by Hang Nguyen
Last week, a run-of- the-mill report in the Infonet online newspaper (published by the Ministry of Information and Communications) raised many eyebrows.
The report said that the northern province of Hai Duong had submitted to the Government a plan to build a new administration centre costing about VND2 trillion (approximately US$94 million).
This, by itself, would not have occasioned comment, but the fact that current administrative buildings are still in good condition gave people pause.
The six-storeyed building of the provincial Construction Department is a modern structure, and the three-storeyed building of the Home Affairs Department looks spacious.
But Hoang Van Khuong, chief of the provincial People's Committee Secretariat told the Dan Viet (Vietnamese People) online newspaper that Hai Duong had the most downgraded administration buildings in the north of the country.
Khuong said the plan aimed to gather different agencies under one roof and facilitate implementation the "one-door" policy in administrative reform.
The new administration centre, covering about 19.5ha, is expected to be the workplace for 19 agencies in the province. The provincial budget will cover half the investment of VND1 trillion ($46.9 million), Khuong said.
However, the attention paid by local authorities to getting a new administration centre has made people focus, by default, on more pressing issues in the province.
According to the Infornet online newspaper, over 70 households in the province's Goc Mit Village have been living in slum-like conditions, without upgrading systems of electricity and water supply, for a decade. The local authority is yet to issue land-use rights, or red books as they are called, to the households.
The reason given for leaving the residents in limbo is that the village is located in the "golden land," under a much-delayed project that was to build a sports and culture centre. The plan has been on the anvil since 2005.
While local authorities cite downgraded conditions of existing administrative buildings as the reason for building the new centre, residents say they'd rather see some quality improvements in public services.
Pham Ngoc Lan, 48, manager of a private pharmaceutical company, said she did not care much about how great the facilities were in government buildings. She said it was sufficient that the conditions were not backward, they did not have to be expensive.
"I care more about the quality of public services provided by an administrative office than anything else," she said.
"I think what people actually need is a good school or hospital equipped with modern facilities rather than an expensive administration centre," said Dao Van Minh, 41, a primary school teacher.
To add more context to this issue, about two weeks ago, the National Assembly approved national budget estimates for 2015, which requires State-owned agencies to take measures to prevent and reduce waste.
Under the approval, all agencies should strictly adhere to the Law on Public Investment because public debt was rising rapidly.
Referring to Hai Duong's plans, Phung Quoc Hien, Chairman of the National Assembly's Financial and Budget Committee, told Infonet that the scale of this project should be reduced to match with the current state of the national economy.
Public investment should focus on improving transport infrastructure, schools and hospitals to boost socio-economic development, he said.
We are still awaiting feedback on the proposed plan from the Government and the National Assembly for the plan, but public sentiment does not seem to be in favour.
I have a suggestion.
According to the Hai Duong People's Committee, the province has about 31,000 poor households, or 5.8 per cent of its population. Of these, more than 5,000 need financial support to build houses.
If provincial authorities were to focus on dealing with the households in Goc Mit Village or the 31,000 poor families in the province, they would earn kudos for money well spent.
On the other hand, spending scarce funds on a project that people do not see as essential could earn them brickbats, and undermine public confidence in the administration. — VNS