The Department of Natural Resources and Environment of the southern province of Binh Phuoc has denied its responsibility in the allocation of forest land to local state officials from 2007 to 2009.
In a recent report to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to explain the illegal granting of land uncovered late last year by VnExpress newspaper, the department said it was fair and did not give favor to officials.
The report, approved by Nguyen Phu Quoi, director of the Binh Phuoc natural resources department, defended the agency by saying that “the provincial authorities didn’t issue any documents to rule the criteria of recipients to be granted land.”
So, the department only based its decisions on the applications of people [including many local officials] and granted land.
The natural resources department coordinated with the local Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and forest management units to divide forest land into plots, according to the report.
“Some officials granted 5-10 hectares of forest land each were facing difficulties and the grant was just to help them keep their mind at work,” the report said.
The state officials who were allocated forest land work for the Department of Agriculture of Rural Development, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, and the office of the People’s Committee of Binh Phuoc.
The report confirmed that the department had granted 1,039 hectares of forest land to a total of 116 recipients to cultivate rubber trees, but it did not mention the number of officials on the list.
However, VnExpress has discovered evidence to conclude that the officials who received land were not poor, and had owned rubber farms in other localities before that.
Meanwhile, the department ignored the fact that the size of natural forests in Binh Phuoc has seriously decreased over the years.
In 2002, it had 127,800 hectares of natural forests, but in 2013, only 58,600 hectares remained.
In addition, the provincial inspection unit said that the province was short 6,148 hectares of land to grant to thousands of needy families.
Another issue is that many state officials who were granted forest land both before 2009 and since then have evaded paying taxes for the use of the forest land.
As of March this year, only 75 out of the 116 people who were granted forest land had finished the procedures for land use.