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Elephant in the room
By Son Nguyen
Thursday,  Oct 24, 2019,20:13 (GMT+7)

Elephant in the room

By Son Nguyen

It is a sprawling complex, covering over 2.2 hectares in the heart of Dong Nai Province’s Bien Hoa City where a provincial leader refers to as an expensive prime site. Its construction began years ago, with the first component having been commissioned as a convention center where several major events of State agencies in the province have been organized. Its development and operations have been witnessed by all relevant authorities from grassroots to provincial levels, day in day out. However, its construction is illegal.

The complex consisting of three key components, including the four-story convention center named Eros Palace Luxury that began operation two years ago, a trade-service building of five levels under construction, and a 12-story building of offices and serviced apartments in the pipeline, is found to be awash with irregularities, according to local media. The VND700-billion property project is developed on a plot of public land leased to Civil and Industrial Construction Joint-stock Company No.1, which is also the project developer.

The project has now turned out to be illegal. According to local media, the developer has obtained neither license for the project, nor permission for construction or approval whatsoever to run the complex.

The provincial Department of Natural Resources and Environment, the watchdog tasked with overseeing all land-related issues in the locality, says the plot of land was leased to the company for building workshops and office for its own use, but the site has been transformed into a multi-purpose complex without the regulatory approval, according to the news site vov.vn.

Citing the department, the news site says the company has at its own will developed the complex of commercial facilities and high-end apartments at a cost of VND680 billion. All construction works there are done without permission, says the department, stressing that under the province’s special planning, “the site is not zoned for serviced apartments.”

All such irregularities have been known to local authorities for long, but all seem to have turned a blind eye to the case.

Two years ago, Bien Hoa City government imposed administrative fine on the project owner for illegal construction, and ordered that the project construction be put on hold, according to Nguoi Lao Dong. Dong Nai Province also issued a decision urging relevant agencies to demolish the structure. None has been done, and the project has maintained its status quo ever since, while the project owner managed to legalize its project.

Vietnamnet reveals that right after measures were announced to deal with the illegal project, Civil and Industrial Construction Joint-stock Company No.1 started to conduct post-construction procedures, and by October last year, the company submitted an application to the Department of Construction for a construction permit. The Department of Construction sought guidance from the provincial government, which then ordered that relevant agencies work with the company to review procedures before making the final report for the provincial government’s consideration.

Such an instruction hints at leniency towards the violator, as mentioned by the company itself.

In an interview with Phap Luat Online, Nguyen Son Dang, board chairman of the company, says relevant agencies of Dong Nai Province during meetings have asked the company to complete procedures before the provincial government makes the final decision. Dang says that although the project has not completed procedures in due process, its works are still suitable to the general planning.

Similarly, Cao Tan Minh, general director of the company, says in the media outlet that the key problem rests with the conversion of the land use purpose to allow for commercial and residential facilities in the complex. “After relevant agencies give their opinions, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment will approve the land use conversion,” Minh is quoted as saying confidently.

As the illegal project has stolen the media spotlight these days, local authorities revisit old remedial measures. This Tuesday, the grassroots authorities of Tan Tien Ward where the complex is located sent a report to Bien Hoa City’s government detailing a plan to tear down the illegal project, Lao Dong reports. In case the project owner refuses to demolish the project on its own, authorities will assume the job to start pulling down the structures on October 28.

However, Bien Hoa City is still buying time, pending opinions from other relevant agencies before hammering out a specific scheme, says the paper.

Meanwhile, according to Tuoi Tre, the Dong Nai Police Department has launched an investigation into the project before suggesting remedial solutions, and an outcome for the illegal project is still unpredictable.

In fact, illegal constructions in Dong Nai are rampant, many of them being huge projects, and corrective measures are not tough enough to safeguard the rule of law.

Local media has reported how several large-scale construction projects have been illegally developed in the province, and how such works have finally been legalized. In May last year, a school covering 1,000 square meters was illegally built in Tan Mai Ward in Bien Hoa City, and was later legalized after the investor paid a fine of VND15 million, Phap Luat Online reports.

In another case, illegal large-scale construction was also reported at Phuoc Tan Industrial Park in the province. Illegal construction commenced there in 2015, with nearly 50 workshops being built, and it was not until this June that the provincial government issued a decision investigating irregularities there.

Dong Nai Vice Chairman Tran Van Vinh, in a working meeting over illegal constructions with a National Assembly delegation led by head of the NA Economic Commission Vu Hong Thanh early this year, said that the provincial government would approve illegal construction works if such works were found to not clash with the zoning plan, according to Phap Luat.

Such a viewpoint, however, goes against the law.

In a meeting of the NA Standing Committee last month to preview amendments to the Construction Law, when pressed by deputies over the handling of illegal constructions, Minister of Construction Pham Hong Ha said that any illegal works developed after January 1, 2018 must be torn down. “Under Government Decree 139, illegal works must be demolished, instead of being allowed to stay after the violator pays administrative fines,” Tuoi Tre quotes the minister as saying.

Elsewhere in the country, Danang City government this week reiterated it would demolish a project illegally built by Muong Thanh Group, while in HCMC, Party Secretary Nguyen Thien Nhan this week also ordered that an illegal civil construction work in Thu Duc District be cleared.

All eyes are now on the sprawling complex in Dong Nai, to see whether the illegal project will be properly dealt with as per the law. If the huge construction project still stands after all violations, if new excuses are taken by the investors and authorities to justify the existence of the structure, and if the wrong can be converted into the right following the payment of fines, the elephant in the room is still invisible, so to say.

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