The Government has enacted several laws in order to promote infrastructure development especially through private investment. The latest one, Decree 15/2015/ND-CP on public-private partnership investment (the PPP Decree), was very promising regarding the forms of contract concerned, the various sectors targeted, the State support or participation and tender requirements. As a matter of fact, its enforcement revealed that more efforts were needed to achieve a successful PPP program.
To implement the PPP Decree, many documents were adopted in various sectors: project development procedures with Circular 02/2016/TT-BKHDT and Decision No. 06/2016/TT-BKHDT issued by the Ministry of Planning and Investment; financial management of PPP projects with Circular 55/2016/TT-BTC issued by the Ministry of Finance; power and energy tackled by the Ministry of Industry and Trade in Circular 23/2015/TT-BCT and Circular 38/2015/TT-BCT and finally transport sector with Circular 86/2015/TT-BGTVT issued by the Ministry of Transport.
Transparency and clearance of the PPP program
The issues remaining after the PPP Decree implementation concern the viability gap funding (VGF) and the project development fund (PDF) which differentiate PPP projects from Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) ones. Indeed, through availability payments incurred for PPP project, private operators are guaranteed with a profitable VGF regardless of the users’ fees and of the time before being profitable. Regulations on VGF and PDF should be established in order to fully control the PPP scheme.
Furthermore, infrastructure projects do not necessarily have to comply with PPP requirements since other contracts may be less demanding in terms of obligations and using incentives stated in the Investment Law of 2015. The idea, within the PPP program, is to attract private investors such as banks or credit institutions into financing highly-efficient projects and therefore relieving the State from the projects’ funding. This implies granting of more incentives to motivate foreign and local non-state banks.
Under the former regime concerning BOT contracts, a double licensing system was necessary for investors to qualify at selection stage and then for approval of the project and their own capacity. The new PPP Decree does not clarify the process therefore a simplified procedure should be adopted.
Some difficulties, stated during the development of the drafts of the PPP Decree, are restraining project lenders. The first one concerns the impossibility of a mortgage on land use right for foreign contractors in BOT contracts and the issue regarding the interpretation of the land law. A provision of this law stipulates that a mortgage of land use rights is only possible if all land rents have been paid, whereas in BOT contracts land is granted for free. The Government decided then that a mortgage under this circumstance was impossible as no rent has been paid. The PPP Decree seems to allow payment of a nominal rent but this does not solve the mortgage problem for BOT foreign contractors. A practical provision should allow a certain land security for private investors.
Uncertainty regarding Government’s guarantees
Another concern tackles the guarantee on convertibility and remittability of VND income. Without such a guarantee, some BOT projects would not be bankable and sponsors even with the guarantee of exchange rate might be left with a residual risk of unconvertible income. A clear position on guarantees of exchange rates for project with VND revenues would remove the uncertainty.
The governing law for projects with a foreign contracting party or guaranteed by a competent authority in case the parties are two Vietnamese entities, may be a foreign law if not contradictory to the Vietnamese conflict of law rules. There is an uncertainty as whether the Government guarantees offtake or revenues for PPP projects or contracts under foreign or international law.
Furthermore, projects in sectors such as transport, renewable energy as well as traditional thermal power projects should be prioritized and if PPP projects’ proposals were not satisfactory, this implies to attract more foreign investors to develop sustainable projects. In this idea, the Vietnamese Government should financially support projects through guarantees or profitable VGF. In addition, establishing new guidelines on the preparation of PPP program will enhance projects’ planning and financing.
Opportunities within the PPP program
Many PPP projects are signed or about to be signed and all information related to PPP programs are compiled in a dedicated website provided by the Ministry of Planning and Investment and the Authorized State Agencies (ASAs), the latest also having its own list of projects. Achieving a successful PPP program and promoting infrastructure development in Vietnam require more efforts which could start with letting investors choose between PPP Decree and Investment Law. Indeed, imposing the PPP Decree as the exclusive way of developing infrastructure would be counter-effective regarding economy competitiveness.
As power demand is increasing in Vietnam, coal-fired power projects are under negotiations to be set in place for the time renewable energy will be sufficient to replace coal-fired energy. Due to the Paris Agreement, private investors in the coal-fired power sector will be getting rarer to turn to green energy projects.
Finally, the road sector is vital for economy and climate and yet, the risk allocation and concession principles as well as precisions on the bidding process are still expected in the Vietnamese legislation. Those issues should be solved to allow foreign investors’ involvement in the development of transport infrastructure.
Outlook on the EVFTA
As the EVFTA, officially signed on December 2nd 2015, is expected to enter into force by January 2018, many consequences will emerge. Concerning access to market, Vietnam will be in a privileged situation as the only country of South-East Asia (except for Singapore which does not stand as a direct concurrent) to have signed such an agreement. Both Vietnam and the EU will access a market of hundreds of millions people.
Besides, Vietnam and the EU’s commitments go further than the World Trade Organization’s ones especially in power/energy sector, maritime transport which shows a real effort to create the most sustainable and profitable environment for business and investment. In this idea, the Vietnamese legislation has been amended to become investor-friendly like the Law on Enterprises, the Investment Law and the PPP Decree. Some regulations still need development or implementation but we can expect new provisions and legislation with the entry into force of the EVFTA.
Most important issues
– The impossibility of a mortgage on land use rights for BOT foreign contractors must be rearranged urgently by allowing a certain form of land or building security to insure BOT projects.
– The licensing procedure for BOT investors and contractors should be simplified and regulations on VGF and PDF should be provided.
– A review of the Government’s guarantees and conditions of granting guarantees should be established as to avoid investors’ discouragement at the preparation phase.
– Investment in coal-fired sector might become rarer due to the Paris Agreement which encourages investment in green energy.
– The road sector investment is uncertain when it should be supported to allow foreign investors’ involvement in transport infrastructure development.