Plan of discordance
By Son Nguyen in HCMC
When the Transport Ministry announced last week a cost-extensive plan to spend some VND12.2 trillion, or nearly US$600 million, to build the new headquarters for the ministry as well as its affiliated agencies, with two-thirds of which to be disbursed in the next three years, public disagreement heats up, as shown in local media. The plan can be likened to a poor man emptying his shallow pockets to buy a lavish coat while his family is constantly menaced by hunger.
In the plan approved by Minister of Transport Dinh La Thang, the cost for building the ministry’s headquarters alone amounts to VND1 trillion, while buildings for other departments under the ministry’s direct administration require over VND4.8 trillion, reports Tuoi Tre. The plan also clarifies that of the VND12.2 trillion for building headquarters, the ministry will ask for some VND10 trillion from the State Budget.
Economist Pham Chi Lan, former vice president of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, bluntly puts the ministry’s plan as out of touch of the current economic situation of the country.
“Under current economic conditions when expenditures from the State Budget are being tightened to enhance public investment efficiency, the ministry’s plan is unsuitable,” she says in an interview with Giao Duc Viet Nam. “It seems,” says the economist, “that the transport ministry does not look at the common background but only thinks of itself.”
Many other experts echo the above viewpoint.
Dinh The Hien, another economic expert, comments on Dien Dan Doanh Nghiep newspaper’s website that the transport ministry’s plan contradicts the national strategy.
“While the Government is tightening indirect expenditures – those investments that do not yield commodities and do not help restructure the economy – the ministry has failed to produce a plan responding to the national strategy, but instead puts forth a plan suitable to itself,” Hien explains in the paper.
Meanwhile, others criticize the lavish spending plan by the transport ministry.
Pham Sy Liem of the Vietnam General Construction Society ponders in Sai Gon Giai Phong why the ministry can think of such an expensive program in times of economic hardship. “I don’t understand why the Transport Ministry needs such an up-scale headquarters!”
Nguyen Duc Kien, former vice chairman of the National Assembly, also observes that such a costly program is unwelcome at a time of economic difficulties like now, according to the website of Doi Song va Phap Luat newspaper. The paper also quotes Nguyen Thi Kha, a member of the NA Committee on Social Issues, as saying that “State agencies need to practice thrift to reduce State Budget deficit… and the State spending should prioritize urgent issues of the people’s livelihood.”
Local media, in protesting the transport ministry’s plan, also highlights priorities for the sector, especially roads and bridges in rural areas, and urges the ministry to shift attention to these areas.
A reader in Tuoi Tre newspaper’s feedback column wonders why the ministry only cares about upgrading its own workplace while neglecting the deteriorating transport infrastructure. “Traffic congestion cannot be solved by building a magnificent headquarters,” says the reader.
Another reader ironically asks how urgent the plan of building new headquarters is. “It’s unknown whether the current headquarters of the ministry are as obsolete as hospitals where numerous patients have to lie on corridors,” says the reader, adding “such a huge investment sum can be used to serve innumerable people who are looking for better traffic infrastructure.”
In a full-length commentary on the plan, Tuoi Tre says the ministry’s plan is stirring up the public disagreement, “not simply because of the stunning sum worth trillions of dong, but also because the author of the plan is also the one who has put forth numerous plans to impose or increase fees.”
Upon hearing the plan, one will recall deteriorating schools in mountainous areas battered by the weather, one will recall a hospital in the capital city that has not been upgraded over the past 30 years, and one will recall makeshift tents for construction workers, says the newspaper.
Across the country, there are muddy roads to be mended, there are people crossing makeshift bamboo bridges, and there are pupils risking their lives by swimming across rivers to school, according to Phap Luat va Xa Hoi.
Despite such a plan seen as discordant, the ministry is on course to set up a steering committee to execute the investment program, according to Tuoi Tre. The paper says that Minister Dinh La Thang has urged agencies affiliated to the ministry to set up steering units of their own to prepare execution plans, which should be submitted to the ministry for approval in 2012.
“I completely disagree with this plan,” says Pham Chi Lan in Giao Duc Viet Nam.
“I believe that a Transport Minister with a sense of conscience and transport officials with a sense of conscience will be happier when the sum of VND1 trillion is spent to asphalt roads rather than to be seated in a magnificent building.”
The Saigon Times Daily