Overseas Vietnamese troubled by red tape

By Nguyen Nga - Dinh Muoi, Thanh Nien News

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An Audi S3 that belongs to a French Vietnamese who waited for 10 months for the car to clear customs. PHOTO: NGUYEN NGA
As Vietnam clamps down on used car imports by overseas Vietnamese, many Viet kieu complain that excessive red tape is costing them time and money.
Nguyen Vinh Tien, a French-Vietnamese who returned to Vietnam with his wife in 2012, told Thanh Nien that it took Ho Chi Minh City customs officials 10 months to clear his Audi S3.
After arriving last May, Thien's car was held in a Tan Son Nhat Cargo Services Co. Ltd (TCS) warehouse, which handles international cargo bound for the Ho Chi Minh City airport.
TCS charged him a total storage fee of VND820 million (US$38,400), a fee that Thanh Nien reporters found exceeded the full value of a similar used sedan in Vietnam.
Tien said that, as a retired laundry worker, he can't afford the fee, even though TCS has offered him a 10-percent discount.
He now says he plans to abandon the car he bought in France in 2011.
Tien says that when his car arrived at Tan Son Nhat International Airport, TCS informed him of the estimated storage fee and time of customs clearance.
He then submitted a letter to the city's Customs Department, asking for permission to move his car to a seaport in District 9 because the port’s storage fee cost him some VND200,000 ($9.37) per day, compared to TCS’s rate of some VND2.9 million ($136.34).
He filed the same request with customs agencies at Tan Son Nhat Airport and Saigon Seaport.
None of the agencies responded to his request, Tien said, despite the fact that he visited their offices on numerous occasions demanding a response.
The vehicle finally cleared customs at the end of March.
The Viet kieu says he's never broken the law (either in France or in Vietnam) and that he returned to Vietnam based, in part, on the government's efforts to encourage returnees. Existing laws exempt assets owned by Vietnamese returning from abroad from paying import and value-added taxes.
But Tien's not alone.
Nguyen Van Vinh, a Vietnamese-American businessman, said it took him more than six months to get his car out of the HCMC port.
Vinh acknowledged that a number of people here have evaded taxes by falsely importing cars under Viet kieu names, but he insisted that customs officials have been “unfair” by making it hard for every overseas Vietnamese.
Customs agencies need to be more “flexible” and “professional” about clearing imports, Vinh said, adding that officials should be bound by some sort of timetable.
Dr. Nguyen Duc Thai, a Vietnamese American expert working at Saigon Hi-tech Park, said he gave up on his idea of bringing his car into Vietnam because of red tape.
Economist Bui Kien Thanh also found it unreasonable customers officers could spend as much as 10 months clearing a car.
Authorities should give customs one or two months to clear a car imported by an overseas Vietnamese, Thanh said, adding that any delay should require a thorough explanation.
The economist said Vietnam’s customs needs to cut the red tape, or its public image will be affected.

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