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Talk Around Town (22-03-2006)

Update: March, 22/2006 - 00:00

Talk Around Town

(22-03-2006)

by Viet Thang

It was cold in Ha Noi last Thursday, but the atmos-phere inside the Ministry for Natural Resources and the Environment’s conference room at 79 Nguyen Chi Thanh Street seemed suffocating.

The forehead of Natural Resource and Environment Minister Mai Ai Truc was damp with sweat.

Nearby, five subordinates were lost in their keyboards as they worked to reply to the hundreds of questions asked at the first ever on-line forum held by the ministry.

The decision to use cyberspace for the public discussion of land administration and the environment had elicited an unprecedented response throughout Viet Nam.

The random access memory of about 30 computers – laptops and PCs – were not sufficient to process at the same time all the questions.

Deputy Minister Dang Hung Vo, who oversees land administration, found his two-finger typing inadequate to respond to queries about his portfolio - a major pre-occupation for his interrogators.

The forum started at 8am and had been scheduled by the minister to finish at 4.30pm, but that had to be prolonged to address the avalanche of questions.

One-hundred and twenty senior officials from the ministry’s departments and subsidiaries were ready to provide the answers, its deputy director, Lai Minh Hien, said.

FPT Telecom had been asked to increase the capacity and ensure the reliability of the high speed broadband provided for the forum while information technology experts were on duty to thwart any hacker attack.

Of the more than 2,500 questions asked, 70 per cent were about land, rather than pollution, and required answers from Land Registration Department employees.

Many city residents, especially retired State employees unfamiliar with the Internet, attended the forum in person.

Dien Van Huong, 71, who lives in France, asked what administrative procedures he would have to follow, if any, to buy a house in Ha Noi.

The elderly gentleman had every right to buy a house in his homeland, replied the minister.

He could do so through legal domestic housing businesses or agents in Viet Nam.

Residents of the newly-built Thang Long International Village in the capital wanted to know who had the responsibility for issuing land-use certificates for their apartments - to themselves or the building contractor.

The responsibility could be negotiated between vendor and buyer, was the reply.

Ha Noi resident Nguyen Thi Lan said she was pleased with the on-line forum but worried that those not IT savvy, for example farmers, would not find the ministry’s website.

For them, the idea to use hi-tech seemed unrealistic, she said.

But the minister replied that questions not answered at the forum would be assigned to officials who would provide the answers even if it meant working overtime.

But some questions - or accusations - such as officials allegedly selling public land, should be dealt with locally.

The ministry planned to establish a hotline and use the mass media to make the e-mail addresses and telephone numbers of its officials public. This would make contact with the ministry easier and provide a guide to public opinion.

The forum had helped the ministry in its quest to effectively use the Internet to improve governance.

It had also been intended to help the ministry gain a thorough understanding of the aspirations and concerns of the public and businesses so as to gradually perfect its legal policies.

The ministry wanted to hold regular forums that provided same-day responses to meet the public’s requirements.

Inadequate policies and laws, particularly with land, had generated severe consequences, the minister said.

As a result, there were many shortcomings in land administration and its procedures and this made dealing with local problems very complex .

His deputy, Trieu Van Be, said questions arising from land disputes could not be addressed at an online forum.

But such events provided the public with an opportunity to acquire more knowledge and find solutions.

Both the minister and his deputy reiterated that they and their ministry welcomed every denunciation by the public of offending land administrators. — VNS

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