It is high time for State agencies to improve the country's investment environment by creating a consistent sequence of investment procedures nationwide, heard a recent conference held by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI).

VCCI Chairman Vu Tien Loc said the country's bureaucratic investment procedures are obstructing both domestic and foreign investors who want to do business in Vietnam, holding back the country in comparison with other ASEAN members.

While once one of the most attractive investment destinations in Southeast Asia, the country is now ranked in only a modest position, Loc said at the conference, where experts and enterprises joined together to suggest administrative reforms that they believe will make the environment more attractive to investors.

Of more than 8,000 domestic enterprises and 1,500 foreign companies surveyed in 2012, 33 percent of the former and 28.3 percent of the latter found the investment licensing procedure to be the most burdensome and complicated.

These figures were announced by Dau Anh Tuan, deputy head of the VCCI's Legal Department, who also noted that often contradictory investment licensing regulations appear in five laws, 10 decrees and nine circulars.

He added that to start a project, enterprises have to complete at least 18 major administrative procedures at the ministries of Investment and Planning, Construction and Natural Resources and Environment.

These stages included seeking a location, requesting land use rights, making an environmental assessment and submitting a detailed investment plan for approval.

Tuan argued that the complicated process was not only very costly for enterprises but also made it impossible for them to set realistic time frames for their projects, creating missed business opportunities.
Deputy Chairman of the Viet Nam Contractors Association Nguyen Quoc Hiep - also the director of a real estate company - said that it once took 14 months for his business to receive investment approval from five different agencies.

"In this case everything ran smoothly and it still took a very long time. If any problems are thrown up then the time is even longer still," Hiep said.

"There are too many directive documents to provide clear guidance. They are confusing even to domestic investors like me so how can foreign investors abide by our laws?"

Tuan said that the overlaps in procedures could be attributed to a shortage of information sharing within and between State agencies.

He also acknowledged that in different localities a different sequence of procedures is often required using different documents.

He claimed that without one agency controlling the whole process there will always be a weakness in supervising and assessing domestic projects.

Maria Soo Chung, an associate of Baker & McKenzie Vietnam Ltd's Hanoi branch, said different licensing procedures exist for domestic and foreign investors.

She said that the latter will always aim to seek the simplest, shortest and most cost efficient way to carry out their investment, meaning that they will soon become frustrated if legally required to begin a long-winded certification process.
"Administrative procedures concerning project implementation, such as land, construction, imports and exports are still unclear and in some cases, incoherent and incompatible with one another," she pointed out.
"We hope that Vietnam can continue on its current path of legal reform to make administrative procedures more transparent and predictable," she stressed.

Tuan suggested the investment procedure must be simple, systematic and consistent nationwide. He said that this will help save time for both State authorities and enterprises while preventing the risk of corruption.

Nguyen Hung Hue, a representative of the Ministry of Justice's Department for Administrative Procedure Control, noted that investors are often placed in a disadvantaged position because they do not have any tool allowing them to supervise the performance of State agencies.

He too called for the removal of the existing procedural obstacles.

"It is necessary to establish and maintain only one channel to provide information about the regulations and the results of applications," he said.

Hue estimated that if the time to complete procedures is reduced by one third, enterprises can save more than 1 trillion VND (47.6 million USD) per year.-VNA