Social News 3/1
Tobacco smuggling in booms

Local police unearth a tobacco smuggling case in Tay Ninh.

Tobacco smuggling continues to get more complex in southern Tây Ninh Province and has increased remarkably during the year end, the Voice of Việt Nam (VOV) online newspaper reported.
The provincial border guard has been seizing some 1,000 packages of cigarettes each day.

Tây Ninh has a 240km border with Cambodia with even and flat terrain, creating favourable conditions for smugglers to operate, according to local authorities.

The transportation, storage and trade of smuggled cigarettes have, however, become more elaborate and smugglers have started using more complicated tactics, making it harder for authorised agencies to detect the illegal activities.

Smugglers use motorcycles, motorboats and high-speed cars to transport large shipments. The transportation of contraband cigarettes often takes place at night. The cigarettes are then shipped mainly via river routes in large quantities.

Smugglers often use ingenious methods to hide the tobacco, scattering it at many places or storing some 15 to 20 packs in each person’s house. Tobacco is not kept indoors for a long time, usually about an hour, and is then transported by motorcycles, cars or boats with the assistance of locals along the border.
Many smuggling gangs and organisations also co-operate with each other to fight against authorised forces on duty.
Nguyễn Hoài Phương, head of the Tây Ninh Border Guard, said apart from fixed stations, nine more mobile stations have been set up to inspect and crack down on tobacco smuggling.
Preventive measures have also been implemented, focusing on ensuring that locals do not lend a hand to smugglers, by increasing information dissemination to raise awareness and by working with local authorities to create jobs so that they do not need to assist in smuggling activities, he said.
In the future, the local border guard will continue launching campaigns against smuggling.
However, the lack of anti-smuggling forces has made the war more difficult, he said.
Southern localities are considered the smuggling hub of the country.
The Ministry of Public Security noted that smuggled cigarettes account for 24-25 per cent of the domestic market, while the confiscated amount accounts for only 6-7 per cent.
Smuggling causes a range of issues -- from potential consumer health problems and failure of tax collection, to public disorder and corruption among officials. 

Photos show VN heritage

Vietnamese photographer Nguyễn Á published last Friday a photo book featuring 11 UNESCO-recognised Vietnamese cultural heritage practices.

The book was published by the Vietnam News Agency publishing house.

The intangible cultural heritages presented in the book include: the Belief in the Mother Goddesses of Three Realms (a traditional practice with a long history in Việt Nam); tug-of-war folk game; Ví and Giặm folk song of Nghệ Tĩnh; Đờn ca tài tử - a traditional musical art form of the south; the worship of Hùng kings;  Xoan singing in Phú Thọ; Gióng festival at Phù Đổng and Sóc temples; Quan họ folk singing;  Ca Trù ceremonial singing; the cultural space of gong in the Central Highlands, and Huế royal court music,

Each intangible heritage is featured in the work’s 30 pages and illustrated by beautiful texts and photos.

Nguyễn travelled across the country in 2016 to capture these heritages and meet with heritage artisans.

The photo book will be showcased at the Hanoi Old Quarter Culture Exchange Centre until Tuesday. 

Thanh Hoá residents stung by high chilli prices

Chilli prices in central province of Thanh Hóa have reached a record high.

In many local markets, consumers have had to fork out VNĐ1,000 (US$0.04) for just two chillies. In some markets, the price is VNĐ5,000 ($0.2) for four chillies.

Hoàng Thị Huệ, resident of Thanh Hóa City, said she’d never paid so much ever for chillies.

"Usually, I only spent VNĐ500 for several pods, but it is as at least VNĐ2,000 for that number, four times as much," she said. If the chilli was a bit bigger, just one pod costs VNĐ1,000, she said.

"It’s incredibly high,"Huệ said, adding, "the vendor told me to buy a kilogramme to get a better price - about VNĐ100,000-150,000 ($4-). This is totally not a good price in any way."

Some vegetable sellers at the Đông Thành and Tây Thành markets said they did not purchase chilli as much as they used to because of the surprisingly high prices. 

Lê Xuân Mận, chairman of the Agricultural Services Corporative in Yên Định District’s Định Liên Commune, where chillies are a main crop, said that the price spike was real. He said the reason was that the chilly supply for both the domestic market and export to China was mainly from the south-central provinces.

This year, these provinces were heavily flooded, and their crops, including chillies, submerged and ruined. Thus, the price of fresh chillies had been rising since October, he said.

Mận also said the prices are not likely to decrease in the coming months.

The commune has about 40 hectares of fresh chilli at the moment. When they are harvested, big chillies will be sold for between VNĐ15,000-27,000 per kilo, and small red hot chillies at VNĐ80,000-100,000 ($3.2-4) per kilo.

Lê Thị Hà, farmer in Village No1, said that her family earns VNĐ16 million ($702) from a sào (0.036ha) of chillies, not including extra costs like fertiliser and seedlings.

HCM City hospitals conduct first medicine bids

Thirty-two public hospitals in HCM City carried out their own bids for the first time last year, helping reduce shortages of medicine.

The remaining 27 hospitals in the city cannot carry out their own bids because they do not have a council of experts.

These hospitals will fix prices based on the 32 hospitals’ bidding results and then sign contracts with pharmaceutical companies.

At a press meeting last week, Phạm Khánh Phong Lan, the Health Department’s deputy head, said that although concentrated bidding carried out by the department had helped save costs, there was no need for it because there was a large market of pharmaceutical companies and hospitals in the city.

In concentrated bidding, only some companies win a contract, Lan said, adding that, in this case, the companies have problems in providing medicine.

The hospitals that carry out their own bids have more choices of medicine, she said.

To limit the difference between the price of medicine paid by the hospitals’ bidding councils, the city People’s Committee allows only a 5 per cent difference.  

The results of the first bidding are expected in the first quarter.

Đỗ Văn Dũng, head of the department’s medicine management division, said at least 163 bidding packages, at a cost of nearly 9.5 trillion (US$416.7 million), were finalised this year. This represented an increase of nearly VNĐ400 billion compared to last year.

While waiting for the bidding results, hospitals are allowed to extend contracts with companies which had earlier won contracts in the concentrated bidding last year.

The Health Department has asked for a list of medicine bids at hospitals to ensure proper treatment guidelines and financing, giving priority to Vietnamese-made medicine.

In the city, the proportion of Vietnamese-manufactured medicine at hospitals is 48 per cent on average. Grassroots-level health facilities have a higher proportion of 60 per cent.

PM okays new bypass, road in Mekong Delta

Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc has approved construction of a bypass and road that will connect with National Highway No. 91.

The 15.3-km long bypass, which will go around Long Xuyên City, will extend from National Highway No. 80 and the Lộ Tẻ intersection to an intersection of National Highway No. 91 in An Giang Province.

The 2-km long road will connect the bypass with National Highway No. 91 in Cần Thơ City.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Australian Government have provided funding for the bypass and road.

The road and bypass, which will cost US$94.58 million, is expected to be built in the first quarter of 2018 and will be completed within 28 months.

The road and bypass are part of transport infrastructure plans that aim to reduce poverty and contribute to economic growth in the (Cửu Long) Mekong Delta, particularly in the provinces of An Giang and Đồng Tháp and surrounding areas.

The new roadways will also help reduce traffic congestion and improve traffic safety.

The bypass and road are part of the Central Mekong Delta Region Connectivity Project, which began in 2013.

Vietnam allows screening of 18+ movies from 2017

A new film-rating system takes effect on January 1, 2017, allowing for the first time the screening of adult movies not suitable for viewers under 18 years of age in Vietnam.

According to the new ratings by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, movies are labeled based on four age restrictions before reaching theaters across Vietnam.

The classifications include films that are suitable to general audience, with all ages admitted, and movies that are only allowed for viewers of at least 13, 16 and 18 years of age, respectively.

The respective labels for the four categories are P, 13+, 16+ and 18+.

The rating system is quite different from that of the Motion Picture Association of America, which includes such ratings as G (General audience), PG (Parental Guidance Suggested), PG-13 (may be inappropriate for children under 13), R (Restricted - under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) and NC-17 (Adults Only).

The 18+ rating applied in Vietnam is similar to the NC-17, which is worded as “no one 17 and under admitted.”

According to the culture ministry, the ratings are based on such parameters as the film theme, topic, language, content and the level of untidy, sexual and violent scenes, as well as the use of drugs.

Until today, the companies that release adult films in Vietnam usually have to cut all explicit scenes to be allowed to screen the works as 16+ movies.

The new rating system, which finally allows films intended for adult viewers to be screened, is therefore hugely welcomed by Vietnam’s film industry.

Local filmmakers said they will no longer have to worry if their works are banned from screening for explicit content, while releasing firms can now sigh a breath of relief as they will no longer have to show cut movies to fans at the expense of their complaints.

A recent flick released late 2016, Chay Di Roi Tinh, was in an ironic situation when it was forced to be labeled as 16+ because Vietnam was then yet to have the 13+ rating. Consequently, a young actor of the film was not allowed to watch his own movie as he is under 16 years old.

Bottoms up: Vietnamese expected to drink up this Tet

Top brewer Habeco expects sales of nearly 147 million liters of beer during the biggest holiday, up 6.1% year on year.

Vietnam's brewers are gearing up for a massive drink-up this Lunar New Year holidays, or Tet.

Hanoi-based top brewer Habeco plans to churn out 146.8 million liters of beer during the Lunar New Year, up 6.1% from the same period last year, according to the Ministry of Transport's official mouthpiece Bao Giao Thong.

Meanwhile, beer consumption in Ho Chi Minh City is projected to jump 30% (from last year) to around 40 million liters during Tet, according to estimates released by the municipal Department of Industry and Trade.

The cities will provide the country's key booze markets this Lunar New Year, which falls on January 28.

The Vietnam Beer Alcohol Beverage Association expects beer production to grow by 25%, annually, before hitting 4 billion liters in 2020.

Over the past five years, Vietnam has doubled its consumption of beer to more than 3 billion liters per year.

Each Vietnamese person drinks an average of 27.4 liters, placing them squarely in the world's top 25 beer drinkers.

In 2015, Vietnam produced an estimated 3.4 billion liters of beer and 300 million liters of liquor.

Why is it so hard to hire skilled workers in Vietnam?

A new regional labor report finds Vietnam has the largest low-skilled workforce in the region.

Vietnam's labor market is comprised mostly of low and medium-skilled workers while Singapore and Malaysia both boast skilled, service-based workforces, according to Human Capital Outlook: Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) 2016.

The report also pointed out that it is fairly difficult to find skilled labor in Vietnam.

Over half the Singaporean workforce qualifies as skilled, while in Vietnam that ratio falls to one in ten.

Vietnam had the highest ratio of low-skilled labor in the region (over 40%) compared to 9% in Thailand and 8% in Singapore.

Each Vietnamese worker in 2016 contributed US$3,853 to the economy, up five percent compared to last year, according to data released on Wednesday. 

Vietnam's labor productivity rose by 14.4% in half a decade, but it remains far behind the regional average.

The coming decade is expected to usher in a new era of energy technologies, cheap processing power, data analytics and flexible and remote working practices, which may lead to significant net job creation.

Management and business, legal and c are expected to expand. 

To meet these expectations, however, ASEAN states will need to ensure their workforces are appropriately skilled and able to adapt.

Low-cost labor will no longer present a competitive advantage to Vietnam.

Hundreds of houses built without permits in Danang

Hundreds of houses in the central Vietnamese city of Danang were found to have been built without the proper permits, resulting in troubles and headaches for their owners.

The residences found to be in violation of permit regulations are located in the K38 residential area in My An Ward, Ngu Hanh Sin District, a housing project developed by the 98 Project Management Committee under the Ministry of National Defense.

Two hundred and seventeen houses are under construction in the area, all of which were originally meant as homes for military soldiers and officers, however, many officers chose not to settle in the houses and have instead opted to resell the residences to civilians.

According to the observation of Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters, most of the residences have completed exteriors and reached three stories tall.

V.H., a local resident who purchased one of the houses, stated that she first became aware that the houses lacked a building permit when she was unable to finalize the legal procedures for ownership to be transferred to her name.

According to Le Ngoc Nam, an official from the People’s Committee in My An Ward, residence transfer procedures for the houses cannot be completed due to the lack of building permits.

Though local authorities are aware of the situation, they have not penalized the project developer because the land plots are owned by the military, Nam stated, adding that the military’s ownership disallowed inspections from being carried out on the construction site.

Aside from the absence of building permits, the balconies of the houses were also built wider than allowed, compromising public space along the neighborhood’s sidewalks, said Tran Thi Kim Hien, deputy director of the Land Registration Office in Ngu Hanh Son District.

The constructions also violated the city’s urban planning regulations, Thai Ngoc Trung, deputy director of the municipal Department of Construction, added.

Regarding a solution to the issue, no decision has been announced by local authorities, Vu Quang Hung, director of the city’s construction department, said.

A meeting has also been convened between the municipal People’s Committee and the developer of the project to discuss the problem, Hung continued.

Any adjustment to the houses will be decided over the next few days, the official stated, adding that competent authorities should also take the rights and benefits of the owners into consideration.

Vietnam wins 2nd straight silver prize at Japan Int’l Manga Awards

A Vietnamese comic artist was the winner of the silver prize for the second consecutive time at the Tenth Japan International Manga Awards, a foreign ministry-backed drive to honor artists who contribute to promoting Japan’s comic culture overseas.

Ho Chi Minh City-based artist Can Tieu Hy won the silver award for her Gateway to Underworld work, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in a press release on December 27.

Gateway to Underworld tells the story of a girl who is suddenly taken to the underworld and embarks on a search for the reason behind her death, and a way back to life.

Throughout her journey, she learns about life values and the importance of appreciating the relationships and bonds she held in the land of the living.

This year, 296 entries from 55 countries and regions were submitted to the competition, a fantastic showing for the award’s tenth anniversary, according to the announcement.

Fourteen winners, including one Gold Award and three Silver Award winners, were chosen by a jury led by famed manga artist Machiko Satonaka.

The competition’s top prize went to French duo, Joël Parnotte and Xavier Dorison, with their joint work, The Master of Arms.

This is the second consecutive silver prize awarded to a Vietnamese artist in the competition, the first being for the Long Than Tuong (Marshal Long) series, a fictionalized historical comic by the Phong Duong Comics group, honored with the award in last year’s ninth edition of the event.

Hy, born Phan Cao Ha My, graduated from the Ho Chi Minh City University of Architecture and is now a popular comic author in Vietnam known for manga, a special comic style created by the Japanese in the late 19th century.

She will travel to Tokyo to attend the awards ceremony on February 7.

The International Manga Award was founded by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2007 in an effort to expand international exchange and mutual understanding through the manga culture, an art widely accepted around the world.

This award honors artists for their contributions to the development of manga throughout the world.

Selfish selfie hunters

From December 25-27, Nghệ An welcomed all selfie lovers.. ahem.. sunflower lovers to come and take pictures for free at a blooming field in the central province. The field in question had already become popular among the youth as the flowers blossomed towards the end of the year. The authorities were only institutionalising the trend in order to boost the local tourism industry.

Images of the sunflower field and people taking selfies were duly carried by several online publications and the social media, but they did not capture the havoc wreaked on the field by the visitors.

The 100-hectare field was cordoned with bamboo fences, but these offered little resistance as hordes of people rushed to find vantage points for their pictures. They crushed the plants, stomped on the flowers and used leaves to protect themselves from the sun.

At the end of the day, local authorities were forced to announce that those who destroyed the plants and flowers would be penalized.

It so happens that the field belongs to a dairy farmer who uses sunflower meals as cattle feed.

While the farmer was game to his field being milked for tourism benefits, he would have surely balk at it becoming fodder, not for his cows, but for ruthless selfie hunters.

Bike lost & found in an accident

A woman in Hà Nội’s Tây Hồ District was idly surfing the web when a story about a police station’s parking lot overloaded with vehicles taken from traffic violators caught her eye. Then she caught her breath.

No, she was not seeing things. Among the bikes in the picture accompanying the news item was her own SH motorbike (costing about VNĐ100 million) that she’d lost a year ago.

Nguyễn Thị Thu Huyền followed up on the report, completed the paperwork, and retrieved her motorbike.

The police are now hunting for the robber. He had reportedly driven the wrong way on a one-way road at the Đại Cồ Việt-Giải Phóng Crossroads and been stopped by the police, but failed to show proper papers. The police seized the motorbike, and the man never bothered to return to collect it.

Finders Keepers, Loosers Weepers, they say. This looser’s smiling, though.

HCMC spends up to US$105 million on annual waste treatment

HCMC spends VND2.2-2.4 trillion (US$96.8-105.6 million) annually on treatment of nearly 7,000 tons of garbage discharged a day in the city, HCMC Urban Environment Co said on Monday.

Although the waste treatment sector calls for private sector investment, 90% of funds are still sourced from the city’s budget.

The city set a target of recycling 40% of waste, burying 40% and incinerate the rest last year. However, 75% of waste was still buried.

The central Government has issued a decree providing administrative sanctions in the field of environmental protection. Those discharging waste into drainage systems in urban areas will be fined VND5-7 million while those dumping household waste illegally in residential areas and public places would pay a fine of VND3-5 million.

Tunnel planned under Ton Duc Thang road in downtown HCMC

The government of HCMC is planning to build a tunnel under Ton Duc Thang Street stretching from Ba Son Shipyard area to a bridge connecting districts 1 and 4.

The planned tunnel would run along the Saigon River from Thu Thiem 2 Bridge, which is under construction, to Khanh Hoi Bridge. It is part of a broader project to upgrade Bach Dang Wharf Park just adjacent to the Nguyen Hue pedestrian square.

In an urgent announcement issued last week by the Office of the HCMC People’s Committee, the city had given approval in principal to Saigontourist Holding Company to draw up a plan for upgrading Bach Dang Wharf Park.

Municipal authorities noted the investor should design approach roads to the tunnel for Ham Nghi and Nguyen Hue boulevards, as well as Khanh Hoi Bridge.

The investor would be able to expand the wharf park in a way that would not narrow the width of the Saigon River.

The city government requires the investor to factor waterway taxi, metro and rapid bus transit services into the project.

In mid-2013, the city assigned Saigontourist to prepare a plan for developing Bach Dang Wharf Park into a tourism complex which included piers for tourist boats and other recreational services.

In July this year, the city government allowed District 1 to overtake the wharf park upgrade project and call for investors. However, after a meeting with relevant departments and agencies on December 12, city chairman Nguyen Thanh Phong took Saigontourist back on board.

The city banned hydrofoils and restaurant boats from anchoring at Bach Dang Wharf in April 2015 to pave the way for the upgrade of the wharf park. However, the project has yet to get off the ground since.

Vietnam Red Cross provides relief aid to DPRK’s flood victims

The Vietnam Red Cross Society (VRCS) has provided commodities and necessities worth 70,000 USD to help victims who were affected by a devastating flood in September in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The aid aimed to help the flood victims overcome consequences and stabilise their lives.    

VRCS Vice Chairman Doan Van Thai symbolically handed over the goods to DPRK Ambassador to Vietnam Kim Myong Gil on December 28.

The ambassador expressed his gratitude to the VRCS, stressing that the assistance is a great source of encouragement to people affected by natural disasters in the DPRK.

Hanoi aims to lure over 23 million visitors in 2017

Hanoi tourism sector is set on attracting 23.39 million visitors, including 4.08 million foreign tourists, in 2017, with a revenue of over 66 trillion VND (2.89 billion USD), according to the municipal Tourism Department.

To 2020, the city aims for a rise of 15-17 percent in yearly tourism revenue to reach 120 trillion VND in 2020, added the department.

It reported that the capital city has welcomed 21.8 million visitors in 2016, including 4 million foreigners, earning over 62 trillion VND (2.72 billion USD), up 13 percent year on year. 

However, the department noted that the result has yet to match the city’s potential and position as a tourism centre of the country and region, as the sector’s revenue remains far lower than that of other countries’ capital such as Tokyo of Japan, Bangkok of Thailand and Seoul in the Republic of Korea.

Average spending of foreigners during their stay in Hanoi is about 110 USD per day, while that of domestic visitor is 55 USD per day.
Meanwhile, Hoppa, a website on aviation transportation, listed Hanoi as the world’s fourth cheapest destination after Budapest in Hungary, Tenerife in Spain and Bangkok in Thailand.

Recently, Hanoi is striving to increase earnings from tourism by attracting tourists with generous spending and keeping them stay longer, while developing additional tourism products and infrastructure serving the sector.

The city will focus on tourism promotion in promising markets of Western Europe, Northeastern Asia and Northern America.

Vietnam to boost enforcement of civil court decisions next year

The Ministry of Justice will step up the enforcement of civil court decisions next year, especially those related to the banking sector.

To this end, the ministry will focus on improving regulations on implementation of civil and administrative court decisions, consolidating staff, improving receipt of complaints from citizens, and boosting the use of advanced technology, according to a newly-issued plan for 2017.

Deputy Minister Tran Tien Dung said the successful execution of civil court decisions concerning the banking sector will help facilitate provision of credit for enterprises and citizens.

One of top solutions for next year’s plan is to boost administrative reform and application of high tech to cut time and cost and ensure transparency of information.

According to the ministry, nearly 530,430 civil court decisions have been enforced this year, up 8.53% higher than the original target.

Website launched to promote Quang Nam festival

The organising board of the Quang Nam Heritage festival 2017 has launched a website in a bid to promote the festival to domestic and international visitors.

The website in both Vietnamese and English provides information on the Quang Nam Heritage Festival 2017 including schedule, ticket spots, local specialties and previous festival’s information, among other.

Visitors can get essential information at and as its English version. 

Besides, social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter are also used for this purpose.

Themed “Connecting Cultural Heritage”, the Quang Nam Heritage Festival 2017 is a big culture and tourism event of the locality, with an aim of attracting tourists as well as domestic and foreign investment to boost local socio-economic development, said Pham Hong Quang, Head of the provincial Department of Information and Communication.

The opening ceremony will be held on June 9 on Tam Thanh beach in Tam Ky city while the closing event will take place on June 14 at Hoai River Square in Hoi An City. 

The festival, the sixth edition, will start with the Hoi An light festival on January 27 to celebrate the Lunar New Year 2017, followed by a series of art programmes, competitions and exhibitions.

Locals in central provinces make efforts to restore production after flood

Inhabitants in the central provinces have made all efforts to restore production for the winter-spring crop after floods hit the region; accordingly it has seen the excited atmosphere in paddy fields hoping for a prosperous Tet holiday (the Lunar New Year).

In Ha Tinh Province, 1,500ha of crops had been destroyed, rice farmers converted to cultivate veggies. In Thach Ha District, over 100ha of vegetables died in the flood; local government encouraged farmers to increase land for growing veggies from 400ha to 600ha.

Director of Quang Binh Province Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Phan Van Khoa said that nearly VND4 billion was allocated for farmers in the mountainous districts to buy seeds and seedlings of corn, rice and veggies to soon restore production. 

Meantime, locals in Cam Lo District in the central province of Quang Tri are facing shortage of seeds. Head of the district Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Nguyen Thanh Binh said that his department called for financial aids from People’s Committee and relevant agencies to assist farmers and restore drainage system, irrigation, canals, and pumping station. 

Leaders of Dai Loc District in Quang Nam Province urged the Ministry of Agriculture and relevant agencies to support cash to farmers to buy seeds.

In Thua Thien-Hue, thousands of farmers flocked to fields to plant flowers and veggies. This year, farmer Le Van Lu in Tien Non village in District Phu Vang has planned to grow 40,000 varieties of flowers. If successful, his family’s life will be better.

In Ha Tinh, corn and vegetable fields look green. As per the Department of Crop Production and Plant Protection, 1,010ha of corn, 558ha of vegetables and 130ha of sweet potatoes have been mostly restored.

Currently, the number of qualified seeds may satisfy half of locals’ demand, said director of Seedlings Center in Quang Ngai province Doan Van Nhan although Vietcombank branch in Quang Ngai also provided 12 tons of rice seeds, 150 bags of chilli to locals in districts Tu Nghia, Nghia Hanh, Mo Duc, Duc Pho  and Binh Son. 

Southern provinces need stronger links

Provinces and cities in the Southern Key Economic Region should strengthen their linkages to enable the region to capitalise on its development potential, a recent seminar heard in HCM City.

The region, which consists of a city and seven provinces – HCM City, Tay Ninh, Binh Phuoc, Binh Duong, Dong Nai, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Long An and Tien Giang - plays an important role in the country’s economy, accounting for more than 42 percent of GDP, 40 percent of exports and more than 60 percent of tax collections.

Nguyen Thanh Phong, chairman of the HCM City People’s Committee and chairman of the Southern Key Economic Region Council for 2016, said the region was also the pioneer in industrial and services development, especially high-tech, electronics, oil and gas, tourism, telecom, finance and banking, commerce, and logistics.

In 2001-15 the region consistently grew at 1.5 times the national average, he said.

However, the development fell short of potential since the growth quality remains unsustainable while human resource quality is low, he said.

Beside, its infrastructure development has not kept pace with development, and there is a lack of co-operation between its component localities, he added.

Assoc Prof Dr Nguyen Van Phuc, principal of the HCM City Open University, said regional connections have been built over the last 10 years, but the linkages between localities in the region remain poor.

He blamed this on the lack of a strong and capable coordinating board that could assess the development potential of each locality and make a master development plan for the region as a whole.

Phong said the region council chairman’s role stops with receiving feedback from member localities and submit to the Government.

The Government set up a steering committee for the development of the region with former Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai as its head.

But the committee has not convened any meeting so far while is head has moved to another position and no successor has been found.

Therefore, feedback from the region no longer reached the Government, he said.

Ngo Dong Hai, deputy head of the Party Central Committee’s Commission for Economics, said “each locality is an independent financial body but assigned common targets such as ensuring growth in the economy, production and foreign investment, improving residents’ lives and others.”

This will mean overall development trumps local interests, he said.

Specific legal framework needed.

Prof Dr Mai Hong Quy, principal of the HCM City University of Law, said to enable the region to develop as it expects, the Government needs to have a specific legal framework for the region with specific policies related to land use and investment attraction.

She and many others urged the Government to increase localities’ share of tax and other revenues to enable them to reinvest and develop.

The Government should allow the region to establish two finance companies to mobilise funds for its development, they said.

They also said the region should focus on improving training to supply to the market qualified workers meeting international standards.
Nguyen Dinh Trung, deputy director of Ba Ria-Vung Tau Department of Planning and Investment, said the member localities should jointly suggest ways to the Government and relevant agencies to complete land, waterway, railway and air travel infrastructure in the region.

Dinh La Thang, Secretary of the HCM City Party Committee, said a regional data centre should be established to make it easy for the region to research and support foreign investors.

In the long run, the Government should have suitable policies for developing the region into an open economic zone, he said.

It should review the master zoning and other plans of each locality in the region to avoid overlaps, he said.
It needs to adopt policies to strongly develop localities with great potential to create a momentum for others with less potential, Phong said, adding that China has such a policy.

Vietnamese ticketholders win US$7 million lottery jackpot

Vietlott, the operator of an American-style lottery, on December 25 announced that two ticketholders have won a total of nearly VND160 billion (US$7 million).

The winning numbers are 05 - 12 - 20 - 29 - 34 – 36 and for the first time there will be two winners to claim the much-sought prizes, according to the company's website. This means that each winner will take home around VND72 billion, or 3.2 million, after paying a 10% income tax.

Vietnam’s average annual income was US$2,100 last year, according to the World Bank.

They are the seventh and eighth winner of the Mega 6/45 since mid-October. The value of previous top prizes ranged from US$2.4 million to more than US$4 million.

Vietlott in early December officially expanded to Hanoi with 150 agents, hoping to replicate its success of the past few months in the country’s south.

In January, Vietlott signed an exclusive 18-year contract with Malaysian conglomerate Berjaya to launch computerized lottery games.

The Mega 6/45 is the company's first foray into the market. Players select six numbers from 1 to 45 and win a jackpot that starts at VND12 billion (US$538,000) by matching all six numbers from the draw. Each ticket costs VND10,000 (40 cents).

The prize will keep growing until there is a winner. The odds of winning have been estimated at around one in 8.14 million.

Vietnam generally does not allow its citizens to gamble, but lottery tickets are popular across the country.

Traditional lottery tickets in Vietnam have predetermined numbers printed on them, with the highest prize set at VND1.5 billion (US$65,900).

Facing tough competition from Vietlott’s Mega game, the companies behind these traditional tickets have decided to raise the top prize by 33% to VND2 billion, starting next year.

Red tape slows health insurance signup

The Government has targeted over 90 per cent of nationwide population covered with health insurance by 2020. Despite preferential policies to encourage citizens to buy health insurance, the number of health insurance card holders, especially household health insurance, remains low due to red tape.

Without health insurance, Hoàng Thị Yến, renting a house in HCM City’s District 2, had to pay over VNĐ60 million (US$2,700) for leg surgery, Tin Tức (News) reported.

“To buy household health insurance, I have to bring the family register book of my landlord and all health insurance cards of the family members to the ward authority. Then I have to register for temporary residence. However, my landlord’s family has yet to buy health insurance cards so I cannot buy it,” she said.

Prolonged waiting time is another challenge for health insurance card holders.

Trần Thị Bốn from Thủ Đức District in HCM City, said “I have to wait for the whole day for each health check-up.”

Getting bored of waiting, she decided to buy a health check-up service without health insurance.

To increase public access to health insurance and to meet the above target, Hà Văn Thúy, the deputy head of the Health Insurance Department under the Health Ministry, said that the ministry has issued a set of hospital quality criteria which place patients at the centre of hospital services.

Health insurance covers almost 80 percent of Việt Nam’s population now.

According to Nguyễn Tấn Bỉnh, director of the HCM City Health Department, the city’s healthcare sector has worked with the city’s health insurance to cut down unnecessary procedures so as to improve healthcare examination and treatment but still ensure quality.

The waiting time of patients to see a doctor has been cut from 120-480 minutes to 30-120 minutes.

According to Tin Tức newspaper, hospitals in HCM City have bought state-of-the-art technology to better serve patients. Eighteen hospitals in the city have newly installed health check-up booking via a hotline. “We are looking forward to smart health insurance cards (electronic) to replace current paper cards,” Bỉnh said.

Chợ Rẫy Hospital, Gia Định Nhân Dân Hospital and the hospital of Thủ Đức District in HCM City have installed automatic queue ticket dispenser machines and have staff to instruct patients at health check-up rooms.

According to Doctor Nguyễn Minh Quân, director of Thủ Đức District hospital, to reduce waiting time, prescriptions are typed out on computers. Also, the doctors’ consultation time for patients is longer.

In addition, the Việt Nam health insurance sector made amendments to the health insurance regulations to provide card holders with additional benefits, Thúy said.

Accordingly, low-income card holders will enjoy 95 to 100 per cent of health insurance. Near-poor people will have coverage of 80 to 95 per cent.

Since January 1 this year, new regulations state that patients who register for health insurance cards at a ward-level medical clinic can enjoy health insurance benefits at any district clinic or hospital in the country.

Under household health insurance, the first card holder of the household will have to pay 100 per cent of the insurance cost. The second one has to pay 70 per cent. The third, fourth and fifth card holders have to pay 60, 50 and 40 per cent, respectively. 
Household health insurance will cover 80 per cent of hospital fees for health examination or hospital beds. In case of serious diseases and high treatment cost, the health insurance will cover 50 to 75 per cent of expenses.

High fines for Hanoi express bus lane violations

Vehicles can be fined ranging from USD38 to USD57 if caught going into the bus lane on the Bus Rapid Transit corridor which operated from January 1.

The 14-kilometre route linking Kim Ma Station in Dong Da District and Yen Nghia Station in Ha Dong District is expected to take only 30 minutes.
Hanoi has designed a separate bus lane with 21 stops located on the median strips of the streets within the route.
Under Government Decree 46 on traffic violation fines, vehicles can be fined between VND800,000 and VND1.2 million (USD38-USD57) if going into the lane for the high-speed bus route.
The lane has traffic signs and street lines while cameras are installed at bus stops along the route to detect violations.
Many doubt that the buses will reduce traffic congestion and instead believe that it will only worsen traffic jams on many of the busy streets it runs on.
Speaking with DTiNews, Doan Minh Tam, Former Director of the Institute of Transport Science and Technology, Vietnam has already spent a decade discussing the implementation of the high-speed bus service. “The biggest difficulty for Hanoi’s plan is having suitable separate lanes as they are too narrow,” Tam added.
“Hanoi will pilot the plan. If the trial is successful, we will open more routes. We’ll learn from the experience if it is a failure and consider that when implementing other routes later,” he noted.
A rapid bus route is only one small measure to ease traffic jams, but it can’t help the city to deal with major congestion, Tam said. The important thing was that local authorities have to do a far better job at urban planning, and set aside more land for transport infrastructure.
It would be difficult for Hanoi and HCM City to improve traffic if the city authorities simultaneously allow more and more high-rise buildings to be built in inner-city areas, Tam said.

Uncle Hồ to take centre stage

Veteran and young artists of the 5B Small Theatre will perform for free a historic play about late President Hồ Chí Minh for students and migrant labourers in HCM City.  

The play will be staged at local universities and export processing zones and industrial parks as part of activities to celebrate the New Year.

Dấu Xưa (The Leader) portrays the revolutionary career of the President, a communist and patriot who devoted his life to the country’s independence.

It highlights the works of the President in the 1950s and 60s. 

Directed by Meritorious Artist Trần Minh Ngọc, Dấu Xưa has veteran actor Thanh Điền playing the President, and several young actorsl like Quốc Trung, Kim Tùng and Việt Hưng.

"President Hồ Chí Minh is in the hearts of Vietnamese people. Though I’m experienced, I have worked several hours each day to perfect my performance. I don’t want to make a mistake on stage,” said Thanh Điền, who has been a theater artiste for more than 40 years. 

“Through my performance, I have gained deeper insights into patriotism and have greater respect for national heroes and soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the country."  

Dấu Xưa was first staged in 2011 in Hà Nội and left a very strong impression on audiences. It has been restaged several times by leading art troupes and theatres.    

Director Ngọc and his troupe will begin their tour next month.

“We want to entertain and educate young people through our art,” he said.

Da Nang cancels fireworks shows for supporting poor people

People’s Committee in the central city of Da Nang yesterday announced it decided to remove firework show from the list of festive activities to commemorate its 20th anniversary of becoming central city and the upcoming New Year Eve.
The decision aims to implement the Secretariat of the Communist Party of Vietnam’s directive No.11-CT/TW issued on December 20 for the upcoming Tet holidays or the Lunar New Year. As per the directive, the Secretariat  required all provinces and cities not to hold fireworks displays during Tet holidays; instead, local authorities were  asked to spend time and funds for taking care of low-income families and beneficiaries of social welfare policies.

Da Nang People’s Committee also decided to allocate expenditure to support flood-ravaged central provinces including Thua Thien-Hue, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh and Phu Yen; each will receive VN1 billion and Binh Dinh will get VND2 billion. The amount will be used for restoring production,  helping locals in these provinces settle down.

Lam Dong & Danang sign to supply safe agricultural products

Da Nang City People’s Committee signed with the central highlands province of Lam Dong in supplying safe agricultural products (safe agro-products) in the period of 2017-2020, yesterday.

As per plan, from now till 2020, Da Nang and Lam Dong will build and develop safe agro- product chain, aiming to promote agricultural production in the central highlands province and protect Da Nang City’s consumers.

Besides, it will strengthen the socioeconomic development cooperation between two locals; creating favorable condition for enterprises, cooperatives to develop models for safe food production.

Mr. Dang Viet Dung, Deputy chairman of Da Nang city People’s Committee said Danang covers as little as agricultural areas and it is not to supply enough for the market while unsafe vegetable source is flocking to the city, therefore the city hopes this cooperation will ensure safe agro- products meeting the locality’s consumption demands.

Mr. Pham S, deputy chairman of Lam Dong People’s Committee said Lam Dong is home to many agricultural areas specializing in flower, vegetable and fruit growing and the province has been planning to produce safe agricultural chain with high technology, ensuring consumers’ health in Lam Dong and Danang.


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