Vietnam strips transport ministry of executive power over controversial river dredging projects

By Doan Loan   March 21, 2017 | 03:33 am PT
Vietnam strips transport ministry of executive power over controversial river dredging projects
The Cau River in Bac Ninh Province is usually prone to illegal sand dredging. Photo by VnExpress/Ba Do
The order came quickly after a province expressed concerns of mafia involvement.

Vietnam’s prime minister has ordered the transport ministry to pass jurisdiction over all river dredging projects to provincial authorities amid reports some projects are causing serious erosion, a matter that has stirred public outcry.

The government office on Tuesday ordered the transport ministry to pass control of these projects to the respective provinces for them to manage.

The order came several days after officials in the northern province of Bac Ninh asked Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to step in to stop dredging work on the Cau River. The province said the transport ministry had repeatedly denied calls for the project to be halted, leading to erosion damage and illegal sand exploitation that could cost the province VND30 billion ($1.32 million) to repair.

The dredging project, run by the transport ministry’s Vietnam Inland Waterways Administration, started in 2014.

Bac Ninh’s leaders have expressed concerns of mafia protectionism, and said they have received threatening messages urging them to allow the project to continue.

Mai Tien Dung, chairman of the office, admitted that river dredging projects often come with illegal sand exploitation.

He witnessed people in the northern province of Nam Dinh fighting with sand dredgers on a river during a visit last week. “Bloody” fights between locals and sand dredgers also occurred in the province in 2004, he said.

He said the same problem has been seen in many other northern provinces, including Bac Giang, Ha Nam, Hung Yen and Thai Binh.

There will be public outcry across northern Vietnam if the ministry fails to cooperate with local authorities to manage these projects properly, Dung said.

That’s why the PM has ordered the ministry to let provincial authorities take control of the matter, he said.

The PM has also ordered the Ministry of Public Security to investigate the mafia protectionism allegations at the Bac Ninh project.

The transport ministry has suspended three officials pending an investigation into their involvement in the project.

Figures from the Inland Waterways Administration showed that the ministry licensed 66 river dredging projects between 2008 and 2015. It has canceled 42 projects for slow progress, and the rest are expected to be completed this year.

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