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Ministers of Industry, Health in hot seat during live broadcast

HA NOI — A 38-question barrage greeted Industry and Trade Minister Vu Huy Hoang as the first member of Cabinet to go before deputies in the National Assembly yesterday morning (Nov. 23).

The questions and answers – broadcast and televised live throughout the country – ranged over power outages; the slow completion of electricity-generation projects and the amount of water discharged from hydro-electricity reservoirs during floods.

The minister was also quizzed about the trade deficit; price rises for goods such as medicine and milk and the likely environmental impact of bauxite mining in the Central Highlands.

Deputy Tran Ngoc Vinh, Hai Phong, wanted to know what measures the Government would adopt to control trade deficit and prevent price "fever" between now and the end of the year.

Contractors

Deputy Vu Quang Hai, Hung Yen Province, said the public was worried about the choice of contractors because many construction and electricity-generating projects were behind schedule.

The minister attributed the slow progress to the difficulties to arrange investment, especially during the global economic contraction.

Many international and domestic investors had faced difficulties in raising capital for their projects, he said.

In addition, some power stations were unstable and this had caused a shortage of electricity.

Planning and Investment Minister Vo Hong Phuc said the planning for electricity generation was adequate but contractor capacity was not.

Investors had also been irresponsible in their choice of contractors, he said.

The minister agreed with deputy Dang Thi My Huong, central-coastal Ninh Thuan Province, that the construction of hydro-power stations had exacerbated flooding in her region.

"We will check and define the responsibilities of the relevant units," he said.

But if the hydro-electricty stations had fully complied with the strict regulations governing water discharge, the damage would have been minimal.

The Industry and Trade Ministry was now making a nation-wide review of hydro-electricity stations and would cancel the licence of any that were a risk to the environment and economic development.

The ministry was also checking and supervising the stabilisation of prices and trying to balance supply and demand to avoid shortages and the resulting higher prices.

There were understandable reasons for the high trade deficit, he said.

Viet Nam was still building and developing and the importation of equipment was inevitable. For example, the garment and textile industry had set an ambitious yearly export target of $11 billion.

Viet Nam has to import 60 per cent of the raw materials to make the garments to achieve this figure.

The Minister of Industry and Trade, backed by Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Pham Khoi Nguyen, relaxed deputies' concern over the controversial bauxite exploitation project in the Central Highlands. He reaffirmed that the project had been listed as a key project of national security, which required high safety indexes.

"The Government has entrusted the Ministry of Industry and Trade to chair a Council of Science in examining and evaluating the economic efficiency of a project to build the Nhan Co Alumina refinery. Results have shown that it is a project of high economic value after calculation on investment, management costs and market prices has finished," said the trade minister.

Medical costs

Health Minister Nguyen Quoc Trieu was asked about the high cost of medicine and hospital fees; the overcrowding of central and provincial hospitals and the development of the pharmaceutical industry during the afternoon session.

The minister told the assembly that the number of patients who had to share hospital beds daily had fallen from 15,000 in 2008 to 6,000.

But the overcrowding persisted because the training of personnel had not matched the rapid rise of the population.

In addition, the demand for health care was estimated to have increased 1.5 fold compared with the last decade.

Patients also went directly to the major hospitals rather than their local health clinics because of the perceived difference in the quality of the medical services each provided.

The health ministry had initiated a project to improve the quality of lower-level health care personnel and the transfer of technology and expertise from the centre to local facilities.

The minister told deputy Nguyen Van Tuyen, Yen Bai Province, that investment to develop new hospitals and train personnel totalled VND78 trillion ($4 billion).

Sixty-five per cent of the total capital to build new central hospitals had been distributed while provincial hospital projects received 15 per cent of their allocated budget.

Asked by deputy Le Thi Nguyet, northern Vinh Phuc Province, about the high costs of medicine, the health minister said that after the ministry's effort to stabilise the price of medicine, costs rose 3.2 per cent.

The average increase for 11 essential commodities had been 8.6 per cent by comparison.

"Investigation showed that the products which underwent a sudden rise accounted for five per cent and were part of an "imperfect market" where distributors were not sufficiently competitive to curb price fluctuations," he said.

Other countries faced the same problem and the ministry had held a workshop in an effort to find a way to stop it.

Asked by deputy Nguyen Lan Dung, Central Highland Dak Lak Province, why Viet Nam's pharmaceutical industry was still heavily dependent on foreign suppliers, Minister Trieu replied that although the amount of domestic medicines had increased five-fold during the last decade, 90 per cent of materials to make them were imported.

"Even the United States and Europe have to import most of their materials because there are 20 countries in the world that have a competitive edge when it comes to making pharmaceutical materials," he said.

But the industry could not fully develop without the accompanying development of the chemistry and biological industries.

The minister told deputy Do Manh Hung, northern Thai Nguyen Province that the number of students undertaking university education had increased 1.7 fold and the number in other tertiary institutions 1.6 fold.

"But we will see the real impact when these students graduate in six years," he said.

The deputy had asked about the shortage of trained personnel.

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