Friday, 1 May 2015

Vietnamese city transforming itself into 'Singapore'

Danang boasts a transparent, efficient govt and business-friendly policies
The Straits Times, 30 Apr 2015

HANOI - Mr Chuck Palazzo was 18 when he took his first trip outside New York City. He went to Danang, Vietnam, courtesy of the US Marines.

Forty-five years later, Mr Palazzo is back, as a tech entrepreneur contributing to the planned construction of one of South-east Asia's most modern cities.

"It is ambitious," said Mr Palazzo. "They are welcoming of foreigners. In terms of process and getting things done, Danang is by far much more friendly to businesses than Ho Chi Minh City."

In Danang, you might be forgiven for wondering how the war ended. Tourists sun themselves on the white sand in front of the Hyatt Regency resort, a few blocks from the Greg Norman-designed Danang Golf Club. Outside a supermarket which sells French baguettes and bottles of Bordeaux wine, traffic directed by IBM software flows towards the airport and the Coca-Cola factory.

Decades after the city revolved around the US military airbases, Danang is recasting itself as the Singapore of Vietnam, touting a transparent and efficient government. A building boom has transformed the landscape into a budding metropolis, ranked at or near the top of the Vietnam Provincial Competitiveness Index for good governance and business-friendly policies since 2007.

The city government spent US$4.5 billion (S$5.9 billion) on infrastructure projects in the past five years, a surge from US$1.7 billion in the previous five years, according to Danang's statistics office.

About US$60 million went into a new airport terminal, US$88 million on the striking, sail-shaped city hall and US$93 million on a three-level overpass.

Unlike the larger Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, which have much older infrastructure, Danang has the advantage of starting afresh, said Mr Tan Jee Toon, IBM's Hanoi-based Vietnam general director. "The government is very forward-looking."

The city's masterplan calls for its population to double to two million by 2020, said Mr Huynh Lien Phuong, vice-director of the Danang Investment Promotion Centre. But the government is not interested in growth at any price.

"Danang doesn't blindly compete to attract everything," said Dr Edmund Malesky, an associate professor of political economy at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

The city has turned away projects, such as a textile dye plant and a shipbuilding operation, said Mr Huynh Van Thanh, vice-director of Danang's Department of Planning and Investment.

Instead, Danang's future can be seen in the 1,130ha Danang High Tech Park, now under construction. The plans include housing for 10,000 tech workers, and international schools.

The man credited with building Danang's reputation for transparency is Mr Nguyen Ba Thanh. The controversial former chairman of the Danang People's Committee, who died in February, was often likened to Singapore's Mr Lee Kuan Yew who died a month later, said Dr Alexander Vuving, a security analyst at the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies in Hawaii.

"He was committed to turning Danang into a modern city with an effective bureaucracy," Dr Vuving said.


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