Local experts agree with the Prime Minister's decision to cancel dozens of the country's golf course projects, but some say more could be eliminated to save valuable land and resources for everyday citizens.
"The elimination of golf courses is quite necessary," Pham Sy Liem, vice chairman of the Vietnam Construction Federation, told Thanh Nien Weekly.
Relevant agencies should reconsider all golf course projects in each locality, and quickly abort the projects in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and neighboring areas, he said.
At a regular cabinet meeting in August, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung asked the Ministry of Planning and Investment to eliminate 51 of 166 golf course projects nationwide. Seventy-six of the proposed courses, covering 23,823 hectares of land, are already completed or are under construction.
Nguyen Hong Thuc from the Settlement Research Institute said the land slated for golf courses would be better used for agriculture.
"There is no reason to give the projects land while farmers have no land for production. We should consider this issue more carefully and maybe eliminate more [than 51] projects."
The government has asked localities not to allow golf courses to be built on farmland, especially rice-growing land.
Thuc said Vietnam should compare the number of golf courses it has with other countries that have small land areas and similar per capita gross domestic product (GDP).
Golf courses covering more land than they asked for or those using rice-growing land should also be considered for cancellation, he added.
Ton Gia Huyen from the Vietnam Land Science Association said at a Hanoi conference in May that using farmland for golf courses would spark a crop shortage and damage local agricultural systems.
Investors often choose farmland with good infrastructure and in wealthy localities to build golf courses, Liem said, adding that they liked Long An Province, where they can easily lure customers from neighboring HCMC.
The Ministry of Planning and Investment has proposed more golf course regulations, under which an 18-hole golf course can only be licensed if it covers less than 100 hectares of land. An additional 10 hectares can be allowed for projects in mountainous and swamp areas.
Each golf course should be allowed to use a maximum of 10 hectares of infertile rice fields, while other farmland, land for perennial cash crops and fruit trees may not be used to build golf courses.
But some investors make use of land for golf courses to develop other projects, and land for the actual golf courses accounts for just a small percentage of the total land needed for the projects.
Land rent for golf courses is much lower than those for other property projects such as villas, houses and trade centers, so many investors have exploited this to recoup their investment more quickly.
Only 65 percent of the land appropriated in the 76 aforementioned projects has been set aside for golf courses, with the rest being reserved for resorts, hotels, villas, eco-tourism areas, parks and recreational areas serving the courses.
"We have to be intense about golf course elimination and deal out strict punishments to those who delay it," Liem said.
Vietnam should review golf-course development in the short term, and map out an overall plan for it in the long term to avoid environmental problems and damaging agricultural infrastructure, he said.
Thuc from the Settlement Research Institute stressed the need for an overall golf course development plan in all localities.
"We should license more projects in areas designated for tourism only. However, we should manage their size and not let them develop freely," she said.
Prime Minister Dung has asked the Ministry of Planning and Investment to coordinate with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to complete an overall golf course development plan through 2020.
"We should establish a council with the participation of experts in the economic, social and environmental fields to help relevant agencies to assess golf course projects before licensing them," Liem said.
Thuc said investors have to conduct environmental surveys and review the social benefits and detriments golf courses may bring before establishing projects.
The country should create a mechanism to punish organizations and individuals who have breached golf course licensing regulations, he said.