Golf course projects continue to tee up
Though the Ministry of Planning and Investment has yet to receive the Government's green light for its proposal to enlarge the master plan for development of golf courses from 87 to 115 by 2020, the door has not been shut on new golf courses, according to the deputy head of a ministry think tank.
Hoang Ngoc Phong of the Institute for Development Strategies said: "New projects must comply with land-use rules, not encroach on rice fields or protective forests, not be diverted for urban development, and must come up in regions which tourism potential."
Getting a licence to build a new golf course now depends on provincial authorities' preparations for the project and fulfilling some basic criteria set by the Government.
In the past few years, provinces and cities have kept up efforts to add new projects to the master plan. At a seminar in Ha Noi last Friday, Phong said they were seeking to add 30 to 40 new courses.
The Thai Nguyen Province People's Committee recently proposed licensing four new courses instead of the two (in Yen Binh and Long Son) planned last year.
Quang Ninh has unveiled plans for a course in Mong Cai while Khanh Hoa, Long An and some other provinces have all sought to increase the number.
Not surprisingly, people wonder if Viet Nam would be among the countries with the largest number of golf courses if all these projects are added to the master plan, though Phong has denied it. He said the number of courses in Viet Nam would not match the 256 in Thailand, 230 in Malaysia and 152 in Indonesia.
Jeff Puchalski, CEO of golf course management and consulting firm Fore Golf Asia, was quoted by Viet Nam Investment Review as saying that if there were fewer golfers than expected, investors would stop developing courses in the country.
The plans to develop golf courses had attracted growing criticism from all segments of society for encroaching on rice fields and creating social and environmental problems.
On an online Government forum on Mach 22, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat admitted that agricultural lands had been lost to golf courses and industrial parks.
According to official figures, 29 golf courses are operational, 22 are under construction and 13 others have received licences.
Another 23 have been approved in principle. They are in 34 provinces and cities, and more than half belong to foreign investors.
The MPI said golf was contributing to the country's economy. In 2010, developers of the country's 29 courses paid an estimated VND25.4 billion (US$1.2 million) in tax and created 9,744 jobs.
Highway needs widening
The Ha Tinh – Can Tho Section of National Highway No 1A is sought to be widened and upgraded at a massive cost of VND91 trillion (US$4.4 billion), but finding the money for the project could prove very difficult.
Private investors are expected to bring in only around 50 per cent of the cost for the build-operate-transfer (BOT) components.
Thus, only if the Government provided more than 49 per cent of the money could the project go ahead, Minister of Transport Dinh La Thang told Viet Nam Investment Review.
But the Government wants the ministry to raise this portion from other sources.
To do this, the ministry wants to continue to collect toll on some sections of the highway where collection ends in the next few years, and use the proceeds of a proposed tax on individual vehicles to reduce the number of such vehicles.
But even if the plan for toll extension is approved by the National Assembly, there will be a shortfall of VND45-60 trillion ($2.14-2.86 billion) for the project.
The fee is expected to fetch revenues of only around VND10 trillion ($476.2 million) a year.
Besides, it is far from clear yet if the fee will be imposed at all. Nguyen Ngoc Long, deputy chairman of the Viet Nam Road and Bridge Engineering Association, said: "The proposal to collect fees on individual vehicles has faced criticism from the public."
The Ministry of Transport plans to turn the 1,050km section from two-lane to four.
Firms sit atop inventories
Co-ordinated efforts are needed to reduce the large stocks of unsold inventory in the manufacturing and property sectors.
As of April, the stockpile index grew by more than 32 per cent compared with the same period last year.
Sectors with high rates included metals, with nearly 102 per cent; vegetable processing, 95 per cent; fertilisers and nitrogenous products, 63 per cent; cement, 44 per cent; motorbikes, 39 per cent; and seafood processing, 35 per cent.
Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Nguyen Nam Hai said the volume of unsold goods came down in April, but industrial production and business activities were stagnant.
Nguyen Huu Toan, deputy general director of the Sai Gon Garment Co No 2, said demand for garments remained very low, pointing out that his company's sales had dropped 30-40 per cent from the same period last year.
Cao Tien Vi, chairman of the Sai Gon Paper Company, said the economic crisis had forced customers to tighten their belts.
To liquidate stockpiles, simultaneous measures like price and tax cuts were required to attract customers, the HCM City Businesspeople Association said.
Many companies have chosen to slash prices by up to 70 per cent to ensure cash flow and save on rentals.
Huynh Van Minh, chairman of the association, said the Government should step in to help businesses with favourable policies.
The most vital measure required at the moment was waiver or/and reduction of value-added tax, which was currently at 10 per cent, he said. "VAT exemption/reduction can help firms lower expenses and thus make their products more competitive."
Vi said VAT breaks would certainly help boost demand.
But they needed to be for a long term and not just a few months to be efficient, he warned. — VNS