Vietnam's transport ministry slammed for handpicking investors for projects that shortchange the public

By Ba Do   August 18, 2017 | 07:15 pm GMT+7
Vietnam's transport ministry slammed for handpicking investors for projects that shortchange the public
A toll station on an expressway in northern Vietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Doan Loan

Inspectors are questioning why there was only one bidder for each multi-million dollar job.

Vietnam’s Government Inspectorate has blamed the country's Ministry of Transport for "operational problems" at seven major projects at a time when controversy over a toll station in the Mekong Delta has caused a widespread uproar.

Inspectors looked into six build-operate-transfer projects and one build-transfer project commissioned by the transport ministry in Hanoi and nearby provinces.

They are just seven of the 78 projects sanctioned by the ministry since September 2015, with a combined investment of nearly VND219 trillion ($9.6 billion).

A report released on Friday said the transport ministry had not put the projects out to tender, and had instead handpicked the investors.

In response, the ministry claimed it had been forced to fast-track the process and select the only interested investors.

Their cost estimates proved to be well short; at least VND316 billion ($13.9 million) short in total.

Toll stations have been set up so close together that drivers barely have the chance to accelerate before they have to stop to pay another toll, the report said, blaming the finance ministry.

“It’s unusual and unreasonable,” it said. The tolls are proving costly for the people and businesses that rely on the routes, it said.

Inspectors have proposed that the prime minister order the two ministries to review their roles in the projects and punish individuals responsible for the problem.

The report comes at a time when drivers in southern Vietnam are protesting a new toll station on National Highway 1 in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang.

The station was opened on August 1 and is scheduled to be in place for six and half years, collecting fees of VND35,000-180,000 ($1.54-8) per vehicle. It was set up to recoup the $57 million spent to resurface nearly 30 kilometers of the highway in the province and to build a 12-kilometer bypass around a local town.

Drivers argue that the station should have been set up on the new bypass, not the highway, because they already have to pay multiple tolls to use the highway anyway. 

They have been venting their indignation by paying with stacks of small notes, forcing staff to spend more time counting the money and holding up traffic around the station.

The station was closed several times this week in the face of the protest, and the transport ministry was forced to promise to reduce the fees. However, it said it has not considered calls to move the toll station; the project investor has also objected to such relocation.

 
 
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