1. What is an environmental inspection?
Under the Vietnamese legal framework, environmental inspections belong to specialized inspections, which are implemented by state agencies for two purposes: (1) to prevent, detect and handle violations of laws controlling production, business and service establishments; (2) to detect loopholes in management mechanisms, policies and laws, then recommend remedies to competent state to amend legal regulations accordingly.
Here, the definition of “inspection” includes two different ideas of “examination” and “inspection.” The “examination” is an on-site review and assessment performed by specialized agencies on the compliance with specific contents of legal regulations in the relevant field. In contrast, the “inspection” is an overall review on the compliance with the entire legal regulations in the relevant field. Thus, an inspection may include examination(s) and inspection periods are often longer than examination periods. However, an examination activity cannot be expanded into an inspection unless it’s necessary. Violations detected during both inspection and examination shall be subject to administrative penalties.
Regarding inspection agencies, state agencies at all levels (central, province, district, commune) have the authority to conduct examinations, whereas inspections may only be carried out by state agencies at several levels according to the Law on Inspection 2010 (No. 56/2010/QH12). Particularly, specialized inspections in the field of environment are performed in 2 levels: Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment (MONRE) and Department of Natural Resource and Environment (DONRE).
Table 1: Comparison between examination and inspection
The subjects of environmental inspections and examinations are not limited by the type of source of investment, business scale, capacity or operation field. However, these activities tend to focus on industrial fields that pose a high risk of large amounts of emission to the environment, concentrated industrial areas. Therefore, foreign-invested manufacturing enterprises also need to pay attention to environmental protection in accordance with the Vietnam laws. This article will later detail the environmental inspection.
Besides, it is also necessary to distinguish environmental inspection and investigation activities, which are performed by the Environmental Police. Such an environmental inspection is toward a specific business subject with specific contents and time. In addition, in the case of unscheduled inspection, the inspection agency must priorly notify to the subject enterprise in writing. In contrast, the Environmental Police conducts investigation without prior notice against any subject when there are signs of suspected violation.
2. Process of environmental inspection
Regarding scheduled inspections, by November 25 every year, MONRE gathers proposals from state management agencies, environmental specialized agencies at all levels and submits the next year’s inspection plan to the Government for promulgation. This plan shall be notified to enterprises subject to both the environmental inspections and examinations.
Next, inspection agencies at all levels will issue an inspection decision that includes the object, content, time and duration of the inspection. After the inspection team is established, the inspection decision will be announced to the subject enterprise as the basis for the inspection. The maximum duration of each type of inspection is specified in Article 16 of Decree No. 07/2012/ND-CP, which specifies rules on agencies assigned to conduct specialized inspections and the conduct of specialized inspections:
- Specialized inspections conducted by inspectors from ministries, general directorates or departments affiliated to ministries shall be within 45 working days. For complex cases, such time limit may be extended for not exceeding 70 working days;
- Specialized inspections conducted by inspectors from services or sub-departments affiliated to services shall be within 30 working days. For complex cases, such time limit may be extended for not exceeding 45 working days.
Figure 1: Process of environmental inspection
After an inspection ends, the inspection team will announce the results and make a record of administrative penalties for detected violations. Based on that record, the inspection agency will issue a notice of decision on administrative penalties and inspection conclusion. The subject enterprise shall pay fines for their violations and carry out corrective actions or remedial measures according to the request from the inspection agency. Enterprises should pay attention to that before the inspection conclusion is made, the enterprise will have five (5) working days to summarize and explain in person or in writing to the inspection agency about the assessment of inspection team.
Beside of scheduled inspection (regular inspection), unscheduled inspection may be conducted when signs of violations of any law on environmental protection reported by organizations or individuals. The unscheduled inspection is not announced in advance in case of necessary. Rules on unscheduled inspection were first mentioned in the Law No. 72/2020/QH14 on Environmental Protection (LEP 2020). Basically, the process of conducting an unscheduled inspection is similar to a scheduled inspection.
Publicization of inspection conclusions
According to Article 46 of Decree 86/2011/ND-CP guiding the Law on Inspection, the above inspection conclusions will be made publicized in the following forms:
- Announcement on the mass media;
- Posting on the website of the inspection agency, the agency assigned to perform the specialized inspection or the state management agency of the same level;
- Posting inspection results at the working office of agencies, organizations and individuals being inspected.
Enterprises should pay special attention to that specific violations may be published on mass media including audio, video, writing and electronic newspapers. This would result in a negative impact on the enterprises’ brands and reputation of their business.
3. Content of environmental inspection
Basically, the content of the environmental inspection is stipulated in the Decree 155/2016/ND-CP that sets out administrative penalties for violations against regulations on environmental protection. This Decree details specific violations, penalty levels, and remedial measures in the field of environmental protection. Currently, a number of articles of the Decree have been amended and supplemented by Decree 54/2021/ND-CP dated July 1, 2021. The Decree 155/2016/ND-CP will also be revised in overall to be consistent with the LEP 2020 and new relevant regulations. Currently, the content of an environmental inspection focuses on both reviewing environmental documents and examining factory site, composed by four main pillars as follows.
Table 2: Contents of environmental inspection
|No.||Main inspection items||Typical inspection contents in details|
|1||Examining environmental documents before and after official operation of projects||
|2||Examining collection and treatment of waste||
|3||Evaluating waste sources through sampling||
|4||Evaluating the implementation of requirements on environmental protection, reporting obligations, financial obligations||
Currently, environmental regulations and standards are constantly being revised and supplemented to suit the latest production, business and service activities. The Law on Environmental Protection (LEP) was comprehensively revised and promulgated on November 17, 2020, taking effect from January 1, 2022. Along with that, the subordinate legal documents to the LEP such as decrees, circulars, technical regulations are being drafted and shall be issued to guide the implementation of the LEP 2020. Many new regulations such as environmental license, management of persistent organic pollutant, waste segregation at source, extended production responsibility (EPR), greenhouse gas inventory, amendments of wastewater regulations, industrial emission gas, etc. are coming into force in near future. Therefore, foreign direct investment (FDI) enterprises operating production and business in Vietnam, need to pay attention to comply with the LEP 2020, to avoid mistakes and violations affecting the reputation and brand of their business.
- Law on inspection No. 56/2010/QH12
- Decree No. 86/2011/ND-CP guiding Law on Inspection
- Decree No. 07/2012/ND-CP on on agencies assigned to conduct specialized inspection and the conduct of specialized inspection
- Law on environmental protection No. 72/2020/QH14
- Decree No. 155/2016/ND-CP on penalties for administrative violations against regulations on environmental protection