Legal changes bolster market economy reform_Dec 2013

The National Assembly concluded a busy year which included the ratification of a revised Constitution, the Land Law and the Law on Public Procurement. It is expected the new laws will help develop a more liberal economy.

Le Net at LNT & Partners law firm takes a look at the developments and their anticipated effects.

Revised and Restated Constitution

The 1992 Constitution was revised after more than 20 years of Vietnam’s economic reform process. Once again, it underlines the leading role of the Communist Party, the state sector as the foundation of the economy and the notion that land belongs to the whole nation and is administered by the state. The new constitution states that private and foreign-invested sectors are granted equal rights to set up and run their businesses. The state sector is supported and maintained only in core industries.

The Constitution allocated more powers to the National Assembly and president. The National Assembly is now vested with the right to decide on national fiscal and monetary policy. The president has the power to appoint deputy prime ministers or ministers as proposed by the National Assembly, appoint high-ranking officials and high court judges. The Constitution also clarifies the power of the People’s Procuracy and establishes the State Auditing Agency.

The Constitution stipulates that any “unconstitutional” acts shall be resolved. The Constitution can be seen as a positive move towards the constitutional rule of law.

Three major legal changes should help liberalise the economy further

New Land Law

The new Land Law, which replaces the 2003 legislation, addressed concepts of landed property and compulsory purchases or seizures – a huge source of dispute in the last decade – particularly after notorious cases in Haiphong and Hung Yen. The new Land Law specifies the instances in which such compulsory seizures may occur, which mainly relate to ODA projects, infrastructure development or social housing projects. Moreover, the land price or land pricing method shall be decided by the state with an aim to limit its affect on the real estate market. In addition to land prices and compensation, the new Land Law reduces the scope for amended land zoning planning. The law clearly states that once zoning has been approved, it cannot be changed except under special cases. It is hoped that this strict rule will avoid unplanned urbanisation and the exploitation of those that control land allocations before real investors with fiancial capacity have an opportunity to invest.

The law introduces two concepts: a land price table and particular land price. While the land price table is introduced once every five years, the particular land price will be determined on a case-by-case basis, by a land valuation committee based on the land price table and market price. The land price table is used to calculate land compensation and land use fees for individuals or households, whereas the particular land price is used for land compensation and land use fees for economic organisations or foreign-invested enterprises.

An important part of the Land Law is devoted to land compensation payments and clearances. The law allows provincial people’s committees to determine land prices for compensation and provides a timeline for voluntary land compensation in the case of land recovery, following which the state could apply for a forced land clearance. The compensation is prioritised in the form of land compensation and, only when there is no land available, would monetary compensation be applied. The law also requires the land developer to propose a relocation project before implementing land compensation.

Foreigners and overseas Vietnamese are now allowed to receive land use right certificates if they are allowed to buy houses or apartments adjacent to land pursuant to the Law on Housing. It does not affect the right of foreign-invested enterprises to obtain land use right certificates for industrial land or residential land projects. The new law also maintains the status quo for projects that have already been granted freehold or leasehold status before the introduction of the new law on July 1, 2014.

New Public Procurement Law

The Law of Public Procurement, also effective from July 1, 2014, is introduced with the aim of reducing waste and corruption in public procurement, as well as encouraging private-public partnerships. The new law supplements new methods in the assessment of bids, including bidding concentration and tendering in specialist industries such as pharmaceuticals and medical equipment. Bid concentration is a new feature of this Law on Public Procurement, which authorises the project owner to organise bids for a single professional purchaser instead of multiple suppliers. This process may expedite the public procurement process while maintaining control over cost over-runs and co-ordination among the suppliers. The law implements and combines widely recognised international public procurement principles with local experience in relation to public procurement issues.

To enhance the efficiency of public procurement, the law hands bid appointments down to ministries or provincial people’s committees, rather than the prime minister. The decision-maker will also have to answer to supervisory authorities, to the public, and project owners.

To reduce the price adjustments or project cost over-run problems, the Law on Public Procurement prioritises fixed price methods. If other methods are used, such as lump sum unit price or adjusted unit price, then the bid decision-maker must explain why the selected method of public procurement is preferred vis-à-vis fixed price contracts.

In short, the three laws earmarked by the National Assembly mark a bold step towards stronger reforms to confer more supervisory powers and reduce the abuse of power, waste and corruption, while recognising the importance of professional and uniform executors.

All eyes are now on how the new laws will be implemented.

By Vietnam Law Insight, LNT & Partners.

Disclaimer: This Briefing is for information purposes only. Its contents do not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as detailed advice in individual cases. For more information, please contact us or visit the website: Http://LNTpartners.com

Tender law offers value for contractors’ money

The National Assembly on November 26, 2013 adopted the Law on Tendering [refered to in VIR#1155 as the Law on Public Procurement], which is expected to encourage a more competitive environment for government bid packages. Le Net and Thai Huynh Ngoc Kim Ngan at LNT & Partners take some highlights.

The Law on Tendering will come into effect on 1 July 2014. Notable changes include the repealing of Section 1, Chapter VI of the Law on Construction (No. 16/2003/QH11) and Article 2 of the Law Amending and Supplementing a Number of Articles of the Law relating to Capital Construction Investment (No. 38/2009/QH12). With these changes, the new law will resolve the overlaps between the Law on Tendering and other laws such as the Law on Construction.

Aimed at addressing certain loopholes and issues related to the current legal framework on procurement, the new Law on Tendering was intended to provide new provisions to clarify these issues. It devotes a separate chapter to each of the following subjects:

Selection via online or e-procurement mechanisms to help simplify the bidding process and implement legislative information disclosure requirements for better transparency throughout the bidding process and project implementation;

Several options, including application of modified criteria (specifically on cost and contractor qualifications), in the evaluation of bidding dossiers by bidding organisers; and

Involvement of foreign contractors being made subject to two new conditions; namely, that they must (i) work in partnership with a Vietnamese company or sub-contract a local company; and (ii) employ only foreign workers when there are no qualified Vietnamese workers available for the project.

As such, the amended provisions are also designed to support local contractors participating in international projects. In addition, the Law on Tendering also includes many new terms and some new principles that aim to actively enhance competitiveness, decentralise public procurement and promote anti-corruption measures. It also introduces a new scope of application for official development assistance (ODA) projects. It is expected that the implementing regulations will rein in ODA projects to a more efficient level. Ideally, the regulations aim to determine the steps towards controlling procurement activities, ensuring fairness between the parties, and limiting corruption.

There are two examples where the Law on Tendering has proven its efficiency.

Total estimated costs and the procedure for bidding supplements

During the process of implementing the winning package, contractors often apply to adjust costs of the project scale related to the bid cost adjustment. Actual evidence shows that many projects are won by bids that are deliberately lower, but which later apply for an adjustment in the scale of investment leading to increased levels of investment. Therefore, this new regulation is intended to overcome this issue, through the appointment of sub-contractors via bidding. As a result, this regulation should contribute to restricting wastage of the state budget.

Responsibility of competent persons in bidding and direct appointment of contractor

Regarding the determination of competent persons, the regulation as described in Article 4(3) is a step forward. This allows quick decisions to be made on small packages. To avoid the downside of this regulation, the responsibility of the authorised individual is clearly defined. As a result, this restricts the abuse of power by an authorised individual, closes a loophole and creates a healthier bidding environment.

However, apart from progress on this issue, there remain a number of practical issues that should be supplemented and rectified in the decrees implementing the law.

Broad definition of state capital

The provisions of the applicable object are always a matter of controversy and present an interesting point. This law provides that procurement activities include “implementation of investment projects developed by organisations other than those specified in points a and b of this paragraph may use state capital, capital of state-owned enterprises, 30 per cent or more or less than 30 per cent but more than VND500 billion in total investment of the project be approved”.

Article 4(44), closely outlines the definition of “state capital”. The law defines state capital to include both equity and loan capital for the purposes of this provision, including capital of state owned enterprises or loans that are guaranteed by the state or secured against state assets. Due to this broad definition, most private public partnership projects (PPP) may fall into the scope of this application, because most public infrastructure projects may require state guarantees.

Consequently, the status of state capital under this law poses a great challenge to the current legal framework. As a result, different types of “state capital” outside the traditional meaning of “state capital” will be restricted. The broad application of this law may further delay the implementation of many projects to organise tendering, such as joint ventures between foreign investors and state owned enterprises, or PPP projects in which the state participates.

Race to the bottom

Time is not the only concern with the Law on Tendering. Quality is also an issue because it could be compromised by cost. Assessment methodology bids as described in Article 38 (1) of the Law on Tendering introduced lowest cost methods. This method is commonly used in a number of developing countries. However, in theory, businesses cannot simultaneously meet the multiple requirements of better quality and cheaper prices. Regrettably, the new law still follows the “cheap price” approach, which may turn out to be expensive in the long run because of low product quality.

The low price approach may also be paralysed by price adjustment provisions in the granting of the project. We understand that an adjustment in prices is “unavoidable” because the country’s macro-economy is still unstable. However, the particular price may be flexible, but the total price should be fixed, since all the risks, such as the escalating price of materials and labour costs, should be taken into account in the bidding price from the start. In reality, the adjustment of prices has led to the situation where the prices of all projects have been driven up to levels higher than the bids with many contractors intentionally delaying the construction process to have the prices adjusted.

Managing direct appointment of contractors

The method for the direct appointment of contractors should reflect real world practices but at the same time, promote openness, transparency and prevention of corruption in the bidding process. This is a significant change from the former Law on Tendering in that it now prescribes fixed price, cost evaluation and technical and cost methods.

The consideration should also be made when adding provisions that ensure objectivity, transparency, efficiency and limiting of corruption to the lowest price method. For that purpose, the law provides that the direct appointment should be adopted in simple or small-scale cases. However, what packages should be deemed as simple or small-scale? The current regulations are quite unclear, leading to several interpretations and different applications. Therefore, this should be further considered when applied in reality.

In addition, this new regulation resolves situations where projects win the bid but fail to meet their deadline because contractors lack capacity (only winning the bid on the basis of lowest price alone). The weight given to the lowest bid as a decisive factor and failing to take into account other factors, is a main cause for faulty and low quality projects. This new regulations also prove that selection of contractors should not only be based on the “lowest bid” but also take into account contractor capacity, qualifications and experience, and sources of supply. However, the regulations on evaluating contractors should further focus on contractor capacity because “quality of the project as the first and foremost priority”.

Overall, there are many positive improvements in the new Law on Tendering, and an intention to enhance investment efficiency and reduce corruption.

By Vietnam Law Insight, LNT & Partners.

Disclaimer: This Briefing is for information purposes only. Its contents do not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as detailed advice in individual cases. For more information, please contact us or visit the website: Http://LNTpartners.com

Is it time to impose a levy on house?

As planned, Law on House and Land Tax will be reviewed and adopted by the National Assembly at its 7th Meeting (held in May 2010) and will be effective from 1 January 2012.

However, according to Head of Economy Committee of the National Assembly, Mr. Ha Van Hien, many delegates of the National Assembly have yet to “agree” on the levy on houses. From Mr. Hien’s explanation, during the construction of a house, construction materials have to be levied, and an amount of money has to be paid for the use of the land; therefore, the levy on houses will lead to an overlap against multiple taxes.

The authorities in charge of drafting and verifying the law in question maintain their viewpoint

Notwithstanding Mr. Hien’s explanation, the National Assembly’s Budget and Finance Committee (the one verifying the draft Law on House and Land Law) and the authority drafting such law maintain their viewpoint that houses should be levied on the reason that imposing a levy on houses will help to enhance management work as well as gradually and reasonably control and regulate payments into the state budget. The collection of taxes on houses also helps to limit speculation in houses, especially condominiums. Since the tax rate proposed in the draft law is not high, and subjects on which the levy will be imposed are narrowed, the majority of citizens have yet been affected by such law. In addition, the application of tax on houses will not result in an overlap among tax types for taxes on houses, and land is considered as a tax on property which is independent from other tax types.

The National Assembly’s Budget and Finance Committee has proposed two solutions: the first solution is only collecting house taxes against second houses or houses thereon owned by the same person at the rate of 0.03%. This solution helps to assure each citizen a house. The second solution is to impose a levy on the first house but the house’s value subject to house tax will be increased up to 1 billion dong instead of 500 million dong as proposed in the draft Law on House and Land Tax submitted to the National Assembly. With this solution and from the calculation of the Minister of the Ministry of Finance, Mr. Vu Van Ninh, the majority of people having houses in rural and urban areas of 400m2 for Level I houses or more or Level II houses will be excluded from paying this tax.

Concerns still remain

Nevertheless, the Standing Deputy Head of the Bar Association of Ha Noi City, Mr. Nguyen Hong Tuyen, following careful review of the 15 articles in this draft law, commented that the drafters have not taken today’s citizens’ living standards and conditions into consideration. One of the purposes of constructing this law is to restrict the speculation in houses and land, yet there are few provisions that “target” speculators as opposed to citizens. Agreeing with this opinion, Dr. Tran Du Lich, Deputy Group Leader of the National Assembly’s delegation of Ho Chi Minh City and economic expert, asserted that imposing tax on houses may not be implemented for the time being – perhaps not even in 10 years’ time – since the annual average income of citizens still stands low at approximately US$1,000.

Following analysis of these two solutions proposed by the National Assembly’s Budget and Finance Committee, Head of the Committee for People’s Aspiration, Mr. Tran The Vuong, still has many concerns. In his opinion, the first solution will soon show its impracticality when some people only own one house but its value is ten times the value of other houses. Regarding the second solution, a housing tax based on house values will lead to many complicated problems. For example, “what will happen if House A is valued at 1 billion dong early that year but its value drops down to 700 million dong later in the same year due to the then frozen real estate market? My concern is that there will be a lot of complaints when this law is applied.”

The National Assembly’s Head of Economy Committee, Mr. Ha Van Hien, expressed: “Our people’s livelihood is still low and officers’ incomes are low too; therefore, it is essential to limit payments…”

In order to reasonably settle the collection of tax on houses and lands, Dr. Le Net, Founding Partner of LNT & Partners Law Firm, recommended that the State should only collect housing tax from the commercial realm to restrict the speculation in houses and lands. Particularly, heavy taxes should be imposed on those who buy and sell houses repeatedly. The closer the period between selling and buying, the higher the tax rate should be. For example, someone owns land and wants to sell it immediately for profit. To limit these types of purely commercial transactions, the State may possibly impose a heavy levy on the first transfer thereof within 1 year (i.e., 50% of the discrepancy between selling and buying prices). The rate shall be 30% for the second year’s transaction and shall be reduced on a yearly basis. If this succeeds, trading in houses and lands in such a “sliding” manner will certainly be decreased. The collection of tax on houses on a large scale from the second house or more should only be carried out in the future when the citizens’ livelihood has been improved. Upon application of the Law on Personal Income Tax (PIT), houses have become a type of property made from the disposable income of each individual after PIT. If any levy is imposed on the only house, “the overlap among tax types” is inevitable. For the collection of tax from the second house or more, however, the houses’ areas should not be used for tax calculation. Instead, such collection should be based on a particular location of each house. This is because for houses in Vietnam in general, especially those in urban areas, the location of a house will decide its value. A 100-square meter house on Hang Dao Street, Hoan Kiem District, Ha Noi will certainly cost approximately similar to ten similar houses in Dong Anh district.

Issues about houses and land as property are sensitive as they directly affect every citizen. Therefore, the application of an additional tax will probably causes disagreements. What is more, it is a proven fact that controlling housing areas and valuation for tax calculation is quite complicated, while conditions for implementing them are not available. For this reason, it is preferable to collect tax on land first, not houses. This also reflects the opinion of the Vice President of Vietnam Fatherland Front Committee of Ha Noi City, Mr. Dang Viet Quan.

By Vietnam Law Insight, LNT & Partners.

Disclaimer: This Briefing is for information purposes only. Its contents do not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as detailed advice in individual cases. For more information, please contact us or visit the website: Http://LNTpartners.com