Vietnam to audit under-fire road projects as transparency comes into question

By Anh Minh   December 6, 2017 | 04:37 pm GMT+7
Vietnam to audit under-fire road projects as transparency comes into question
A driver uses coins to pay tolls at Cai Lay Station in Vietnam's southern province of Tien Giang in protest against the toll station. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

One of the projects has already been shut down following public backlash.

Vietnam plans to audit all traffic projects operated under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) model next year in the wake of a series of recent scandals.

The plan was signed off on Monday by Ho Duc Phoc, auditor general of the State Audit Office of Vietnam.

Under scrutiny are several large projects, including Viet Tri-Ba Vi Bridge connecting the northern provinces of Vinh Phu and Phu Tho, the expansion of National Highway 1 in the central region, the Trung Luong-My Thuan Expressway, part of the country’s trans-expressway in the north, the upgrade of Highway 18 linking Quang Ninh and Bac Ninh in the north, and Deo Ca Tunnel between Phu Yen and Khanh Hoa in the central region.

The office has already uncovered serious fraud at BOT traffic projects across the country this year.

Following the findings, the office has suggested cutting the duration toll stations will be able to operate for at 22 projects by a total of 62 years, meaning investors would lose out on a combined VND22 trillion ($968 million).

Auditors also found that 31 stations had been incorrectly located. The standard distance set by the government for toll stations is a minimum of 70 kilometers (43 miles).

Under the BOT format, investors build and operate projects for a certain period before transferring them to the state.

The government on Monday decided to suspend operations at a toll station that is part of a BOT project in the southern province of Tien Giang following protests over its location.

In early August, the Cai Lay toll station was opened along National Highway 1 so investors could recover the money spent on a project to resurface the highway and build a new bypass around a local town.

However, drivers soon started using small change to pay the toll in protest against the station, claiming it should have been placed along the new bypass instead of on the highway. The drivers said they were being forced to pay extra fees for a highway they had already forked out for.

The protests resulted in heavy traffic for days, forcing the station's operator to temporarily close it in mid-August.

After a three-month hiatus, the station reopened last Thursday, only to see disgruntled drivers return with stacks of small change to resume their protest. The ongoing protests besieged National Highway 1 until late Monday, with drivers determined to have the station moved or shut down.

The standoff prompted Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to call an emergency meeting on Monday, and decided no tolls would be collected at the station for 30 to 60 days until the government could make a final decision on the matter.