Following the transport ministry’s refrain over the past month that it plans to privatize infrastructure, including seaports and airports, economists have said local investors should be its first choice.
Vietnamese businesses, many of whom have proved to be capable, can help the economy grow and at the same time allay concerns about national security when it comes to projects in “sensitive” locations, they said.
The economists voiced their support amid growing interest among local businesses in seaports and airport terminals being offered by the transport ministry.
Low-cost Vietjet Air, for instance, wants to buy operating rights for a domestic terminal at Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport, while Jetstar Pacific, another budget carrier, targets a terminal in Da Nang airport.
T&T Group, a real estate company based in Hanoi, is interested in the sole airport in Phu Quoc island.
Property giant Vingroup has offered to take over Saigon and Hai Phong seaports, two of the country’s busiest.
Speaking about it, economist Pham Chi Lan said there is real interest among private businesses to invest in aviation and sea transport infrastructure.
“I think the government should welcome them and consider it a good sign. Without private investors, Vietnam’s market economy will never grow.”
She further said it is “better” to transfer infrastructure in “sensitive” locations to local businesses along with “transparent” obligations.
The government should take precautions if it plans to hand over projects to foreign investors, especially from countries that can pose a threat to Vietnam’s security, she said.
Lan also rejected the opinion that foreign investors should be the first choice since local players are inexperienced, saying that if they are never allowed to try their hand they would never be able to gain experience.
Besides, since giants like Vingroup and T&T are fully capable of hiring good foreign experts, inexperience is not a problem, she said.
All the interested investors have already made a name for themselves with many big projects.
“What matters here is not just the businesses’ capability, but their desire to take part in big projects that are the economy’s backbone.
“If local investors are allowed to do the job, their profits, to some extent, will be reinvested within the country, instead of being transferred overseas.”
Bui Kien Thanh, another economist, also advised the government to allow local investors full management of infrastructure if they capable.
“I’d prefer those in sensitive locations to be managed by Vietnamese businesses.”
Robert Tran, an overseas Vietnamese investment consultant, also favored local businesses.
He said the government has shown great preference for foreign investors but has to consider giving preference to local investors, especially when it comes to public projects so that they are not “discouraged”.
Khuong Quang Dong, a Vietnamese-French power industry expert, cited Japan and South Korea as good examples of how good mechanisms for local private businesses can lead to powerful companies like Sony and Toyota.
Nguyen Mai, chairman of Vietnam Association of Foreign Invested Enterprises, said Vietnamese private businesses have grown over the last 30 years by working with, learning from and competing with foreign companies.
“It is time to give them [local businesses] opportunities to work on big projects.”