Lawmakers ask government to live within its means

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The Vietnamese legislature began its mid-year sitting on Thursday with a request that the government and state enterprises be judicious in their budget allocation and spending.

Ha Van Hien, chairman of the National Assembly's Economy Committee, said more care was needed in the expenditure of state money. 

Hien said the government should be cautious when deciding whether to proceed with capital works projects as it was difficult to raise funds in the present climate. 

He suggested the government lower the budget deficit to under the 6.2 percent target set before, and below five percent of GDP in the coming years. 

Other NA officials warned that the country's debt would become more of a burden if the go-ahead was given to build an express railway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. 

They pointed out that the project would be very costly and of little benefit since few people would be willing to pay the expensive train fare.  

"As Vietnam's foreign debts are 38.9 percent GDP, the government's debts over 42 percent GDP, and domestic reserves are low, the country's debt burden will become heavier if we borrow more money for this project," said Dang Vu Minh from the NA's Science, Technology and Environment Committee. 

Transport minister Ho Nghia Dung said the train line would displace 9,480 families and take the farming land of more than 7,000 households, so their compensation would swallow US$1.8 billion of the project's $56 billion budget. 

Stage one of the express railway is projected to cost $21 billion, or $2.63 billion annually, depending on the amount of foreign aid and the "OCR" (official cash rate). Minh doubted such a huge sum could be raised. 

His committee said it would take at least 45 years to recoup the investment in the railway, as against ten years for what it called an "effective" project. 

Few people would use the service since a ticket would cost 75 percent of the airfare for the same trip, and those who could afford it would opt to pay a little extra and catch a plane anyway, Minh said.

Goals not met

In his report to the National Assembly, Hien said most of the goals set for social development and environmental protection had not been met. For instance, the number of factories installing waste treatment plants had dropped. 

In his speech to the NA, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Sinh Hung said Vietnam's economy had continued to grow faster in the first quarter than previously, but many companies were still importing machine tools and other goods they could procure in Vietnam. 

More generally, Hung blasted corporate Vietnam for wasting money and land, and for causing market distortions. 

He told the relevant government agencies to monitor the markets better to prevent unreasonable price hikes, especially the price of coal sold to power suppliers. 

Hien said any price increase should be justified to allay the public's suspicion. 

The NA will discuss more socioeconomic issues at a caucus on Saturday. The next open meeting, on Thursday next week, will be broadcast live on national television. 

The current session is scheduled to last until June 19. 

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