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Obama to address nation as oil chiefs grilled

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2010 at 4:32 am

WASHINGTON (AFP) – A top oil executive admitted Tuesday that companies are ill-equipped to tackle major spills, as President Barack Obama readied for a solemn Oval Office address on the Gulf of Mexico catastrophe.

In a stunning admission, ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson acknowledged in a series of testy exchanges with US lawmakers that oil giants are hamstrung once it comes to dealing with a major spill.

“When these things happen, we are not well equipped to handle them,” he said, as lawmakers grilled top executives from BP and four of its biggest global rivals.

Sitting alongside BP America boss Lamar McKay at a packed Congress hearing, officials from ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, and Shell took pains to distance themselves from the unfolding Gulf catastrophe.

L-R: Rex Tillerson, Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, John Watson, Chairman and CEO of Chevron, James Mulva, Chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips, Marvin Odum, President of Shell Oil Company, and Lamar McKay, Chairman and President BP America, Inc. listens to questions from members while participating in a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, in Washington, DC.(AFP)

They maintained that had BP followed industry-wide safety practices, the disaster — triggered by an April blow-out of a BP-leased rig off the Louisiana coast — would have been avoided.

“I believe the independent investigation will show that this tragedy was preventable,” Chevron chief executive officer John Watson said.

In a further blow to BP’s troubled efforts to contain the eight-week spill, a fire on a surface containment ship Tuesday shut down the British energy giant’s bid to suck up the gushing oil.

A “small fire” broke out at around 9:30 am (1430 GMT) on a derrick on the Discovery Enterprise, a vast drilling ship collecting oil from the ruptured well on the sea floor via a mile-long pipe.

“The fire was quickly extinguished. The preliminary view is that the fire was caused by a lightning strike,” a BP statement said.

Despite the latest setback highlighting the complexities of the task, Obama vowed millions of gallons of crude in the Gulf would be contained, and the region restored to health.

“Make no mistake, the United States of America has been through tough times before, but has always come out strong, and we will do so again,” Obama said in Florida, before returning to give his first Oval Office speech.

“This is an assault on our shores, and we’re going to fight back with everything that we’ve got,” he vowed.

White House officials said Obama’s address at 8:00 pm (0000 GMT) would outline a plan going forward to restore the region once the spill, estimated at up to 40,000 barrels a day, stops spewing into the Gulf.

In a bid to speed up compensation payments for residents facing economic ruin due to the spill, the Obama administration was also poised to take over the claims process from BP.

“The best way to prevail on BP is to take the claims process away from BP,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told CBS television, amid bitter criticism that BP is dragging its feet.

BP America’s boss McKay declined to confirm however whether the company, which has vowed to pay all legitimate claims, would set up an escrow fund to compensate victims.

US lawmakers have demanded BP set up a 20-billion-dollar escrow fund to pay for the clean-up and economic recovery of the region, blighted after an April 20 explosion sank the Deepwater Horizon rig.

Before Tuesday’s setback, BP was containing some 15,000 barrels a day from the ruptured wellhead, and has plans to move in more ships and equipment to try to contain most of the spill.

Gibbs said the company would likely be able to siphon up more than 90 percent of the gushing oil by the end of June, explaining that BP was “adding additional lines” to bring “more oil off of the surface and out of the Gulf.”

But the under-fire company has warned the spill will not be stopped permanently until it completes drilling two deepsea relief wells in August.

Obama was also to announce the creation of a “czar” tasked with overseeing the restoration of the region once the spill is stopped.

BP suffered yet another blow Tuesday when ratings agency Fitch slashed its credit rating by six notches from “AA” to “BBB,” causing its shares to dive again on the stock market, a day after they lost 10 percent.

Obama has summoned BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg to the White House for talks on the crisis on Wednesday, also expected to be attended by BP chief executive Tony Hayward.

Source: SGGP

Deputies address proposed Law on Food Safety

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2010 at 2:05 am

Deputies address proposed Law on Food Safety

QĐND – Wednesday, June 02, 2010, 21:28 (GMT+7)

As the National Assembly began debate on a draft Food Safety Law on June 1, street vendors were a popular target of criticism, and sensitive foreign tummies an object of concern.

Deputy Ho Thi Thu Hang (Vinh Long) said Vietnam has three million victims of food poisoning annually, causing economic losses of four trillion dong (over US$210 million).  Hang declared that bacteria can be introduced at any stage, whether processing, packaging, storage or distribution. Without knowing its origin, the problem is unsolvable.

Deputy Nguyen Lan Dung (photo) observed that only in Vietnam does one find cơm bụi (literally,“dusty rice”). “I don’t understand why we agree to eat rice with dust.  No other nation sells food on the roadside, the Dak Lak deputy ínsisted.  Cheap ‘peoples’ meals’ [cơm bình dân] are okay, but they ought to be sold indoors.

Deputy Nguyen Minh Thuyet (Lang Son) said he was glad to see the Ministry of Health assigned to be the “conductor” to control food hygiene. Still, Thuyet worried, can the “conductor” do his job properly if he can’t also play the roles of “violinist” and “trumpeter”? By that he meant that responsibility for ensuring food safety should be entirely within the Health Ministry’s purview, and not parceled out to an inter-ministerial committee or steering board. 

Thuyet added that provincial officials must be held to account when food poisoning happens in a province.

Deputy Nguyen Lan Dung proposed that the Ministry of Health study the incidence of micro-organisms in street foods, saying that it may reveal many surprises. “Take nước mía (sugarcane juice) for example,” Dung said. “It’s sold everywhere on Vietnam’s streets. Do the deputies know that farmers soak sugarcane in ponds so it will yield more juice?”

Dung said that after the cane is stripped of its skin, it lies on the pavement, a magnet for flies, until it is pressed for juice.  Glasses are not washed, just rinsed in a bucket of water.

“That’s maybe OK for us Vietnamese,” Dung asserted, “because we are acquainted with our local bacteria. However, any foreigner who dares drink nước mía is going to be poisoned.”

Deputy Nguyen Thi Thanh Hoa (Bac Ninh) noted that the draft law envisions requiring street food sellers to have enough clean water and clean tools. These conditions can’t be enforced, she said, because street vendors are highly mobile.

Deputy Nguyen Thi Bach Mai (Tay Ninh) said it’s not enough just to ban food with unclean and torn packing caused by the transportation process. There ought to be a broader proscription against “using packaging that can poison food and be unsafe for users. . . . We’ll make a mistake if we only pay attention to food quality, not to packaging quality,” Mai emphasized.

Deputy Pham Thi Thanh Huong (Binh Dinh) argued that all food – even when it’s sold without packaging – ought to have a label.  She said that in many food poisoning cases, technical personnel are unable to identify the origin of the bad food.

Deputy Truong Thi Thu Ha said the fines proposed for violations of food hygiene rules are too light. (The draft proposes a minimum fine equal to the value of unsafe food, and a maximum of seven times that.) With fines set so low, Ha argued, the offense will be repeated over and over. The Dong Nai deputy proposed to raise the minimum fine by at least 10 times and the maximum fine by hundreds of times of the value of unsafe food.

Deputy Bui Thi Le Phi (Can Tho) agreed with Ha, and recommended that term “seriously influence” be clarified with respect to the maximum fines. Does that mean a degree of food poisoning that causes death or miscarriage, she asked.

Source: VNN

Source: QDND

Gov’t spokesman express confidence in rail project, address power outages

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2010 at 2:04 am

Gov’t spokesman express confidence in rail project, address power outages

QĐND – Wednesday, June 02, 2010, 21:28 (GMT+7)

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung will work with responsible ministries on June 2 to clarify issues relating to the North-South express rail project before the National Assembly votes on the $56 billion scheme later this month, according to the head of the Prime Minister’s Office,  Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Speaking at the monthly press conference on June 1, Minister Phuc said that when it assessed the the high-speed rail project, the Government concluded that it will be effective and Vietnam can find the capital needed for it.

Phuc emphasized that the technology embodied in the project will serve the nation for long into the future. Vietnam will learn from the experience of developed countries.

The capital requirement bruited for the express rail project – US$56 billion – is an estimated number, Minister Phuc said.  If the National Assembly approves the project, the government will proceed to detailed planning, and refine the financial projections.

Phuc confirmed that the Japanese Government has committed to assist Vietnam with capital and technology if the project is approved.

Phuc insisted that the implementation of the 1570 kilometer rail project will not degrade Vietnam’s ability to manage public debt. National GDP is expected to reach $200 billion by 2020, he pointed out.  The nation’s indebtedness is less than 50 percent of current GDP.  Vietnam’s public debt is safe and under control, Phuc said.  “We won’t become insolvent either in the short or the long term.”

Reporters also raised questions about widespread power cuts. Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Nguyen Thanh Bien blamed the shortfalls on low water in reservoirs owing to drought, which reduced hydropower production at the same time that hot weather increased demand for poser. The demand for electricity in May was 23 percent higher than in May 2009, Bien said. His ministry had sent three directives to Electricity of Vietnam and to provincial Departments of Industry and Trade instructing them to economise power consumption.

Bien blamed power cuts lasting up to 23 hours in parts of HCM City on “technical incidents.” The Industry Ministry is making every effort to forestall a recurrence, Bien said.

The Government also released economic statistics for May. The consumer price index (CPI) was up a modest 0.27 percent, export revenue increased by 12.6 percent year on year and the trade deficit shrank.  Of particular concern to the Government at present are higher than wanted interest rates, distortions in the real estate market, and the power outages’ negative impact on production. 

Source: VNN

Source: QDND

Leaders address progress of plans for HCM City

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2008 at 1:28 pm

HCM CITY — Ho Chi Minh City has reached and exceeded its primary targets despite various difficulties, said Le Hoang Quan, chairman of HCM City People’s Committee.

Speaking at a meeting on Thursday, Quan said the city’s revenue exceeded this year’s projections by 17 per cent, topping a rounded VND115 trillion (US$7 billion).

The numbers strengthened the city’s possibility of reaching its target of VND122 trillion ($7.5 billion) for 2009. In the meantime, November’s Consumer Price Index continued to contract by retreating 0.69 per cent compared to the previous month.

However, according to Quan, over the last few years the city’s budget has been inadequate to accelerate the infrastructure projects needed to enhance economic growth.

Therefore, Quan said, he would recommend to the Government that it raise the cap on the city’s budget allocation.

Street barricades

“All the barricades will be removed to facilitate transport during Tet,” pledged Tran Quang Phuong, director of the city’s Department of Transport.

However, he said new barricades will be added in the districts of Binh Thanh and Phu Nhuan to allow for work on the city’s sewage and drainage system.

“Some bridges are to be completed and put into operation prior to Tet,” Phuong added. These include the Khanh Hoi and Calmette bridges which link the busy downtown areas of District 1 to District 4.

Chairman Quan said digging up the street is necessary for improving the city’s infrastructure, but the work needs to be tidy to avoid upsetting people’s lives.

For the sake of workers

Quan asked the city’s Department of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs to carry out more inspections at factories to ensure compliance with labour law and to be tough on offences.

The department was also charged with settling disputes between employers and workers, thus preventing strikes or worker slow-downs.

Tran Trung Dung, deputy director of the department, said that he had required enterprises to revise their payrolls in line with new regulations on the minimum wage.

“This must be done and publicised to the workers before the regulations take effect on January 1, 2009,” Dung added.

Prep for Tet

“The focus for the last month of the year is to prepare for Tet,” Quan reminded his subordinates.

An official from the Department of Industry and Commerce revealed that the city has granted over VND400 billion of zero-interest credits to big suppliers in order to help them secure enough essentials for Tet.

The city’s People’s Committee deputy chairwoman Nguyen Thi Hong confirmed that despite projected rises by 20–30 per cent, the peoples’ demand will certainly be met with an adequate surge in supplies.

Hong also asked market monitors not to relax their watch on the prices of goods and to act promptly.

She also required an immediate check on transport fees (taxis, long-range buses), which jumped with the rise in fuel costs, but then remained in place as gas prices fell.

The city leaders said they look forward to a safe, happy and prosperous Tet for its people. —

Experts address social change

In Uncategorized on November 13, 2008 at 11:52 am

HA NOI — About 40 European and Southeast Asian experts from politics, business and social sciences gathered in Ha Noi yesterday for an interdisciplinary debate on responses to rapid social change in the region.

The forum was hosted by Bertelsmann Stiftung (Germany) in co-ordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was supported by the Diplomatic Academy of Viet Nam, the Asia Society New York and the Asia Pacific Times.

As the European Union (EU) celebrates the Year of Intercultural Dialogue, the forum addressed European-Asian relations and how EU-Asia relations can address the challenges.

Professor Dr Bob S Hadiwinata, head of Department of International Relations at the University of Parahyangan, Indonesia, said the EU acted as the ultimate entity in promoting democracy and human rights.

“In promoting democratic principles, international agencies share the same ideas of the centrality of values or principled ideas, that is, respect for human rights, belief in the effectiveness of the electoral system, confidence in the functioning of democratic institutions, and being positive about a vibrant civil society,” he said.

Liz Mohn, vice chairwoman of the executive board at Bertelsmann Stiftung, said the foundation aimed to develop an unbiased, balanced and deepened understanding of Asia.

“The Southeast Asian region and its 560 million people are currently experiencing a remarkable economic boom and we Europeans must devote much greater attention to the area,” she said.

“Undoubtedly Europe and Asia are increasingly influencing each other and are facing comparable challenges. We enter a new era of both inner-Asian as well as global co-operation.

“In a dialogue between Europe and Southeast Asia, we can work together to shape a future that is neither Western nor Asian, but that is instead global.”

Bertelsmann Stiftung promotes social change through project work that focuses on ensuring society’s long-term viability, she said.

Working with a wide range of partners, the foundation wants to identify social problems and challenges at an early stage and develop exemplary solutions.

Bertelsmann Stiftung has held a series of international cultural forums since 2001 to bring people together across various divides, as well as to examine the role played by non-Western societies in the process of globalisation.

As the foundation seeks to contribute to a better understanding between Europe and Asia, such forums in Tokyo (2001), Beijing (2004 and 2007), New Delhi (2005) and Viet Nam (2008) have led to a focus on Asia that is to be expanded further. —