Authorities in the central city of Da Nang have staunchly rejected the findings of a recent report released by government inspectors asserting that violations in the city's land management caused losses of VND3.43 trillion (US$164 million) to the state budget.
Speaking to local media on Friday, leaders of the city, which has been praised for its rapid growth and received high rankings from the Vietnam Provincial Competitiveness Index since 2005, dismissed the inspectors' conclusions revealed the day before as "inaccurate" and "groundless."
City officials said they conformed to laws and the alleged violations were actually legal incentives provided by the city aimed at encouraging investment and instituted on behalf of the people.
Earlier, the government inspectors announced the conclusions of their investigation into 46 of 1,061 projects in Da Nang, saying that the city's People's Committee committed several violations in land management between 2003 and 2011.
The violations included a failure to manage lands after transferring them to investors, many of whom were allowed to resell land at higher prices, as opposed to following through with investments as promised.
Others alleged violations included the incorrect implementation of land usage fees for several projects, making some cheaper than the listed prices issued annually by the city, inspectors said.
Inspectors slammed Da Nang authorities for giving 10 percent discounts to land users when they made full rent payments within 60 days of being issued lands.
According to inspectors, the issuance of such discounts violated regulations and caused losses to the budget of VND1.3 trillion ($62.42 million).
However, in an interview with Tuoi Tre, Van Huu Chien, chairman of the Da Nang People's Committee, said: "There are no losses as reported by the government inspectors."
He said since the inspectors began probing Da Nang's land management in 2011, the city's authorities have met with them to explain their actions and submitted written explanations for policies and regulations alleged to be violations, but that all such justifications had been rejected.
Thus, Chien said he was not "surprised" by the inspectors' conclusions.
But he found it "unconvincing," "unusual" and "unreasonable" that inspectors released their conclusions without waiting for the verifications of other related agencies, which were ordered by the Prime Minister to make further clarifications.
Agreeing with Chien, Nguyen Ba Thanh, head of the city Party unit and who held the position of Da Nang People's Committee chairman in 2003, called the conclusions were "baseless," and "unconvincing."
Both Chien and Thanh said the 10 percent discount rule was aimed at encouraging investors and land users to make full payments in a "timely" fashion.
They said the policy allowed the city to collect money "immediately" to make public investment, while preventing money from being devalued due to delayed payments, thus benefiting local people.
"[With such benefits], how can it be called a violation?" said Thanh, who has recently been appointed to chief of the central Party's Interior Commission tasked with fighting corruption.
In a letter sent to the press, Chien also dismissed the inspectors' accusation that Da Nang authorities committed violations in setting land prices for several projects as "groundless."
He said while the city issues listed land prices on January 1 each year, the People's Committee reserves the right to adjust it over the year in accordance with market conditions and the location of particular swaths of land.
The adjustments were made after consulting with a land pricing council consisting of representatives of local finance, construction, tax, and environmental agencies, he added.
It is a "usual" and "authorized" job of the city People's Committee to adjust land prices, Chien stressed.
The chairmen also called inspectors' conclusions that Da Nang's authorities should not have permitted investors to transfer lands at higher prices "baseless."
All the investors who received lands from authorities had to pay 100 percent of fees before being granted land titles, he said. Once they completed their obligations and received land titles, authorities were powerless to further interfere with their businesses, he added.
According to the chairman, the government inspectors' conclusions were also "incomplete" and "unfair" because they failed to take into account projects in which Da Nang authorities managed to transfer lands at high prices, creating increased inflows of funds to the budget.
Authorities' actions were all taken for the peoples' sake, Chien said, stressing that if they did not dare to create and implement the initiatives, "the current Da Nang" would not exist.
In the dock
Government inspectors said the Prime Minister has approved their proposal for punishing those who held the positions of chairmen and vice chairmen of the city People's Committee during the period 2003-2011, as well as others involved.
Tuoi Tre quoted Tran Van Minh, former chairman of the city People's Committee 2006-2011 and now deputy chief of the counseling department to the Party's Central Committee, as saying that inspectors' conclusions involved his term of office and those of two other former chairmen.
One of them, Hoang Anh Tuan, who served as chairman from 2004-2006, is currently the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
The PM has also ordered that Da Nang's decision related to the policy of 10 percent discount on land usage fees, as well as 26 certificates of land use right that were wrongly issued, must be scrapped, according to the inspectors.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Security was ordered to investigate to what degree the violations in six cases reported by the inspectors involved outright criminality.
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