Hanoi anniversary not as costly as rumored: officials

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How much money was spent on the 1,000 year anniversary celebration of Thang Long Hanoi which climaxed in October? That's the question on many people's minds.

Officials have been hesitant in giving an answer, but they have shrugged off rumors that they've overspent.

Tran Van Truyen, the Government Inspectorate Chief, said his agency will continue to listen to public opinion as well as wait for reports from organizations involved in the celebration before launching an official investigation into the celebration's expenditure.

"This kind of issue is included in the inspection plan for next year... I think any question has two sides to it, and surely there are errors and shortcomings," Truyen said on the sidelines of the ongoing National Assembly session.

But he said his agency would only check construction projects and other activities that used the state budget. Those using Hanoi's budget will be dealt with by the city inspectors.

Local media have recently reported rumors that the anniversary organizers spent VND4-5 trillion (US$205-257 million). Lawmaker Nguyen Lan Dung had filed a note to the Finance Ministry asking to clarify rumors that the festival cost VND94 trillion ($4.82 billion), or one tenth of the country's gross domestic product.

Around 70 percent of all Vietnamese citizens still depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Per capita income is about $1,000 and the minimum government salary is VND730,000 ($38) per month.

On Tuesday (November 2), Nguyen The Thao, chairman of Hanoi People's Committee, the municipal government, told media on the sidelines of the ongoing National Assembly session that the rumors are "groundless."

"The representative might ask about this after hearing it from a third party... But it's not based on any realistic calculation," said Thao.

He refused to comment further on the matter, saying only that the city and concerned agencies are currently calculating what they spent.

Ho Quang Loi, an official from Hanoi's party unit and member of the National Steering Committee for the festival, said the event's expenditure shouldn't include investments in buildings and infrastructure made during the event.

"Even without the festival, we still need roads, bridges, schools and hospitals to serve the capital and the country. We only finished them by the festival to mark the 1,000 year anniversary."

For example, several projects to beautify Hanoi have continued after the festival, such as the effort to move electric and telecommunications cables underground, he added.

Loi said only the money used for activities or construction directly related to the ten-day celebration, from October 1-10, should be counted in the festival's expenditure.

However, it's hard to get an accurate count of that amount at the moment as it includes money from the state budget and Hanoi's budget, as well as sponsors from businesses, groups and individuals, he said.

"There's not yet a detailed report about what each of the agencies, localities and individuals have done for the event."

According to Loi, the celebration was the pride of the country so it required a significant amount of money, but he guaranteed that funds had been spent economically and that the organizers had vetoed activities that were considered unnecessary.

Hoang Tuan Anh, minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said at the National Assembly meeting on Monday that "It's absolutely incorrect to say that the activities for Hanoi's celebration cost as much as four or five trillion dong."

Anh said the ministry has tried to be as economical as possible in all its activities, including the parade on the morning of October 10, the biggest parade in the country's history, which boasted 31,000 participants.

"The marchers practiced for around two months - some units for three months - from 2 or 3 a.m. every day. The children and students got up early and stayed up late. They worked really hard... And the Finance Ministry assigned payment of VND25,000 per person per day of rehearsal, VND35,000 for the preliminary dress rehearsal and VND50,000 for the final dress rehearsal," he said.

"It wasn't even enough for food and drink for the day, so some units had to contribute some of their own money."

The minister said he followed the prime minister's instructions to veto around ten of the planned projects and in doing so saved more than VND100 billion ($5.13 million), including VND50 billion on a project that would have set up gates to greet people coming into Hanoi.

Anh said his ministry has spent only VND88 billion, or 57.5 percent, of the budget it was given this year.

Anh said his ministry is willing to publish a detailed report of their expenditures related to the celebration. He has asked other agencies to report their spending to the Finance Ministry who will forward the figures to the prime minister.

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