Poor farmers given diseased cows as welfare support 

An animal health official checks a cow in Quang Ngai Province

Many poor households in the central region’s Quang Ngai Province have discovered the cows they were given as poverty support are infected with the foot-and-mouth disease, VnExpress said Monday.

 

Animal health officials in Tinh Hoa Commune, Son Tinh District have been busy in recent days instructing the residents to sterilize their breeding area and quarantine the sick cows.

 

Dang Ngoc Hop, a commune animal health official, said the foot-and-mouth disease has spread quickly among animals in the commune, starting from the cows that provincial officials gave farmers in a poverty alleviation project.

 

The commune now has 21 sick cows and nine of them were from the project.

 

“When the cows were handed over, several residents had found that the animals were not as healthy as they were told. The cows fell sick after two days,” Hop said.

 

Dang Tuong Cong, a local farmer, said his own cows were strong until they were tended to along with cows from the project. “My wife and I have been worried for days. If all the cows die, we’ll be empty-handed.”

 

The cattle supplier, Tai Nguyen Company, has given each affected household VND500,000 (US$26) to treat the cows, but it has also maintained that the animals had been tested by the province’s animal health officials before being handed over to the residents.

 

Quang Ngai agriculture officials had bought 42 cows at VND6 million ($308) each from the company, to deliver to 84 poor households, some in Binh Son District.

 

Do Van Tu, another project beneficiary, said the province and the company were blaming each other leaving “the farmers to suffer all.”

 

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Venezuelan missile purchases worried US: WikiLeaks 

People demonstrate in support WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Barcelona.

The United States tried to stop delivery of Russian anti-aircraft missiles to Venezuela in 2009 amid concerns it could pass them on to Marxist guerrillas in Colombia or Mexican drug gangs, The Washington Post said on Sunday, citing diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks.

Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez heads a strongly anti-American government, received at least 1,800 of the SA-24 shoulder-fired missiles from Russia, the Post said, citing UN arms control data.

Secret US cables said Washington was concerned about the acquisition by Caracas of Russian arms, including attack helicopters, Sukhoi fighter jets and 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, the newspaper reported.

It quoted a US State Department cable on August 10, 2009 to embassies in Europe and South America as saying Russian arms sales to Venezuela totaled "over $5 billion last year and growing." Concern about Spanish plans to sell aircraft and patrol boats to Venezuela were also cited in the cable.

Russia reported to the U. Register of Conventional Arms earlier this year the purchase totaled 1,800 missiles, the Post said. US Air Force General Douglas Fraser said publicly this year Venezuela could be buying as many as 2,400 of the missiles, the newspaper said.

A missile expert at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, Matt Schroeder, told the Post the Russian missiles are among the world’s most sophisticated and can bring down aircraft from 19,000 feet.

"It’s the largest recorded transfer in the UN arms registry database in five years, at least. There’s no state in Latin America of greater concern regarding leakage that has purchased so many missiles," Schroeder was quoted as saying, in an apparent reference to reports of Venezuelan arms flowing to Colombian guerrillas.

Bush, Obama

The UN database also showed that from 2006 through 2008, Russia delivered 472 missiles and launching mechanisms, 44 attack helicopters and 24 combat aircraft to the OPEC member and major oil exporter, the Post said.

It said the cables showed the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama both tried to stop the arms sales by suggesting to Russia the weapons could end up with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a rebel group that Colombian officials say has received material support from the Chavez government.

"In early March, Secretary Clinton raised the sale with Russian FM Sergei Lavrov," the August 2009 cable says, referring to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russia’s foreign minister, according to the Post.

It reported that a February 14, 2009 cable from Washington to Moscow said FARC computer files seized by Colombia’s army showed Venezuela had tried to help with arms deals for the rebels.

It expressed concern that missiles acquired by the FARC, which is involved in drug trafficking, could end up in the hands of Mexican cartels that "are actively seeking to acquire powerful and highly sophisticated weapons."

Chavez and his government have consistently denied providing help to the FARC.

The August 2009 cable noted Russian ammunition sold to Venezuela was found in FARC hands and US officials raised the issue with Russian diplomats in Washington, the Post reported.

It said an official at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington said envoys there could not respond to the allegations by US officials and that the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry did not respond to phone calls.

The US efforts to prevent the sales of arms by Russia and Spain to Venezuela appeared to strain ties with both countries, the Post reported.

It said an official in charge of disarmament issues at Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Anatoliy Antonov, told a US Embassy official in Moscow in 2005 that Washington was trying to restrict Russian access to the arms market.

Spain went ahead with the sale of patrol ships and corvettes, but was blocked by Washington from selling Caracas C-295 transport planes and patrol aircraft because they used sophisticated US electronics, eliciting a complaint by Spain’s foreign minister cited in a cable from the US ambassador in January 2006, the Post said.

Vietnam helps Australia probe banknote graft scandal 

 

Interpol Vietnam has supported Australian police in investigating a case where an international banknote material supplier has been accused of bribing foreign officials in customer countries.

 

Australian ambassador Allaster Cox revelaed this on the sidelines of the conference of international sponsors in Hanoi Wednesday.

 

In May 2009, Australian Federal Police began investigating the Australian-owned Securency International following allegations that the firm had engaged in the systemic bribery of foreign officials in nearly 30 countries, including Vietnam.  

 

The ambassador said the investigation was still under way, and that so far Australia and Vietnam were yet to make official diplomatic exchanges in the case, except for technical collaboration between the countries’ police forces.

 

Earlier, Pham Anh Tuan, Deputy Chief of the Central Committee for Anti Corruption, had said that Vietnamese investigators were also working with Swedish justice officials in pursuing graft charges related to the scandal.

 

The case has prompted police in Securency’s custom countries like England, Malaysia and Sweden to launch investigations and several arrests have been made.

 

Vietnamese officials arrested in Japanese graft case


Huynh Ngoc Si (L) and the police who went to search his house Wednesday

Ho Chi Minh City police Wednesday arrested two transport officials implicated in a bribery scandal related to the East-West Highway and Water Environment project.

Huynh Ngoc Si, former head of the project, and his deputy Le Qua were also brought to Hanoi Wednesday where they would be detained pending further investigation, said Major-General Trieu Van Dat, chief of the investigative agency under the Ministry of Public Security.

The police also searched the houses and offices of Si and Qua in HCMC Wednesday.

Si, 56, and Qua, 67, oversaw the East-West Highway Project in which Tokyo-based Pacific Consultants International (PCI) had been selected as the consultant contractor.

The Supreme People’s Procuracy (SPP), Vietnam’s highest prosecution agency, said Wednesday it had ratified the “abuse of power” charges against both the former officials.

The duo have been charged with wrongdoing in leasing and spending rent collected for a house in HCMC’s District 3 leased to PCI from August 2001 to November 2002, an SPP official said Wednesday.

The rent for the house, owned by the project management, was then US$5,000 per month.

The rent of VND1.2 billion received from PCI was distributed among various project employees, with Qua and Si getting VND403 million ($24,000) and VND52.15 million respectively. The two officials have since repaid this money in full, the project management has said.

Article 281 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code stipulates those found guilty of “abuse of power” can be punished with a minimum suspension of three years or a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, depending on the seriousness of the crime.

Asked why Si had not been charged with bribery as alleged by the Japanese media, the SPP official said further investigations would ascertain if he had committed the crime.

In November 2008, The Japanese daily Yomiuri newspaper reported four PCI executives had admitted to bribing Si with $2.6 million between 2002 and 2006 in exchange for helping the company win the consulting contract on the project, funded with Japanese official development assistance (ODA).

The scandal had led Tokyo to temporarily suspend aid loans to Vietnam last December.

However, prosecutors could only establish a criminal case for bribes totaling $820,000 that were handed over to Si in 2003 and 2006.

Late last month, a Japanese court convicted three PCI executives of violating the Unfair Competition Prevention Law, which bans bribing of foreign government officials, and gave them suspended sentences of 18 to 24 months.

The court also imposed a fine of 70 million yen ($774,000) on the PCI.

At the World Bank Consultative Group meeting in Hanoi on December 4, Japan said it would suspend ODA loans to Vietnam pending further investigation into the case.

Investigation by Japanese authorities will continue after the Japanese court case wraps up, Japanese Ambassador Mitsuo Sakaba told Thanh Nien last month.

Japanese Crown Prince Naruhito has been visiting Vietnam since Monday to promote further strengthening of bilateral ties and mark the 35th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

CASE DEVELOPMENTS

– On June 25, Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper reported investigators were examining Pacific Consultants International (PCI) over allegations the firm had bribed Southeast Asian officials to secure contracts for official development assistance (ODA) funded projects, including a US$200,000 bribe to a Vietnamese official.

– Three days later, the newspaper reported PCI executives had identified the recipient of the bribe, saying that person was responsible for the East-West Highway Project.

– In early July, the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee asked the project management unit of the East-West Highway and Water Environment Project to report on the case. The unit said proper procedures had been carried out in selecting PCI as the consultant contractor of the project.

– On August 25, four PCI executives were prosecuted for offering bribes of $820,000 in 2003 and 2006 to Huynh Ngoc Si.

– On September 9, a special task force of the Ministry of Public Security arrived in HCMC to investigate the allegations.

– On November 12, Yomiuri newspaper reported four former PCI executives – former President Masayoshi Taga, former managing Director Kunio Takasu, former board Director Haruo Sakashita and former Hanoi office chief Tsuneo Sakano had pled guilty to bribery charges during a trial in a Tokyo District Court.

– On November 13, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung told the National Assembly a joint committee of Japanese and Vietnamese officials had been set up to probe the matter further and deal with it in accordance with Vietnamese laws.

– On November 19, Si was suspended by the HCMC government pending further investigations.

– On December 8, the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security announced a criminal investigation into the allegations.

– On December 12, the Ministry of Public Security banned Si from going abroad while the investigations were underway.

– On January 29, a Tokyo district court sentenced three PCI officials including Haruo Sakashita, Kunio Takasu, and Tsuneo Sakano to two years, 20 months and 18 months respectively in prison, all suspended for three years.

 

THE EAST-WEST HIGHWAY PROJECT

A segment of the East-West Highway

Work on the VND9.8 trillion (US$581.6 million) East-West Highway project, funded by Japanese official development assistance (ODA), commenced in 2005 and is expected to be finished in the first quarter of 2010.

The prime minister approved the awarding of the contracts in 2004.

The 22-kilometer highway will span eight districts and ease traffic congestion on major roads in the southern part of the city. It is also expected to meet rising demand for goods transported from HCMC ports to neighboring provinces.

Of the total investment, the HCMC government has contributed VND3.5 trillion ($220 million), while the remainder is financed by ODA loans from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

The East-West highway project comprises two construction packages. The first package includes the 1.5-kilometer Thu Thiem Tunnel, which will be the longest tunnel in Southeast Asia. The tunnel is being built by Japanese construction giant Obayashi Corporation.

The second package, built by Obayashi Corporation in 33 months, includes construction of a new road network and expansion of 13 kilometers of canal-side roads which will lead to the tunnel gate in District 1.

Reported by Thanh Nien staff

Vietnamese athletics officials say not enough money for training


Sports officials are concerned there is not enough government funding for Vietnamese athletes who will compete in the region’s two main sporting events in 2009.

Athletics Department Manager Duong Duc Thuy said the national sporting body planned to send athletes abroad for training and competition at international tournaments but the funding was too tight to ensure places for everyone.

International training and competition experience is an important part of the Vietnamese athletic program leading up to 25th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Laos in December and the third ASEAN Indoor Games in November in Hanoi.

Athletes in 2008 could only attend events like the Asian Grand Prix because they were invited and paid for by the organizers, as the athletics department didn’t fund them, Thuy said.

According to Thuy, only a small selection of athletes was sent to China for a short training trip.

The funding shortfall means that Vietnam’s gold winners at the 24th SEA Games like Truong Thanh Hang, Nguyen Dinh Cuong, Vu Thi Huong,

Bui Thi Nhung and Vu Van Huyen can’t maintain their peak form, he said.

There is a lack of coaches and money, the athletics department manager said.

While athletics hopefuls like Nguyen Van Huynh, Hoang Thanh Viet, Nghia Nhan and Mai Thi Phuong could bring home gold next year at the SEA and ASEAN games, the government hasn’t provided a budget for an international program leading up to the games, Thuy said.

Vietnam was in second place in the medal tally at last year’s SEA Games with eight golds, four silvers and five bronzes behind host Thailand.

Reported by Hoang Quynh

Officials discuss river pollution, allocate blame


A stretch of the Thi Vai River which is heavily polluted

Leaders of southern provinces were Friday called on to do more to tackle pollution in one of the region’s dying waterways, including stepping up factory inspections and blacklisting polluters.

At a meeting in Ho Chi Minh City Friday to discuss ways to resuscitate the polluted Thi Vai River, provincial officials recommended no new licenses be issued for “dirty” manufacturers, such as latex, leather tanning and cassava starch (used to make monosodium glutamate) plants.

New licenses for other polluting industries, such as fisheries, pesticides, fertilizer and paper production, should also be limited, officials said.

The Thi Vai River, which flows through HCMC and Dong Nai and Ba Ria-Vung Tau Provinces, contains a 10- kilometer stretch of “dead” water that cannot support life.

Tran Ngoc Thoi, deputy mayor of Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, condemned local agencies for issuing manufacturing licenses without properly studying the environmental impacts.

Thoi said the law was not tough enough on those caught polluting the local environment.

Over the past months, many companies have been caught dumping toxic wastewater into different rivers. The companies have been fined but continued to operate.

The most high-profile case was Taiwanese MSG-maker Vedan Vietnam, which was caught dumping great amounts of untreated wastewater into the Thi Vai River in mid-September.

Vedan Vietnam has been accused of dumping 105.6 million liters of untreated effluent a month through hidden pipes into the southern Thi Vai River.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in early October ordered the MSG-maker to stop discharging wastewater but provincial officials several weeks later said they did not have authority to act against the company or close it down.

The delegates to the meeting proposed a blacklist of polluters be drawn up by June next year.

Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province’s Thoi pointed out that authorities had ignored warnings from scientists about the pollution of the Thi Vai River for the past decade.

From next year, the Ba Ria-Vung Tau provincial government would not allow any local company to discharge untreated wastewater into the Thi Vai River, Thoi vowed at Friday’s meeting.

“From the point of view of Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, we will succeed but overall success will depend on Dong Nai and HCMC authorities doing their bit too,” Thoi said.

HCMC Deputy Mayor Nguyen Trung Tin said the task of policing industrial parks was too big.

“The HCMC government cannot make sure all local industrial parks don’t pollute the environment,” he said.

Tin said the environment pollution was the price the city had paid for two decades of economic development.

“[HCMC] will do its best to protect the Thi Vai River,” Tin said.

Delegates at the meeting pointed out that a company that was rejected for a license in one jurisdiction on environmental grounds could be welcomed in another province.

DONG NAI RIVER ALSO A CONCERN

A committee was set up Friday to protect the Dong Nai River, to be chaired by Ho Chi Minh City Mayor Le Hoang Quan.

The committee, comprising of leaders of HCMC and 11 south-central provinces, will be allocated around VND2 trillion (US$117.4 million) from now until 2020 to tackle the serious contamination of the Dong Nai River, the country’s biggest river system which provides water to the Southern Key Economic Zone around HCMC.

The Thi Vai River is one of the Dong Nai River’s five minor streams.

Source: TN, Agencies

HCMC officials in the spotlight after satisfaction survey


A bus Friday in Ho Chi Minh City’s Binh Thanh District. HCMC residents satisfaction with bus services has fallen dramatically over the past two years.

A survey of Ho Chi Minh City residents found people are becoming more exasperated with some city government services.

The deputy head of Ho Chi Minh City’s Department of Transport Friday vowed his department would work harder to improve its standing in next year’s satisfaction survey.

But Duong Hong Thanh could not spell out exactly what will be done to lift customer service levels, much to the ire of the HCMC People’s Council deputies, who met Friday to grill leaders of departments that performed poorly in a satisfaction survey.

The People’s Council called an extraordinary meeting with three government departments who performed poorly in the satisfaction survey released this week by the city’s Development Research Institute and Statistics Bureau.

The biggest fall in satisfaction was for the city’s public bus system, with levels plummeting to 50 percent this year from 79 percent in 2006.

Thanh told Friday’s meeting there was room to improve the city’s public transport and he admitted bus staff had a reputation for being rude to passengers, especially those with free bus passes.

In September, Thanh Nien received many complaints from disabled passengers and workers who said they had been abused and threatened by bus staff because they used free bus passes. Some said the buses even refused to pick them up from bus stops.

Thanh Friday acknowledged the careless driving by some bus drivers remained a major worry for citizens.

He also said traffic jams around street barriers had made it very difficult for buses to meet their deadlines.

But the People’s Council deputies said these issues were not new. The deputies said they wanted to know what the transport department was doing to fix the problems and restore public confidence in the public transport system.

“The survey results will be made known to all the staff of the transport sector in the city so that we can draw deep experience from the case,” Thanh told the meeting.

“I am convinced the bus service will record better results if the survey is conducted next year.”

’Too vague’

The Department of Construction also saw its service in the granting of house and land ownership services slipping to 39 percent this year from 59 percent two years ago.

At the meeting Friday, department Deputy Director Do Phi Hung admitted the granting procedure was complicated and time-consuming.

The construction department would coordinate with agencies concerned to streamline the procedure, Hung told the meeting.

But deputy Le Nguyen Minh Quang said Hung’s description was “too vague.”

“What the residents are yearning for is faster processing of paperwork and cordial public servants but the department cannot seem to deliver this,” Quang said.

Other angry deputies also demanded Hung provide more specific measures, a demand he could not meet.

After the survey was released on Wednesday, Pham Phuong Thao, the municipal legislature chair, singled out red tape as a major problem in the processing of property ownership certificates.

She urged the city administration to take drastic action to simplify the system.

The health department Head Nguyen Van Chau also said he appreciated the survey results, saying the problems of unreasonable service prices, red tape and unfriendly staff were still annoying residents.

The satisfaction level for the health sector fell to 69 percent from 78 percent in 2006.

Chau admitted it was taking too long – one hour on average – for patients to be attended to.

The survey, conducted for the first time in 2006, sought public opinion on eight local government services this year, including primary education, garbage collection, health services, bus services, notary services, taxation and processing of construction licenses and property ownership certificates.

Respondents were asked to evaluate the service qualities of the agencies as well as the attitude of staff.

Deputies Friday asked for another similar study next year, focusing on the sectors of property paperwork, bus services, health and taxation.

Reported by Minh Nam