New Transport Minister Dinh La Thang can't set a deadline to eliminate traffic jams in Vietnam's biggest cities but he has promised a year-on-year decrease of 5-10 percent in traffic accidents in his five-year term.

Speaking at the Questions and Answers session of the National Assembly meeting on Nov. 23 morning with a focus on traffic safety and infrastructure, Thang said better management is the key to improving the chaotic situation, which kills 12,000 people every year on average.

State management of traffic has been very weak up to the present, resulting in poor awareness by road users, he said.

"No strict law enforcement" and "road bribes" are key factors in the previous weakness, he said.

"It's time to take immediate action, not to consider if this or that measure should be done," said Thang in reply to some deputies' concerns that the measures introduced might only be "reactionary solutions."

Since he took office three months ago, Thang, 51, has made several harsh decisions, including banning Transport Ministry employees from playing golf, changing times for offices and schools in big cities to reduce traffic congestion.

"If we wait until we have all measures in place to take action, we will never make it," he said.

However, when asked by HCM City Deputy Do Van Duong if he was brave enough to commit to eliminating "black spots" on Vietnam 's roads by 2013 to reduce 20 percent of traffic accidents, the minister avoided a direct answer.

"In the short term, we will reorganise the traffic, which can be done immediately and costs the least. Deadly spots on national roads will be reduced by lane separation to minimise the chances of head-on collisions," said Thang.

The minister also promised to tackle the poor quality and slow progress of transport infrastructure projects, which deputy Nguyen Ba Thuyen from Central Highlands Lam Dong province said were a source of traffic accidents.

The Transport Ministry will focus on good quality and transparent projects and better selection of competent management boards, consultants and contractors, he said, after many deputies expressed their dissatisfaction over the issue.

"Every single road has problems as soon as it is completed," said Bui Thi An who represents Hanoi . "Is it because of poor construction quality or theft?"

The 40km HCM City-Trung Luong Expressway project, for instance, cost nearly 9.9 trillion VND (495 million USD) but showed degradation only a year after its opening to traffic.

Minister Thang said he has suspended the manager of the HCM City-Trung Luong Expressway project and required contractors to start repairing the damages free of charge from next month until the quality is improved.

"I will do the same to other low quality projects," he said.

The minister also vowed to improve the quality of driver training through stiff measures, regularly inspecting drivers training centres and closing those found to violate regulations.

Other measures that Thang promised to the assembly included harsh actions against violations of vehicle registrations, better forecasts of the transport sector, better public transport systems and synchronous development of all types of traffic, road, water and air.

The National Assembly approved the minister's proposal to name 2012 the year of traffic safety, which will see major changes in the traffic situation.

However, according to Minister of Construction Trinh Dinh Dung, traffic congestion can hardly be reduced in the coming years due to increasing personal vehicles and shortage of investment in traffic infrastructure.

Areas allotted for traffic in Vietnam 's two major urban centres – Hanoi and HCM City – are only 8 percent of the cities' areas, compared to the international standards of 22-24 percent. The area for parking is also less than 1 percent, whereas it should be 3-5 percent.

Each square kilometre in Hanoi houses up to 25,000-36,000 people while the population density in crowded cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong is only 6,500.

The total investment for traffic in the next five years was forecast to be 70 billion USD, of which 40 percent will be covered by the State budget.

Agricultural land

The Government would do its best to ensure agricultural land is not used for other purposes, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat told the National Assembly on Nov. 23 afternoon.

He promised to ensure 3.8 million hectares of rice fields across the country in the time to come, despite concerns from deputies that this target may be too difficult in the context of climate change, urbanisation and deforestation.

In regards of land leased to foreign partners for forestation, Phat said that no more land had been let out for this purpose since 2010.

Minister of Planning and Investment Bui Quang Vinh confirmed the development, saying the total area of land leased to foreign partners is now 18,570ha across the country under contracts signed between July 2006 and March 2010.

"The land leased out is mainly bare hills. The contracts were made in a serious manner and strictly based on laws," he said.

So far, more than 13,000ha of the leased land has been covered by trees./.