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Development needs long-term planning and sufficient capital

Update: February, 25/2012 - 09:32

Minister for Planning and Investment Bui Quang Vinh spoke to Tuoi tre (Youth) newspaper about the ministry's proposals to address the lack of harmony in infrastructure development in Viet Nam.

Why does investment in infrastructure in Viet Nam lack so much of harmonisation?

The main reason can be traced back to poor planning. When constructing plans, planners only look at their own sector rather than any overall strategic vision. So planning of roads, air transport, railroads are completely separate from each other. Consultants, therefore, only work on the projects they are hired for without putting them in contact with other projects. That has resulted in a fragmented infrastructure system.

But isn't the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) responsible for advising the Government in terms of planning? There must be something wrong in the monitoring and evaluation process of planning.

You are right about the MPI's role but over the past few years, the MPI has not been in charge of evaluating the plans or submitting them to the Government. The current mechanism allows each sector to construct their own plans which are then forwarded to other sectors for further comments. The MPI is just one among many who provide additional opinion rather than make the final call.

There has been no agency that has ever shed light on a big yet important question, which is how much money we need in total in order to turn all the plans from every sector into reality. That's why the plans may look very promising on papers but actually go well beyond the nation's capacity.

The most vital solution in the upcoming time is the introduction of the Law of Planning which will roll out a legal framework for all other plans to be built upon. Secondly, I think we need an agency that will provide independent evaluation from a comprehensive perspective for each plan.

So which agency is suitable for the role you just mentioned? If the MPI was assigned the task, how would they handle it?

As of now, the Government has assigned the MPI to compile the Law of Planning and the process has just begun. The MPI is an independent agency so it is a suitable candidate for the evaluation task. During the drafting of this law, one proposal of ours was to ask the Government to let the MPI do the job of evaluating all planning documents in a universal context in order to prevent overlapping and wasteful activities. As one of our main roles involves the allocation of capital, I am confident my ministry is capable of assessing whether we will have sufficient resources for the execution of all the approved plans.

In Viet Nam, the lack of consistency in planning activities is very common, is it partly because some leaders are too concerned with what they can do during their term in office, they don't focus on planning for the long term?

Frankly, the constant change in planning which is quite frequent now is due to weak capacity, expertise and vision of planners. Take the French for example, when I had an opportunity to work with them in designing a blueprint for Sapa Town in Lao Cai Province, I learnt a lot from them and their planning process is very different from that of Viet Nam. French-style planning involves laying out a universal framework without going over too many specific details. Reading their plans, you can anticipate which steps will be taken next, yet there is still room for the executors to call their own shots. Their plans could be valid for up to a century, while ours are subject to change every five years. Viet Nam should give serious thought to learning from the experiences of others to update the current way of thinking.

Speaking of leaders who don't incorporate long-term vision into planning, I have to say there appear to be some. Maybe they wish to leave a footprint after they leave the position so they incline towards doing something that can bear fruit within their leadership term. However, they should realise that whatever they want to do must comply with the bigger strategic framework of the 10-20 year period.

To prevent the common situation of stalled projects, we have to strengthen relevant policies. When will such policies be put in place?

The MPI has just advised the Prime Minister to issue a directive requiring local authorities only grant permission to infrastructure development projects if they prove to have sufficient capital. This move is to address the common occurrence of local authorities approving projects first then seeking capital later. A shortage of capital is one of the main reasons such projects face delays. Any leader who grants permission for a financially incapable project is subject to strict punishment. I believe for the next period of time, we will take punitive measures in a more serious way.

Another measure to be put in place soon is making sure the Government allocates funds for localities on a middle-term basis rather than on a yearly basis, as in the practice now. — VNS

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