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More issues at controversial steel project in south-central Vietnam

More issues at controversial steel project in south-central Vietnam

Friday, September 16, 2016, 11:10 GMT+7

A US$10.6 billion steel complex to be developed in Ninh Thuan, one of the most drought-prone provinces in south-central Vietnam, has ‘magically’ made its way to the master plan for steel projects approved for development in the next decade.

According to planning by the Vietnamese steel industry, from now until 2020 and 2025, 44 new projects are allowed to be developed.

The approved projects are located on the central coast, the southwestern and northern mountainous regions, and the Hong (Red) River Delta.

The proposed project in Ninh Thuan by Hoa Sen Group was not originally included.

However, on August 25, the industry ministry signed a fiat to add one more project to the list of 44 projects, and the addition was none other than the Hoa Sen Group steel mill.

The adjustment was made just a fortnight before the Government Office released its comments on the plan on September 7, with Deputy Minister Trinh Dinh Dung requesting that the industry ministry revise the plan based on supply and demand in Vietnam.

The 11th-hour change has raised concern among experts as to why the Ninh Thuan project is so favored by the ministry, which made the decision without considering the existing plans.

The Ninh Thuan steel project is not included in the industrial and commercial development planning for the north-central and central coastal regions from now to 2025, which the industry ministry signed on August 22.

Moreover, in the planning for the eco-social development of Ninh Thuan by 2020, steel is not among six industries the province will prioritize developing.

This means the decision to list the Hoa Sen Group steel mill among the approved projects in the next five to ten years by the Ministry of Industry and Trade goes against all plans at all levels, from the industry to the region and province.

The planning question adds to multiple issues already arising around the Ninh Thuan project, one of which is the pollution concern over its coastal location and technology, which is likely to be Chinese.

The water supply to keep the project running is also in question, with Ninh Thuan usually suffering severe droughts during the dry season.

‘In line with procedure’

Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper raised these questions with Truong Thanh Hoai, head of the heavy industry division under the ministry, with the official asserting that the decision “was made in line with procedure.”

Hoa said the development planning for the steel industry is “soft planning,” which is done “for orientation purposes” and that the Ministry of Industry and Trade “has full authorization to add certain projects to the master plan.”

The official then added that for adjustments to the planning for a certain industry, the ministry “can approve without seeking feedback from relevant ministries.”

Asked why the ministry had approved Hoa Sen Group’s project even though Ninh Thuan does not have a plan to develop a steel sector, Hoai said it was not necessary for the ministry to take a project’s economic effectiveness into account when considering adding it to the master plan.

“We look at such potentialities as whether that province has a deepwater port or is connected with a regional economic area,” he explained.

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