Vietnam’s restrictions threaten progress: donors

Vietnamese Catholics hold a vigil outside a court in Hanoi

HANOI — Vietnam’s restrictions on the news media and Internet sites such as Facebook threaten the country’s rapid economic progress, Western donors told an annual meeting of World Bank and other officials on Thursday.

“Economic growth and development requires an open and transparent environment for all stakeholders, Vietnamese and international,” US ambassador Michael Michalak told the opening session of talks between Vietnam and its aid-givers, known as the Consultative Group.

There has been a “shrinking of the space for honest, reliable information” recently, Michalak told the two-day meeting where pledges of aid are announced.

Michalak and the Swedish ambassador, Rolf Bergman, both expressed concern about recent reports that the world’s most popular online social networking site, Facebook, is being restricted.

“This is not about teenagers chatting online. It is a question of people’s rights to communicate with one another, share ideas and to do business,” Michalak said.

An Internet provider said last month that Vietnam’s public security ministry had ordered blockage of the site which, like other online platforms, offers room for expression not permitted in traditional media which are all linked to the communist state.

The Minister of Information and Communication, Le Doan Hop, last month indicated to legislators that he wanted to reinforce control of the Internet. He said “toxic and bad-intentioned information” has sometimes circulated in cyberspace.
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Donors say Vietnam should respect rights

HANOI (Reuters) – Aid donors urged Vietnam on Thursday to unleash the press to help fight corruption and to respect international human rights norms, or risk negatively impacting investment and aid flows.

“Vietnam’s economic performance and its international reputation are compromised by restrictions placed by the government on the personal freedoms of its citizens,” a statement by the U.S. delegation to an annual donor summit in Hanoi said.

Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party brooks no opposition, and in the past year has detained or jailed several reporters, bloggers, lawyers and dissidents, and deployed an administrative decree to bring down the country’s only independent policy think-tank.

The party recognises widespread corruption as a major impediment to development, but restricts the media’s ability to ferret out cases.

The United Nations said governments must “own” the battle against corruption, but others would make it more effective.

“Broadening the scope for collaboration and involvement of non-State actors such as the media, mass organisations and individuals makes anti-corruption efforts more effective,” it said in its report to the meeting, called the Consultative Group.

Sweden, as president of the European Union, went further.

“The government of Vietnam has to allow media to scrutinise the power,” it said.

“Researchers, journalists and lawyers have to be encouraged to raise their voices to be able to contribute to the future of Vietnam. They should not be silenced or discouraged. Recently, however, worrying signs seem to indicate that the development is going in the wrong direction.” U.S. Ambassador Michael Michalak also noted in prepared remarks that recent events “have contributed to a shrinking of the space for honest, reliable information”.

“Access to reliable, objective information; the ability to conduct research freely and publish one’s findings; the right to articulate and consider differing views — are absolutely essential to technical innovation and economic prosperity.”

(Reporting by John Ruwitch; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

http://in.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idINIndia-44430120091203?sp=true

Vietnam starts unwinding stimulus

By Tim Johnston in Bangkok

Published: December 2 2009 16:37 | Last updated: December 2 2009 16:37

Vietnam plans to stop its interest rate subsidy scheme at the end of the year, becoming the first Asian nation to start unwinding its post-crisis stimulus programme, the government announced on Wednesday.

Analysts expect Vietnam’s gross domestic product to grow about 5 per cent this year in contrast to many of its neighbours, which are expected to see their economies shrink.

The government’s stimulus programme – which was touted at $8bn (€5.3bn, £4.8bn) but has actually cost nearer $4bn, or 4.3 per cent of GDP, according to the World Bank – has contributed significantly to growth. Its scheme of subsidising commercial loans by 4 percentage points met with particular success but will now finish at the end of the year, as planned, in spite of commercial pressure to keep it open until March.

“The termination of the program is in line with the interest-rate policy and the market stabilisation and will help businesses to increase their competitiveness,” Nguyen Dong Tien, the deputy governor of the State Bank of Vietnam, said in a statement.

The Vietnamese economy is heavily dependent on exports, which fell more than 14 per cent in dollar terms in the first eight months of the year. But the government bet their limited resources on a stimulus programme which concentrated on supporting industry to keep people in work, putting the country in a strong position to make the best of any upturn.

“This is a country that went the China route without China’s resources,” said Martin Rama, the chief economist for the World Bank in Vietnam.

The gamble seems to have paid off, with exports up last month 19 per cent year on year, industrial production rising 16.4 per cent; and retail sales up 30 per cent.

However, Mr Rama says the scaling back of the stimulus is timely.

“The interest rate subsidy scheme was very instrumental in the early days of the crisis,” he said but added that once the working capital requirements had been fulfilled, the take up-on loans had declined substantially and many of the companies that were latterly availing themselves of the facility were using the loans to buy dollars and gold, putting downward pressure on the dong, the Vietnamese currency.

“It is going to be painful for some but the government are counting on that to make borrowers sell gold and dollars to pay the loans back,” said Mr Rama.

Vietnam hit the headlines last week with a 5.4 per cent devaluation of the dong and a 1 percentage point rise in the reference rate, moves that were made to address specific pressures on the currency. The country has generally come through the crisis much better than many analysts expected and by some measures is showing the world’s fastest growth.

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World Bank reassured by Vietnam steps toward stability

HANOI, Dec 3 (Reuters) – It is “reassuring” to see Vietnam rebalancing its economic policy toward stability, but more turbulence could be on the cards as the global economy continues to recover, the World Bank said on Thursday.

Even as monetary policy tightens, inflation is likely to see some acceleration in Vietnam in 2010, it said in a semi-annual report.

“It is reassuring to see that the government is rebalancing its objectives once again, giving more priority to stability. The decisions made between late October and early December amount to an appropriate macroeconomic framework being put in place,” it said.

Vietnam’s macroeconomic management for the past two years has so far been effective, despite having a relatively “heterodox and at times rudimentary nature”, the Bank said in its report, entitled “Taking Stock”.

Vietnam had taken a series of small steps starting in October to begin to tighten monetary policy, capped by last week’s currency devaluation and interest rate hike. The government also announced this week an end to subsidies on short-term business loans, which has been a pillar of its stimulus package.

The moves were designed to address imbalances that emerged during roughly a year of expansionary monetary and fiscal policy to counter the global economic crisis, including chronic currency weakness spurred by dollar hoarding and expectations of depreciation. (Reporting by John Ruwitch; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman) ((john.ruwitch@thomsonreuters.com; +84 4 3825 9623; Reuters Messaging: john.ruwitch.reuters.com@reuters.net)) ((If you have a query or comment on this story, send an email to news.feedback.asia@thomsonreuters.com))

http://www.reuters.com/article/hotStocksNews/idUSHAN47299220091203

FACTBOX-Five political risks to watch in Vietnam

SINGAPORE, Oct 8 (Reuters) – Vietnam has weathered the global economic crisis relatively well, but the country is still seen as a risky and relatively opaque investment destination.

Following is a summary of key Vietnam risks to watch:

* CORRUPTION

Corruption is endemic in Vietnam at all levels of government, and acts as a major barrier to foreign investment. The authorities had announced aggressive plans to fight corruption, and encouraged the media to act as a watchdog, but these efforts lost steam after several journalists were detained for reporting on major corruption scandals. Progress on corruption will remain a key determinant of investment attractiveness.

Key issues to watch:

— Vietnam’s rank in corruption perceptions rankings. A strong improvement or decline would influence investors.

* GOVERNMENT EFFECTIVENESS

Corruption, lack of accountability and transparency, and burdensome bureaucracy all impact the effectiveness of the government in formulating and implementing policy. Economic reform and the restructuring of inefficient state enterprises are vulnerable to being undermined by entrenched interests and conservative elements in the government more focused on security.

Key issues to watch:

— While the government stimulus package has boosted the economy, there are questions over how the budget deficit can be financed, how inflationary pressure can be contained, and how the crowding out of private investment can be avoided. Hanoi has embarked on a plan to trim bureaucratic procedures in government, and how that scheme plays out will be something to watch.

— Investors frequently list poor infrastructure as one of the biggest barriers in Vietnam, and the government’s ability to coordinate swift, efficient development in this area is being keenly observed.

* EXCHANGE RATE POLICY

Vietnam’s fixed exchange rate policy frequently causes economic pressures to build. The authorities are widely expected to widen the dong’s trading band or devalue it again gradually in coming months, and this has prompted hoarding of dollars. For now, the risk of a sudden big devaluation is considered small.

Key issues to watch:

— Markets are closely watching for any clues to the likelihood and timing of changes to the exchange rate.

* SOCIAL UNREST

Vietnam has seen a rising number of strikes, protests and land disputes, often affecting foreign businesses. Disturbances have erupted in rural areas due to state expropriations of land and the corruption of local officials. But there remains no evidence for now that wider unrest is likely, or that there is any imminent risk of the regime being challenged from below.

Key issues to watch:

— Any sign that a broader national protest movement is emerging out of local disputes. So far, this seems unlikely.

— The role of the Catholic church. Catholics have been engaging in periodic protests over church land taken over by the government after 1954. The Catholic Church, while officially shunning involvement in politics, has 6-7 million followers in Vietnam and is quite well organised.

— Territorial disputes in the South China Sea. This issue is highly charged in Vietnam, where suspicion of China runs high. Any move by China to assert sovereignty over disputed islands in the South China Sea, or perceived weakness by Vietnam on this issue, could galvanise broad based support for demonstrations.

* THE ENVIRONMENT

Vietnam has great potential as a source of tradeable carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol, but issues of expertise, transparency and financing have hindered progress. Environmental issues may also become a growing source of popular unrest, as in China. With its huge coastline, Vietnam is recognised as one of the countries that will be hardest hit by rising sea levels, particularly in the rice-growing Mekong Delta.

Key issues to watch:

— The extent to which the government manages to limit the environmental damage from Vietnam’s economic growth.

— Any evidence that extreme weather events affecting Vietnam are becoming more frequent as a result of climate change.

(Compiled by Andrew Marshall and John Ruwitch; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSSP476366

Vietnam PM pledges economic reform

Vietnams Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has promised to push economic reforms and invited more foreign investment

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has promised to push economic reforms and invited more foreign investment

TOKYO (AFP) — Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung promised Thursday to push economic reforms and invited more foreign investment as Hanoi tries to limit the global slump’s impact on the communist country.

Addressing a private economic forum in Tokyo, Dung also called for further aid and investment from regional powerhouses, particularly China, India, Japan, South Korea and Australia, to sustain growth in the rest of Asia.

He urged regional nations to continue coordinating their economic stimulus measures and boost trade and investment to maintain regional strength.

“Deeper regional integration and increased intra-regional linkages at different levels will be the key for Asia to be not only the first continent to overcome this crisis, but also to maintain its position as the world’s most important economic locomotive,” he said, speaking through a translator.

Although Asian nations, many of which rely on exports to the United States and Europe for growth, have been hit by the global financial crisis, intra-regional trade had softened its impact, he said.

Dung added that Vietnam would continue to restructure its economy, promote infrastructure programmes, push for administrative reforms, and put more emphasis on environmental protection.

In Vietnam, “we believe that the current crisis is… an opportunity to speed up restructuring, improve management and build the foundation for sustainable development,” he said.

Vietnam enjoyed 3.1 percent growth in the first quarter and expects five percent growth this year despite the global crisis, he said.

Despite the downturn, he said: “We believe that Vietnam will still be a dynamic economy and a reliable destination for investors.”

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Vietnam govt seeks to lower growth target

Vietnams lawmakers should lower the countrys economic growth target, a senior official has said

Vietnam's lawmakers should lower the country's economic growth target, a senior official has said

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam’s lawmakers should lower the country’s economic growth target to around five percent in the face of an economic slowdown, a senior official said Wednesday.

The government asked the National Assembly to agree to reduce this year’s target from the previous goal of 6.5 percent, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Sinh Hung said at the opening of the legislature.

A lower target is required “to create momentum for better and more sustainable development in the following years,” he said, urging legislators to make the economy’s health their top priority.

The communist country’s economy expanded by 6.18 percent last year, its lowest level in almost a decade, and Hanoi said first-quarter growth was 3.1 percent, the worst on record.

But Vietnam was one of the few countries with growth in the first quarter of the year while the world’s major economies battled recession.

Hung said the global financial and economic crisis is difficult to forecast and continues to have a negative impact on Vietnam.

“Our difficulties remain numerous”, he said, although “there have been signs that we have got out of the most difficult period”.

The global downturn has hurt Vietnam’s exports, tourist arrivals, and private sector investment, Hung said.

The World Bank has estimated 5.5 percent growth for Vietnam this year and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts 3.5 percent.

“It’s still going to be a tough global environment that Vietnam faces,” the IMF’s country representative, Benedict Bingham, told AFP.

Hung said that because of the downturn, state revenues have fallen while spending demands have risen, particularly for demand stimulation and social security expenditures.

The National Assembly will be asked to approve a maximum eight percent budget over-spending in 2009 to allow for the needed expenditures, Hung said.

In December the government announced a stimulus plan worth about one billion dollars.

During its 28-day sitting — almost all of which is behind closed doors — the assembly is expected to revise tax law as part of its effort to stimulate demand, officials said previously.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5h46xwAETss32GwAaTJsu031uIO_A

Vietnam reports first death from recent cholera outbreak

A dog meat vendor weighs produce at his shop in Hanoi

A dog meat vendor weighs produce at his shop in Hanoi

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam has recorded its first cholera death during an outbreak that has spread to 11 out of 63 provinces and cities across the communist nation, the health ministry said on Tuesday.

The 50-year-old victim from northern Ninh Binh province died on May 12 a few hours after hospitalisation, said a Ministry of Health website report.

The victim was an alcoholic who tested positive for vibrio cholera bacteria. He had diarrhoea and serious dehydration, the ministry said.

It added that a total of 53 patients have been confirmed with cholera since April 20, while more than 500 others had acute diarrhoea.

In March and April last year the country battled cholera outbreaks which hit Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and 16 other provinces. More than 100 people were infected but no fatalities were reported.

Vietnam has a long standing problem with food safety and hygiene.

Authorities in Hanoi have temporarily closed at least a dozen dog slaughterhouses — where the popular meat is prepared — over fears their unhygienic conditions may help spread cholera bacteria to people, an official said Monday.

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection transmitted through water or food contaminated with the bacteria vibrio cholera. It causes diarrhoea and dehydration and can lead to kidney failure and death if untreated.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says cholera can be easily avoided through good hygiene, especially by washing hands with soap after using the toilet.

The WHO on Tuesday referred to a 2006 survey of rural sanitation that found only 12 percent of people washed their hands before eating, 15.5 percent washed after urinating, and 16.9 percent cleaned their hands after defecating. The survey was carried out by Vietnam’s Department of Preventative Medicine and Environment.

Bacteria from the faeces of a contaminated person are one of the main sources of cholera contamination, the WHO says.

As part of its joining the World Trade Organization two years ago, Vietnam’s food safety needs to adapt to international standards, WHO said.

“Coordination of activities to ensure safe practices into the entire food chain is a challenging task for Vietnam’s government,” it said.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gR4SiCarRfvGDDoBVkESaq9artbA

Vietnam plans ban on dancing to karaoke

People arrive at a karaoke bar in Hanoi

People arrive at a karaoke bar in Hanoi


HO CHI MINH CITY (AFP) — It is early evening and another night of singing has begun in earnest at Style Karaoke, a plush club where high-flyers in Vietnam’s commercial capital come to let off steam.

Music blasts from behind the glass doors of the small rooms where groups gather to sing and, as the rhythm takes hold, to dance.

And that, the communist government says, is the problem.

It wants to ban dancing at karaoke bars in what reports have said is a bid to limit drug use.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism posted the proposed ban on its website last month and invited public comment on the move, its latest attempt to clamp down on lawlessness at the popular singing venues.

But at Style and other neon-lit clubs on Su Van Hanh street, the heart of karaoke entertainment in the city formerly known as Saigon, the proposal is dismissed as unworkable.

“I think it’s not feasible because these people who go to karaoke want to relieve their stress,” says Dang Duy Thanh, the gel-haired manager of Style.

“If we just force them to stay there singing without feeling comfortable, that’s not right”.

Le Anh Tuyen, head of the culture ministry’s legal department, reportedly sees things differently.

Tuyen, who five years ago warned that karaoke was linked to prostitution, was quoted by the VietnamNet news website last month as saying the drug ecstasy would be used in karaoke rooms if dancing was not banned.

“Ecstasy always goes with wine and music,” he said. “In my opinion, karaoke is a cultural activity which is always latent with social evils.”

Tuyen did not respond to AFP’s requests for an interview.

Ecstasy became popular around the world at “rave” dance parties.

Tuyen told VietnamNet the government has statistics about the use of ecstasy at karaoke bars, but the report gave no data.

“I’m sure the real number of cases is higher than in our statistics. Evils will not be prevented without banning dancing,” he was quoted as saying. “In our country, karaoke often goes with ecstasy and prostitution.”

Karaoke workers on Su Van Hanh street said ecstasy could be found in some clubs — but not theirs.

“Not all karaokes allow the use of ecstasy,” says Thanh, whose club targets middle to higher-class customers and charges about double the room rate of nearby singing clubs like Karaoke K-T.

“This is what we call ‘family karaoke’,” said Pham Ngoc Khanh, 40, a staffer at K-T.

He said the business, open for several years, has a loyal following of civil servants, students and workers.

“It is not karaoke with what we call ‘social evils’.”

Clubs in other parts of the city might be more prone to vice, he said.

“It’s not right to ban us from dancing in karaoke clubs,” said one K-T customer, who arrived with a laptop bag on his shoulder. “Maybe they should ban dance bars where they have prostitutes. If they just make a general ban on dancing in karaokes, it’s not reasonable.”

The customer declined to give his name.

Khanh, the K-T worker, said karaoke was a popular form of entertainment and a ban on dancing would be “a bit strange” for customers trying to relax.

Karaoke was introduced to Vietnam in the early 1990s. The bars are now found throughout the socially conservative nation, even in remote mountainous villages.

“It’s impossible” to ban dancing, says Dang Duc Han, standing in a T-shirt, his arms folded, outside the Karaoke 64 club he manages.

If people feel in the mood they will dance, Han says as customers ride up on their motorcycles, and a child with a toy bicycle brushes against his leg.

In 2006 Vietnam banned alcohol in karaoke bars — but in practice drinking continues — while a year earlier it stopped issuing licences for bars, karaoke parlours and dance halls.

Earlier draft legislation even called for karaoke clubs to be shut down, after Tuyen said many served as brothels.

In his interview with VietnamNet, Tuyen admitted inspectors were not able to check karaoke clubs very often and said “people themselves must obey the rules”.

Khanh, of Karaoke K-T, said officials have lost touch with reality.

“They have been sitting in a high position for quite some time,” he said. “They are not realistic.”

Ngo Thi Bao Ngoc, 28, a black-stockinged staffer at the Style club, said that as the number of karaokes proliferates, authorities have a hard time controlling them.

“They get confused and they don’t know how to deal with it,” she said.

Serious business owners will not want ecstasy on their premises because it damages their reputation while bringing no benefit, and banning dancing would not work, Ngoc said.

“Dancing is understandable. There is no reason to ban it,” she said.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gLSNbEd-_gWO4du-v0G62WUVbYlQ

Vietnam dog slaughterhouses shut on health fears

A dog slaughterhouse is seen in Hanoi

A dog slaughterhouse is seen in Hanoi

May 18, 2009

HANOI (AFP) — Authorities in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi have temporarily closed at least a dozen dog slaughterhouses on fears their unclean conditions may help spread cholera bacteria to people, an official said Monday.

Dog meat is a popular dish in Vietnam.

It was unclear when the slaughterhouses in Hanoi’s suburban Duong Noi would be allowed to resume operations, local official Nguyen Thi Thuc told AFP, without providing more details.

The health ministry said on its website that cholera bacteria had been found in the slaughterhouses.

Cholera is spread through unsafe food.

Eight northern cities and provinces are presently hit by outbreaks of acute diarrhoea, including hundreds of cases of suspected cholera, officials and press reports said.

Communist Vietnam has a longstanding problem with food safety and hygiene.

In March and April last year the country battled cholera outbreaks which hit Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and 16 other provinces. More than 100 people were infected but no fatalities were reported.

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection transmitted through water or food contaminated with the bacteria vibrio cholera. It causes diarrhoea and dehydration and can lead to kidney failure and death if untreated.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gPvU1dpchbTpUk9ibSxhQPrz4JuA