Enforcement practice, development assistance and servicing clients: progressing compliance with wastewater discharge regulations in industrialised north Vietnam
Rapidly industrialising regions in low-middle income nations are an integral part of global manufacturing systems, and chemical discharge into their water systems from industry places pressure on weakly-developed environmental institutions. This research examines the specific case of wastewater pollution law enforcement practices at provincial scales in north Vietnam. It seeks to understand dominant logics and practical norms that help constitute the institutional context in which environmental officials operate, in part through considering responses to foreign assistance. The research explores the dynamic and diverse interactions amongst institutional context, organisational systems and models, and the practice of enforcement, to inform regulatory theory and intervention thinking. An analytical framework grounded in layered institutional analysis and critical realism is developed and tested for studying such phenomena.
The thesis analyses practice, systems and business models in provincial environmental departments in Hà Nội, Bắc Ninh and Hải Phòng who received Canadian and Japanese development agency assistance, and a control province Vĩnh Phúc. The research involved 65 interviews with officials and development agency consultants; diary keeping by officials to capture evidence of practice; and analysis of provincial government and development agency documentation. The hypothesis was that resistance to and uptake of systems and practices promoted by development agencies would reveal constraints and opportunities for strengthening regulatory practice in this society, and in other rapidly industrialising societies where corrupt practices are endemic.
The thesis concludes that enforcement is constrained by institutional logics and regulatory framings that drive conciliatory solutions, in order to retain industrial investment and make money under industry-as-client servicing models. Officials retain tactical space to place some pressure on non-compliant industry. Officials deploy flexibility and discretion to negotiate deals to progress regulatory compliance over time, while accommodating institutional and relational counter-pressures favouring the status quo. Systems enabling prioritisation, information sharing and follow up have the potential to support progress. It was anticipated that capacity, autonomy, reach and professionalism in evidence gathering would be enhanced by development assistance when compared to the control, however the indicators assessed were independent, with the exception of capacity indicators correlating to Canadian assistance.