Land use change confounds investors

July 20, 2020 | 11:46
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Waste management designer and operator Vietnam Waste Solutions has been left perplexed by alleged proposals to alter the purpose of a clean site planned for a technology park that the group has invested in.
land use change confounds investors
Vietnam-Long An Waste Treatment JSC has already poured millions of US dollars into site clearance and infrastructure including construction of two bridges

Long An People’s Committee last week said that the Mekong Delta province is preparing necessary procedures to seek government approval to change the purpose of land set aside for the Green Environmental Technology Park in the province.F

Consequently, Vietnam-Long An Waste Treatment JSC (VWSLA) sent a letter to Long An Party Committee and leaders of Long An People’s Committee to express its concerns about the possible move.

Tran Van Can, Chairman of Long An People’s Committee, was said to have officially asked the National Assembly to consider and offer opinions on allowing Long An to change the purpose of nearly 1,600 hectares of the land site in question. The site would be used for industrial, urban, and commercial development instead of inter-regional waste treatment, as per the current purpose.

The chairman explained that the initial landfill disposal project was developed years ago using technology that has become obsolete as it does not meet environmental requirements. Therefore, Long An wants to urge the investor to change the technology to incineration and waste-to-energy technology. The incineration factory covers around 200ha.

“Thus, Long An would like to ask for permission to use the remaining clean land of 1,600ha to call for investment in industrial, urban, and commercial development. This can also help us avoid wasting land resources,” Can said.

According to the letter from VWSLA, which is the official investor of the Green Environmental Technology Park, the company is completely unaware of any information related to the content of the article in which the Long An proposal first appeared. The province has not had any written notice or request for the company’s opinion on the matter.

The government had originally assigned the company to implement the Green Environmental Technology Park and was named the official investor in 2010, with an investment certificate granted in 2016.

The project was reported to have the total investment capital of $600 million. At present, VWSLA has poured nearly $20 million into site clearance and infrastructure development in the form of two bridges, an approach road to the processing area, and fire protection systems.

land use change confounds investors
"Although we have made several working visits, the People’s Committee has continued to refuse approval of the project." David Duong Chairman cum CEO, VWSLA

David Duong, who is chairman cum CEO of VWSLA, said that the company had already made several adjustments to the project as requested by the local authorities.

“VWSLA has been seeking approval for new plans several times. It is the duty of Long An province but the local authorities transferred that to Thu Thua People’s Committee for appraisal and approval,” Duong said. “Although we have made several working visits, the People’s Committee continued to refuse approval of the project, saying it is too large and so they are not qualified to address it.”

Long An People’s Committee has yet to offer any further guidance for VWSLA, and so the company expressed its shock at the potential revocation of its project.

“As foreign investors, we are really confused and worried if this information spreads to other investors, technology partners, banks, and relevant stakeholders. If they have any questions, we have to tell them that we don’t understand what’s going on,” he stressed.

The Green Environmental Technology Park project was slated to be Duong’s efforts to make a vast contribution for the homeland as a Vietnamese-American businessman. As chairman of the Vietnam Business Association in the United States, Duong hopes the project will attract more overseas Vietnamese investors to return to the country in order to help develop it. Instead, he finds himself bewildered about the fate of the project.

The Green Environmental Technology Park aimed to become one of two key waste treatment projects for the key southern economic zone. VWSLA not only invested in the scale of the waste treatment project, but also in advanced technology to process different waste components. It was also focusing on saving land resources for the region while ensuring health and safety for people.

According to the VWSLA letter, if Long An province is able to move ahead with revoking the land site, the province should be required to make a compensation payment for losses of the company over the past 10 years.

HA HAI - Executive board member Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association

The competent authority has issued the investment certificate to the project which has been registered at the online portal.

Meanwhile, the investor has implemented the project approved by the competent authority. After licensing the project, the local authorities are obliged to support investors to implement the project. There is no ground for the competent authority to revoke a licence or take action to hinder implementation of the project. It is not in compliance with the existing legislations, especially the 2014 Law on Investment and its guiding documents.

During the implementation process, the competent authority can only revoke the project if it shows signs of violations or stands idle. However, the authority must work with investors to discuss and tackle any challenges so that they can quickly implement the project. Therefore, there is no legal ground for the local authority to revoke the project without any notice to investor. It is against the policy of the Vietnamese government and the Party.

With the Law on Investment, the Vietnamese government’s policy aims to encourage investors to bring money, assets, and intelligence to Vietnam.

Meanwhile, Vietnam is committed to protecting the rights and assets of investors. The regulations may change but it is not retroactive. Of course, Vietnam now has stronger investment protection commitments with participation in various cross-border trade agreements.

Therefore, any activities of revoking and changing the project purpose need to be legitimate. Otherwise it will create a bad reputation and sentiment among foreign investors. Thus, it will be made more difficult to lure foreign investors including overseas Vietnamese to invest in the country, especially in the fields of waste treatment and environmental protection.

By Truong Lam

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