Waste Deal Outlines Late Fees, Not Damages

Formosa, Gov’t Set To Sign Pact Today

The government plans to sign a deal today with For­mosa Plastics Corp that would penalize the Taiwanese multinational if it does not remove toxic waste from Sihanoukville within 60 days, government officials said Tuesday.

According to a draft agreement, Formosa will be penalized $1,000 a day for the first 15 days beyond the 60-day deadline, and $2,000 per day after that.

Compensation to Cambodia isn’t addressed in the draft, though it leaves open the possibility that legal action can be taken at a later date. Formosa does agree in the draft to provide medical treatment to those who are determined to by an independent physician to have been poisoned by the waste.

Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng confirmed Tuesday night that a signing is scheduled for this afternoon.  Formosa Presi­dent Lee Chih-tsun is here leading his negotiation team.

Om Yentieng, the government’s top negotiator, also said the signing is today, although he left open the possibility of changes in the draft agreement.

“We plan to gain signatures [today] but we still have to negotiate a few points.”

The discovery in mid-Decem­ber of nearly 3,000 tons of toxic waste outside Sihanouk­ville sent thousands fleeing from the seaside town, led to the suspensions of more than 100 government officials and threatened the health of workers and villagers.

The Sihanoukville court’s investigation to determine who is responsible continues, with one  Cambodian businessman the only person detained.

Om Yentieng, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen,  said removing the waste is the government’s first priority. “We must take action to protect the health of the people,” he said, explaining compensation is a separate issue.

The president of Formosa said Tuesday night he is in Phnom Penh “because we need to solve this problem.”

Contacted by telephone in his room at the Hotel Le Royal, Lee said compensation had not been discussed.

Asked if his company was willing to pay compensation, he said, “No.”

Asked why, he said, “I think you may talk to the government.”

Om Yentieng said the government has “insisted 1,000 times” on compensation. “If the two sides cannot reach an agreement, then we might need a third party, a criminal court, to help us,” Om Yentieng said.

Previously, top government officials including Environment Minister Mok Mareth have demanded Cambodia be paid as much as $10 million.

Sar Kheng said by telephone that the government considered a compensation demand as a second step. “We have a right to ask for compensation, but the other side also has the right to resolve the problem,” he added.

A government source familiar with the negotiations said he had mixed feelings about the draft agreement. “We’re not really satisfied,” he said. “This is a compromise with Formosa. If we didn’t accept this, there could be a delay, delay, delay and the waste would remain here.”

He said Formosa Plastics does not want to pay compensation because the company maintains shippers are responsible for the dumping.

Jade Fortune, a Taiwanese company, and Muth Vuthy Import and Export Co, based in Cambodia, are singled out in the draft agreement.

“[They] did not dispose of such wastes in a proper manner,” according to the draft agreement, which identifies the waste as “a batch of 2,799 [metric tons] concrete brine sludge contaminated with mercury.”

The draft agreement pertains solely to “waste transporting operations” but does not prevent negotiations about other issues.

Formosa Plastics is owned by the family of Wang Yung-ching, ranked by Asiaweek as one of the richest families in Asia with an estimated total wealth of $4.9 billion.

(Reporting by Chris Decherd, Kimsan Chantara and Kay Johnson)



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