A land plot set to be used for the Sing-Viet City project in Le Minh Xuan Commune, Binh Chanh District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy of Nguoi Lao Dong Newspaper
Ho Chi Minh City authorities have said they are waiting for instructions from a central committee on anti-corruption to investigate allegations that the investor of a foreign-invested project in the city paid bribes to Vietnamese public officials to facilitate procedures for the project.
Vo Van Luan, a spokesman for the HCMC People’s Committee, told the press last week that the city is seeking instructions from the Central Interior Commission, which advises the ruling Communist Party on major policies related to anti-corruption, before it makes its move.
The Sing-Viet City project, which aims to build a 331-hectare (817-acre) urban area in Binh Chanh District’s Le Minh Xuan Commune, got the city’s approval in 1997.
The investor of the project was a joint venture of four Singaporean companies and Vietnam’s Binh Chanh Investment and Construction Joint Stock Company, with total costs estimated to reach US$300 million.
However, the project had still failed to break ground 10 years later, as the investor could not afford the money for site clearance.
The Binh Chanh Company then withdrew from the project.
The HCMC People’s Committee, the municipal administration, adjusted the license for the project, with the new investor being Sing-Viet City Limited Company, a wholly foreign-invested one.
In late 2011, the city government one more time granted an adjusted license for the project, as the investor’s representative was changed from Singaporean to Malaysian.
On December 1, 2011, ST.Martin’s Properties (SMP), one of the four Singaporean companies, lodged a lawsuit against the HCMC People’s Committee and the municipal Department of Planning and Investment for making the adjustment, saying it was not accepted by all member companies.
At a trial on July 8, 2013, SMP demanded that the HCMC People’s Court cancel the adjusted license and asked the city to pay $300 million in compensation to SMP and two other companies.
The court then rejected the request.
In an appeal on October 30, 2013, the plaintiff provided to the court documents as evidence in the case, of which there are papers showing that the investor of the project paid $2.8 million to government agencies in Hanoi to facilitate procedures for the project.
The Supreme People’s Court then struck down the first trial’s verdict, asking the HCMC People’s Committee to clarify the bribery allegations.
A number of independent studies have confirmed that the practice of giving and receiving bribes is so common in Vietnam that it is not perceived as bribery any more.
Vietnam has made little progress in the latest corruption rankings by the Berlin-based watchdog Transparency International.
The 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption, saw Vietnam up just seven spots to 116th out of 177 countries and territories with a score of 31/100.
In Southeast Asia, it ranked seventh behind Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia.