Rogue golf courses abound

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Thirteen cities and provinces in Vietnam are building golf courses that were not included in the government's master development plan

A golf course in Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam's government in 2009 approved the construction of 90 golf courses through 2020.

In 2009, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung approved an 11-year Golf Course Development Master Plan.

The plan, which terminates in 2020, approved the construction of 90 golf courses throughout Vietnam. Of these, only 24 are operational. Licenses are pending for the remaining projects, many of which are still under construction.

Problems arose when the Ministry of Planning and Investment in May raised alarm bells about the construction of 27 golf courses, which were licensed between 2006 and 2008 but not included in the government's zoning plan.

These courses are currently being built  in 13 cities and provinces. The ministry attributed the problem to inaccurate information given by local authorities.

Meanwhile, other provincial governments have asked to add 12 golf courses to the plan.

Pham Sy Liem, vice chairman of the Vietnam Construction Federation, told Thanh Nien Weekly that unauthorized golf courses should be fined, but allowed to open so they can be used.

Liem stipulated that only golf courses being built on infertile land should be permitted to proceed. Those on farmland should be squashed and the land should be used for agriculture.

Thanh Nien Weekly: What should the ministry do about Vietnam's glut of golf course projects?

Pham Sy Liem: We find ourselves in this situation because a number of provincial agencies didn't follow the government's development plan strictly. Now, we have to review their actions and possibly reprimand them.

We should respect the plan, and shouldn't increase or decrease (the number of golf courses) in an arbitrary manner.

We must ascertain which regulations these local governments violated before we impose any penalties. Irresponsible or corrupt parties who licensed these (illegal golf courses) should be disciplined according to the law.

Should we shut down golf courses that have already been built but were not listed in the zoning plan?

Provinces that are building unsanctioned courses should be fined, but their courses should be allowed to become operational to avoid unnecessary waste.

We should only permit golf courses being built on coastal dunes or hillsides, and ban those on fertile farmland.

Vietnam can survive without golf courses, but without rice-growing land, many people won't have anything to live on.

Couldn't we create a bad precedent if we allow illegal golf courses to come into operation? Some investors seem ready to pay fines, so that their projects will go ahead"¦

Obviously, we shouldn't do it. However, if unsanctioned golf projects are being built on coastal dunes or hillsides, they won't cause any economic damage.

Golf courses don't make much money from green fees alone, so a lot of investors seem to be using the courses as vehicles for real estate and tourism projects. What do you think about this situation?

You're right. But, nobody forced anyone to invest in golf courses. These courses usually are surrounded by offices, hotels, restaurants or warehouses. This is normal.

However, some investors are using "golf course" land to build and sell villas. We should take another look and see if the plan allows them to do this or not. If the construction falls under the plan, it should be allowed to continue.

From now on, we should separate villa developments from golf course projects. And we should only permit the construction of hotels that will house visiting golfers.

The Ministry of Planning and Investment's proposal allowed for the construction of 118 golf courses by 2020. Is this figure too high compared to our available land resources?

Obviously, it is too high. There isn't much demand for golf courses among the Vietnamese population few of us can afford to pay green fees.

We permitted the construction of these golf courses to attract foreign investors, who frequently play golf in their home countries. The golf courses are built mainly to serve them.

Who should take responsibility for the development of golf courses that were not listed in the plan?

Provincial governments should take responsibility; they granted the licenses. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment should also take responsibility as they were responsible for monitoring this situation. The central government lacks the capacity to monitor every possible golf course site in the country.

If the issue is not settled definitively, it will create a bad precedent.

Some local governments have gone well beyond their jurisdiction. Some years ago, the government criticized and issued warnings to over 40 provincial governments for offering illegal incentives to investors. But that case still hasn't been settled. Now, we're seeing the same violations again, and other similar violations could happen in the future if we do not deal with them strictly.

So how should the licensing process change?

Golf courses use a lot of land, so their license should be considered by the Ministry of Planning and Investment, before being submitted to the Prime Minister for an approval.

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