases and 12 projects which are closely attached to one another. The capital for each project is less than 20 trillion dong because the Industry and Trade Ministry chopped them down into small pieces to not have to submit them to the NA.

Trung emphasised that the bauxite project is very important, and must be considered in three aspects: impacts and consequences on the environment, economic effectiveness and defence.

He repeated the Politburo's conclusion about the bauxite project: The Central Highlands is an extremely significant and sensitive area for national defence. "I think that the whole bauxite mining project must be submitted to the NA," Trung said.

Deputy Nguyen Van Ba from Khanh Hoa province agreed: "It was wrong that the Industry and Trade divided the bauxite project into smaller projects and said that they are independent. These projects, for example, the railway project, would be unnecessary without the bauxite mining project," Ba said.

Minister of Industry and Trade Vu Huy Hoang said that it was not the idea of his ministry and the ministry didn't have the authority to separate the bauxite project into smaller pieces. That was the government's plan.

He said that the railway project is unnecessary in the early phase of alumina production. The alumina output in the initial period will be small so it can be transported by trucks. He affirmed that the railway project was planned to serve not only the alumina plant but also the people.

Deputy Pham Thi Loan from Hanoi asked about the economic advantages of this project. The government plans to restrict exports of raw products as much as possible. The bauxite project only plans on producing alumina from bauxite ore and turning alumina into aluminum is a long process.

Hoang said bauxite ore in the Central Highlands contains 40 percent alumina. After the refinery process, the final product will be alumina, an intermediate product, not a raw material. He said it is suitable to export alumina and then build an aluminum plant.

Vietnamese premier sued over bauxite projects

Asia-Pacific News

12th June 2009

Hanoi - Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is facing a lawsuit over controversial bauxite mining projects, a lawyer said Friday.

'I decided to take legal proceedings against him because he is breaking four law codes,' said Cu Huy Ha Vu, who filed the lawsuit on Thursday.

The prominent Vietnamese lawyer said the government decision to approve the mining plans broke laws on environmental protection, national defence and security as well as cultural heritage.

'The Vietnamese constitution says every citizen is equal before the law, so once the PM or general secretary [of the communist party] breaks the law, they need to be punished by the law,' he said.

Vu said based on Vietnamese law, the decision could not be signed until an environmental report had been made, but this was yet to be compiled.

National defence laws state all plans to develop the economy in important regions such as the Central Highlands must be assessed by the Ministry of Defence in coordination with an authorized agency, a regulation also ignored by the decision, the lawyer said.

Exploitation of bauxite in large areas of the Central Highlands will likely lead to the displacement of many ethnic minority people, therefore the bauxite plan must also be approved by the Ministry of Culture, he added.

Deputies to Vietnam's National Assembly said projects worth more than 20 trillion dong (1.2 billion dollars) need the body's approval. The bauxite project is worth much more, but the government did not submit a proposal to the assembly.

Vietnam's bauxite reserves are among the world's largest at an estimated 8 billion tons.

Bauxite is extracted from open-pit mines, requiring replacement of topsoil before the land can be reforested or used for agriculture. The refining process creates large amounts of caustic red slurry, which must be contained so as not to pollute water sources.

Critics said geological factors make it hard to contain such waste in the Central Highlands and worry that pollution would affect the local coffee and cacao industries as well as damage rainforests, wildlife and the social fabric of the region's indigenous ethnic minorities.

Vietnam cautioned on bauxite mining


10th June 2009

Donors to Vietnam have called on the Vietnamese government to be cautious in a planned bauxite-mining project because it might have severe consequences for the people and environment in the pristine Central Highlands, a diplomat said yesterday.

"According to our information, thousands of people will be relocated due to the mining project, so we have asked the Vietnamese government about plans for resettlement and for securing the livelihood of these people," said the Danish ambassador to Vietnam, Peter Lysholt Hansen. ]

He added that international donors were also seeking assurance that the government would mitigate negative impacts on the environment.

The Norwegian ambassador to Vietnam, Kjell Storlokken, who recently visited the bauxite-mining areas, warned in a meeting of donors, called the Consultative Group for Vietnam, that Vietnam should be careful in exploiting its abundance of natural resources.

Vietnam: Protecting environment is a Christian's duty, Cardinal says

J.B. An Dang

VietCatholic News

29th May 2009

In a strong-worded pastoral letter dated May 31, a Vietnamese Cardinal condemns the exploitation of natural resources which damages environment, urging his faithful to protest against economic plans that take into account only the benefits of the minority group of those in power, and to pray for the government to show their concern for the people, the land, and future generations.

Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man, Archbishop of Saigon, stated that it is his pastoral duty to inform and raise awareness among his faithful about the risks of environmental damage in Vietnam after reviewing the recent reports on the issue at hand. The Cardinal letter has came a few days after a decision from Vietnam congress to back bauxite mining projects in the Central Highlands region despite widespread public protests.

The debate at Vietnam National Assembly occurred after a public outcry from scientists, intellectuals and former military high ranking officials- including general Vo Nguyen Giap, the legendary communist wartime hero - who oppose bauxite mining projects endorsed by the Politburo of Vietnam Communist Party - the Vietnam's most powerful ruling body.

Opponents of the bauxite projects claimed the environmental and social damage from the mines would far outweigh any economic benefit, and pointed to security concerns due to the long term presence of hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers in bauxite mines.

"The natural environment is a gift from the Creator that all of us can share," Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham stated. "It's a gift for everyone, not for a particular individual or minority group; a gift not only for the present generation but also for generations to come," he added.

Echoing the concern of scientists and intellectuals that local residents close to the mines would suffer badly from environmental damage, the Cardinal argued: "Since natural environment is for everyone, no one has permission to damage or control it even in the name of economic development, and strategies to gain profits for only a small group of privileged people."

"Recent developments have proven that investors have only their personal profits in mind without taking into accounts the effects that their production might cause on the living environment. These strategies of economic development can only lead to chaos. They are neither for the common good of society, nor the future of the nation", he went on.

The criticism of bauxite projects has come from various directions. However, in response, state-owned media have seemed to choose to punish only Catholics. Last month, Fr. Peter Nguyen Van Khai, the spokesman of Hanoi Redemptorist Monastery, and another Redemptorist, Fr. Joseph Le Quang Uy were victimized by the government for their opposition against bauxite projects. They were accused of "stupidity" and "ignorance," of causing serious damage to national unity and to the process of development, and of plotting to overthrow the communist regime.

In a clear gesture to defend the accused Catholic priests, the Cardinal viewed the open criticism of bauxite projects as "healthy signs" of a democratic society urging his faithful to stand up in the same manner to voice their protest "through legitimate representatives and media" because "protecting environment is our Christian's duty," he confirmed.

In conclusion, the Cardinal urged his faithful "to pray for the government officials so that they know how to love and care for their people, their nation, and generations to come."

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