Vietnam's Natural Resource Minister pressed over corrupt real estate, sand extraction

By Bao Cam , Thanh Nien News

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A street in a newly developed residential quarter in Hanoi. Photo: Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP A street in a newly developed residential quarter in Hanoi. Photo: Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP

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A legislative session in Hanoi heard complaints from a group of apartment-dwellers on Monday who all said they had to bribe someone for the deed to their home.
“It’s complicated” was all the Minister of Natural Resources Pham Minh Quang had to say when confronted with the claims.
Nguyen Sy Cuong of the National Assembly's Legal Committee told the minister he had received numerous complaints from citizens who claimed they were asked to pay as much as VND8 million (US$377) in “smooth-out” money to receive the deed promised in their real estate contract.
Such complaints are fairly common, but they seemed particularly numerous among residents of the Me Tri Thuong apartment building in Nam Tu Liem District and the Hapulico building in Thanh Xuan District, Cuong said.
Under Vietnamese law, investors in apartment buildings may only apply for ownership papers when construction is complete.
As such, most apartment buyers here have paid most of the cost of their apartment by the time they can move in.
And most literally wait years before receiving official ownership certificates.
As such, some opt to bribe officials for the papers, without which they cannot resell the apartment or claim compensation in the event that they are relocated.
“There are many projects where the developer provides apartments for years and never mentions ownership papers,” Cuong said.
“And the people said that the most basic reason for the delay is the [officials'] desire for bribes,” he told the minister.
Quang replied that the process of registering for land and house-use rights varies from area to area.
“It’s especially complicated in urban areas like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City,” he said.
Quang said he has sent members of his staff to Hanoi to investigate the issue and added that “the situation has improved a lot.”
He said the ministry will enhance its oversight on procedures for issuing apartment use rights.
When the assembly’s vice chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan and Hanoi deputy Bui Thi An pushed him for more specific solutions to the problem, the minister said he would provide a more detailed written answer in the future.
Red tape, among other problems, drives a majority of Vietnamese to resort to bribery as a common means of obtaining things they are legally entitled to, such as a deed to their house, medical attention or a slot at a public school.
During the same session, Do Van Duong, a member of the National Assembly's Justice Committee, asked the minister whether the illegal extraction of natural resources, like sand, has been facilitated by corrupt officials.
“According to the residents, it’s not easy to receive such a license, and a single sand barge dredging on the Red River can make VND50-60 million (US$2,360-2,830) a day,” Duong said.
He also pointed to "overly soft” penalties for such crimes--which include administrative censures and fines.
“You gobble up the nation's most precious resources and you just lose your license or pay some fines? [Those people] must be held criminally responsible for embezzling natural resources.
“The Penal Code should be amended to raise the top punishment to death,” Duong said.
Quang agreed that the punishment is too lenient and should be made tougher.

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