Shocker: Vietnam is not collecting crucial land data

By Dang Hung Vo   June 20, 2018 | 06:21 pm PT
Shocker: Vietnam is not collecting crucial land data
A paddy field sits on the outskirts of Hanoi. Photo by AFP/Hoang Dinh Nam
Ex-deputy minister shocked to find no data gathered on land reclaimed by government for investment projects.

Last week, I asked the Department of Land Management under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to provide some data and documents for research purposes, specifically the data on land area reclaimed by the government for investment projects after the Vietnamese Land Law came into effect in 2013.

An official told me he would look for it. The next day, he said the department never had the data in the first place, or even tried to collect such information.

I was astounded. Such data is fundamental and crucial for analyzing and developing policies, and yet no authoritative agency has them, and worse, has any intention to gather them. The lack of the data is a major loophole in our land management system.

I’ve already asked authorities from some other provinces for such data earlier. They don’t have it. So, to be more accurate, said data doesn’t appear anywhere in the country’s national database. Why? Because our laws never specified terms under which such data need to be collected and publicized.

I saw this coming. 12 years ago, when I was still the vice minister of Natural Resources and Environment, I sent a notice to all cities and provinces’ authorities to record all land transactions and reclamations, then send the data to the ministry for storage. But no one did. After I retired, the matter was simply left to gather dust.

Currently, all land purpose shifting processes are performed by the government, from reclamation, transfer to renting. These processes are essential in our land management system, but they are not without problems.

First, these processes always create a large number of people who lose their land, their jobs and their livelihoods, while a small minority reaps benefits from gaining new land. That means creating winners and losers, without any solution to balance the interests between the two groups.

Second, misconduct during these processes would create new social problems. The recent disputes regarding the loss of a planning map for HCMC’s Thu Thiem new urban area and the controversies surrounding it are prime examples.

Studies have shown that a developed and industrialized economy cannot be realized without an effective land purpose shifting system. Vietnam isn’t quite there yet.

In light of this fact, theorists have developed a guideline for a fair, efficient and effective land management system. A decent land management system requires three factors: transparency, civilian monitoring and accountability of authorities before the people.

What we need to do right now is to publicize all information regarding land rent, reclamation and transfer, including data on the land itself. Only when such data are publicized can we hold authorities and all parties involved accountable for their decisions.

The 2013 Land Law has no effective provision to foster transparency within the land management processes.

What can we do? Personally, we only need three more terms. First is the compulsory inclusion of data on land management processes. Second, the Department of Land Management should create a website wherein all information on such processes is publicized. Third, a change in the reimbursement system is necessary.

*Dang Hung Vo is a Vietnamese scientist and former vice minister of Natural Resources and Environment. The opinions expressed are his own.

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