Authorities in Phu Yen Province, in south-central Vietnam, have approved 21 projects that they claim will give the local economy a boost, albeit at the cost of over 1,000 hectares of forestland.
The province has previously been found to have authorized the clearance of over 140 hectares of forest for a golf course, hotel and resort complex without the approval of the country’s prime minister.
More concerning however, is the fact that leaders in Phu Yen are allowing such grand-scale deforestation to occur despite the full understanding of the vital role the forest plays in safeguarding the livelihoods of locals, as reflected in a letter issued by the provincial chairman Pham Dinh Cu in August 2015.
“The pine trees in [Tuy Hoa City] are part of a protection forest that blocks wind and sand from the sea,” Cu wrote in the letter addressing estate developer New City. “As the rainy season is fast approaching, the felling of pine trees needs to be done as quickly as possible, before the commencement of construction in order to minimize the negative effects on the environment and people.”
On December 21, 2016, an Australian-invested US$60 million plan to build a horse racing venue in Phu Yen was approved by the provincial Department of Planning and Development.
The project, developed by Golden Turf Club Pty, would take up 82 hectares of land and 13 hectares of ocean surface in Giai Son Village in An My Commune, Tuy An District in Phu Yen.
The administration of Phu Yen later required the Australian developer to transfer $5 million no later than March 2017 to cover the costs of land clearance, demining, and infrastructure development.
However, Golden Turf Club Pty on March 28 sent a letter to the provincial People’s Committee ‘bargaining’ for an initial deposit of only $2 million, promising to make the remaining transaction once its plan had been approved.
The area of land that the company looks to clear for their project boasts a magnificent shoreline with pine trees towering up to 20 meters high along the beach, some of which form part of a protection forest that is strictly governed by environmental laws.
The horse racing venue is just one of up to 20 other projects already approved by the local administration that looks to clear over 1,000 hectares of forest.
These projects were given the green light following a decision issued on August 19, 2016 and signed by Phu Yen deputy chairman Tran Huu The, which dictated that the areas of forestland be converted into ‘business land’ and that project developers take responsibility for paying the cost of replanting the trees.
Among the most destructive projects are a 192-hectare oil refinery and multiple hotel and resort complexes ranging from 6.6 to 68.7 hectares in area.
According to reports by the Phu Yen Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, just over VND11 billion ($491,000) in compensation had so far been collected from project developers, equivalent to an area of 198 hectares of forest.
The department has spent VND1.7 billion ($75,000) re-planting 67 hectares of forest and will spend a further VND2 billion ($89,000) to nurture and protect the newly planted trees.
In an interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, a senior official at the Vietnam Administration of Forestry said a ministerial delegation has worked with Phu Yen authorities to launch a comprehensive inspection on all the province’s forest-related projects since 2012.
A kick to the local economy
In response to requests for comment on the large scale deforestation happening in Phu Yen, Nguyen Le Vu, deputy director of the provincial Department of Planning and Investment, said the province looked to promote investment through the facilitation of such projects.
According to Vu, local administrators have agreed that the province’s economy would be spearheaded by tourism in the coming years.
“The projects are expected to give a boost to the province’s tourism industry, which is still in its early stage,” Vu said. “Once in operation, they would benefit both the provincial economy and the livelihoods of locals through the creation of hundreds of new jobs.”
“I don’t think Phu Yen has done anything against the law,” Vu added.