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In the NA’s court
The Saigon Times Daily
Monday,  Sep 11, 2017,19:28 (GMT+7)

In the NA’s court

The Saigon Times Daily

Public indignation towards rampant collection of toll fees is spreading ever faster. Weeks after prolonged objections at Cai Lay Tollgate in the Mekong Delta of Tien Giang Province that forced the operator to shut down business there, drivers have taken to the street again over the past few days, paralyzing one tollgate in the north and another in the southern province of Dong Nai. The angry public wields a simple logic: no service, no charge.

In the latest protests, drivers resort to the same measure that has been successful at Cai Lay Tollgate to show off their disobedience. They use small change money to pay the toll fee, which cause traffic chaos and congestion, and which in turn prompts tollgate operators to lift all barriers to allow for free circulation.

The root cause of all these civil disagreements at tollgates is that investors have built certain roads under the build-operate-transfer (BOT), but they set up tollgates at other major axis routes to maximize revenues and profits, let alone other irregularities that have been found at certain BOT projects lately.

In the controversy in northern Vietnam, for instance, after the Hanoi-Hai Phong Expressway was put into use, the investor has set up tollgates on National Highway 5, triggering protests from drivers who do not use the new expressway. Or in the latest public protest in Dong Nai Province last Friday, the investor built a bypass for Bien Hoa City, and then set up a tollgate on National Highway 1 to collect fees from as many vehicles as possible. Such problematic action has been found at not one or two, but many BOT projects nationwide, aggravating public vexation.

At a meeting on BOT projects in Hanoi last Friday, Nguyen Si Dung, former vice chair of the National Assembly (NA) Office, stressed that it is by no means acceptable to extort toll fees on those drivers and transporters who do not use the service. That is to say tollgates must be placed on the very roads developed under BOT.

Furthermore, transport associations and the public as key stakeholders must be consulted with when there are any plans or projects to develop infrastructure facilities under BOT. So far, BOT projects for the most part are “private business” between the investor and certain ministries and agencies, and the public as “outsiders” do not know why they must pay toll fees, for how long and how much each time.

The absence of transparency in BOT projects, therefore, needs to be addressed, if civil disagreements and public indignation are to be avoided. This huge task requires the intervention of the National Assembly. Relevant ministries should be extensively grilled to shed light into the maze of BOT projects so that the rule of law shall prevail. The ball of responsibility is now in the NA court.

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