Vietnam warns foreign highway contractors to speed up or face the music

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The Noi Bai-Lao Cai Expressway is among several foreign-built highways that have been unconscionably delayed

Some major highway projects under way in Vietnam have been delayed because of the inefficiency of their foreign contractors, causing foreign aids funds to be squandered, but their tardiness will no longer be tolerated, the government has warned.

Minister of Transport Dinh La Thang said at a meeting in Hanoi Wednesday: "[Vietnam] is determined not to change their schedules. If the contractors fail to meet them, they will have to take full responsibility based on the contracts they signed."

Foreign contractors have won bids for nearly 90 percent of work on a 264-kilometer highway from Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi to Lao Cai Province, 105.5-kilometer highway from Hanoi to the port city of Hai Phong, and 55-kilometer expressway from Ho Chi Minh City to Dong Nai Province.

The Noi Bai one, costing nearly VND20 trillion (US$958 million) and funded by the Asian Development Bank and Vietnam Expressway Corporation, is the most behind schedule.

Work began in September 2009 and is to finish in 2013, but only 27 percent has been completed now.

A package by China's Guangxi Road and Bridge Engineering Cooperation is on schedule, but others by South Korea's Posco E&C, Doosan, and Keangnam Enterprise are tardy.

Mai Tuan Anh, general director of the Vietnam Expressway Corporation, said at the meeting that the contractors are "weak" and do not have enough equipment.

"Their machines, tools, and materials only meet half of the construction needs. There are not enough site supervisors either."

Several packages have seen their directors change several times.

Saying the contractors' financial capability was not as good as they had claimed, Anh added that he would recommend that the ministry replace Keangnam.

In response to Anh's claim that Posco was almost equally bad, Lee Sen Hoon, the company's director, said Vietnam's rainy weather had caused difficulties.

But chief supervisor Francisco Favier de Bonifaz from the Spanish firm Gentisa said the work was lagging behind because Posco had hired 20 subcontractors.

Each such subcontractor only finished 70 meters of concreting a week, he said, calling it "unacceptable in any country."

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