Secrets behind using state budget to save losing private BOTs

Vietnamese leading officials have repeatedly asked the United States and Western countries to recognize Vietnam as having a market economy, with the hope of receiving economic support and incentives. But until now its requested has not been met.

According to the standards of the US Government and Western countries, a market economy does not accept “strong state involvement in the economy.”

Nguoi Lao Dong Newspaper on March 21 raised the question “Why spend VND10.65 trillion ($4.2 billion) to save 8 BOT projects?” This is one of the latest examples of the Vietnamese state intervening in the economy, which will create unfair competition.

The news of Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper said that the Ministry of Transport has just submitted a report to the Government, proposing solutions to handle difficulties and obstacles in 8 transport infrastructure investment projects in the form of BOT with a total cost of VND10.65 trillion.

According to experts, this is not a new thing. Previously, the Vietnamese Government saving BOT projects happened regularly. The most recent evidence is that, in a proposal to report to the Government, reported by state media on May 15, 2023, the Ministry of Transport also proposed to spend VND10.34 trillion of budget money to buy back 5 BOT project and bought part of 3 other BOT projects that encountered difficulties.

BOT is the abbreviation of the English words: Build-Operate-Transfer. Accordingly, national governments call on private companies to invest capital in infrastructure construction first, through bidding. After that, these companies will operate for a period of time, then transfer these projects back to the state.

In a market economy, businesses are governed by the principle of “profit and loss.” That is why, economic experts agree that BOT projects are private investment capital. If they incur losses, businesses must handle them themselves and cannot be saved with state budget money.

Professor Dang Hung Vo – former Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, when answering Radio Free Asia (RFA), said:

“This proposal is completely unreasonable, because its starting point is a BOT project, where BOT capital means investment with private capital and fees collected during operation. Whatever the starting point, once approved, you must do exactly that. State budget must be used for other things, not to save private BOTs. This is a proposal that is not only unreasonable, but frankly absurd.”

Public opinion finds that the Government’s use of state budget to save loss-making private enterprises is unacceptable. Furthermore, this is an expression of “group benefits.”

There are many opinions on social networks saying that the reason the Government “saved” BOT projects is because “most BOT projects have shares or capital contributions from state officials”. Or “using the state budget to compensate for losses in projects that private enterprises have invested in is just a form of withdrawing money from the budget for private sharing.”

It is known that BOT projects have long been a “money mine” for high-ranking Party officials and their families. The family of former General Secretary Nong Duc Manh and his latest wife Do Thi Huyen Tam are a typical example of how business of BOT projects brings huge profits.

Journalist Huy Duc, aka Facebooker Truong Huy San, on September 14, 2017 wrote on his personal page, affirming that:

“Before 2013, Do Thi Huyen Tam was in a state of loss and debt, to the point that the bank was listed as special control. However, for some reason, her group was still assigned two BOT projects: Upgrading and repairing Phap Van-Cau Gie expressway and the project to build the Ha Long-Van Don expressway and renovate and upgrade National Highway 18 section Ha Long-Mong Duong.”

Accordingly, the Phap Van-Cau Gie section, phase one is only “renovated and upgraded”, still has 4 lanes, is priced at VND1.974 trillion, completed in 2015; Phase 2, expanded to 6 lanes, VND4.213 trillion, completed in 2018.

Still according to journalist Huy Duc:

“From being in huge debt  but after receiving 2 BOT projects, she paid of all her debts. Look at the bare living room of Tam and her husband today, to see the nature of BOT. That money is the people’s money, our money, not Dinh La Thang’s money.”

In early February 2024, about 30 US lawmakers called on the Biden administration not to recognize market economy status for Vietnam. But on March 21, according to Tuoi Tre newspaper, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh asked American businesses to have a strong voice with the US Government, hoping the US would soon recognize market economy status for Vietnam.

This shows that the views of PM Chinh and Hanoi’s leadership are totally different from the views of the United States and the West.


Tra My –