Vietnam needs an overall National Master Plan

An overall National Master Plan to be enacted under the 2017 Planning Law is currently under consideration for the first time in Vietnam. 
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Concerned officials are facing an unprecedented challenge in the making of an effective overall National Master Plan for the 2021 to 2030 period, with a vision till 2050. Planners are currently facing an uphill task due to insufficient international experience to develop such a plan, which is meant to facilitate the efficient use of all natural resources for the sustainable development of the country as a whole. Saigon Investment spoke with Mr. NGUYEN DINH CUNG, former Director of the Central Institute for Economic Management, on his views on this matter.

JOURNALIST: - Sir, what is your opinion on the making of an overall National Master Plan under the 2017 Planning Law for the first time in Vietnam?

Mr. NGUYEN DINH CUNG: - Planning is not a new process for Vietnam, but the making of a National Master Plan will be done for the first time, in accordance with the Planning Law enacted in 2017. Such a comprehensive National Master Plan would lay a solid foundation for affiliate national plans such as land use planning, marine space planning, sectoral planning, regional and provincial planning throughout the country. In short, based on the 2017 Planning Law, we are going to introduce an overall National Master Plan first, before developing more specific plans for lower levels. However, shortage of time and resources, especially human resources for planning, have been a major hindrance in making plans for higher and lower levels simultaneously.

The workload is too heavy when it comes to remedying the structural defects in development of spaces at the moment. Such problems include geographical and administrative divisions; limited regional connections; inability of provinces to make good use of their advantages; failure to set up a national infrastructure and transport infrastructure; and failure to turn available resources into regional driving forces for national development. The extremely heavy workload requires dedication and professionalism of a staff team that will be responsible for plan development and plan assessment. To be honest, this present staff team is still insufficient and quite defective, and they lack vision and breakthrough ideas. In fact, plan development is very much like playing a game of chess, in which it may sometimes take up to twenty years to make a certain move, rather than deal with immediate short-term problems. Only when a successful National Master Plan is developed will there be a fresh impetus for a significant development in the entire country.

- Sir, key economic regions are considered as the main points when it comes to making an overall National Master Plan. Key economic regions have been set up, but connection between them remains a big problem and there is still no visible incentive because these regions have not fulfilled their roles as driving forces as per expectations. What are your thoughts on this matter?

- I don't think the concept of ‘key economic regions’ is really what can be described as coming under planning. Instead, it is just gathering the neighboring cities and provinces together in a club format for annual meetings, and a few joint deals may be signed for a close friendship and in a largely symbolic sense. Also, there are too many such ‘key regions’, making it impossible to refer to some areas as really superior. In order to have effective planning, it is sometimes necessary to break up the current regional boundaries and establish new ones, depending on the market demands and advantages of each region and area, with special attention to specific goals of each area. Efforts should be focused rather than spread out thin, and policies should be tailored with specific characteristics. It should be made abundantly clear that plans must be implemented, and planning must undoubtedly be of very high quality.

- Sir, how do you think we can have high quality plans when the planning staff team is insufficient and the planning officials have to simultaneously develop plans of high and low levels so as to introduce enough plans as per schedule?

- I believe that the most important step at the moment is to strengthen the human resources in charge of planning. Plans cannot be of expected quality when different planning officials try to make different plans in a hurry. Several agencies and provinces have chosen to hire foreign consultants and raise funds from the communities for this planning. This is a correct way, but excellent foreign consultants need to be supported by domestic experts with an indepth knowledge of the local situations.

First of all, I think that we need to have good leaders, especially local ones, who are really serious about planning roles and highly dedicated and personally committed to the process of planning. They must be able to shrug off the idea of office terms and the thought of seeking favors for this or that project. What is most significant for a successful leader is an iron will and political courage that could help him refuse to approve unfeasible plans. Ultimately, the most workable plans must include non-planning interventions.

- Sir, could you please give a clear explanation of what you mean by “non-planning interventions”?

- As I said, planning is arranging spaces with proper distribution of resources. Once having decided to develop an area into a key economic region, authorized officials must courageously provide sufficient resources for the concerned cities and provinces in the region to cope with their problems, and work closely together to establish a sustainable development ecosystem. They must also be courageous enough to filter out economic trends like digital economy or environmental benefits that are inappropriate in the concerned areas. They must plan for development, based on their specific advantages and needs.

Regarding the distribution of resources, authorized planners tend to make decisions in favor of poorer regions and try to collect all the possible taxes from richer areas. Yet it would be much better to provide better resources and opportunities for areas with great potential for development, making it possible for such areas to become wealthier, thereby providing better products for other regions. The law of the market proves that investors would never try their luck in an area where they do not find any favorable opportunity for profits, no matter how low the taxes are or how low the land use fees are.

- Thank you very much.

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