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by Hoan K. Trinh

Dan Oan  is literally translated as “innocent citizen”.  This term came about due to the failed struggle of Vietnamese citizens to hold onto their land from the expanding Vietnamese industrial society.  The situation that Vietnam’s Dan Oan are under is not particularly unique in any growing society, but perhaps the way that it is being handled by the Vietnamese government is not ordinary under any theory of common sense.

The issue that plague Vietnam’s Dan Oan is essentially an eminent domain issue.  This is a very common issue in the United States as well as other parts of the world.  Eminent domain posed a very simple question: when can the government transfer and/or use private land to further economic development?

Now a little lack of anger management and foresight might reply that the government cannot transfer away private land under any circumstances, period!  So if your house sit in front of a highway construction project, the public will have to pay for that highway to go around your house even though it might be a lot cheaper to go right through it.  That could be considered a little selfish, don’t you think?  Well, I can assure you that Vietnam’s Dan Oan did not have that option.

A more reasonable approach with better anger management might be that the government can transfer and/or use private land if and only if it is for the purpose of serving a public good (taking  land for individual profit is a no-no) and that I will be fairly compensated for my loss.  One can see that this is a pretty efficient approach when it comes to public projects that may require the use of private land.  Now, we can argue what should be considered a public goods or what is fair compensation on a case by case basis, but I believe this is a very reasonable approach to the issue.  Having one person or a small group of people holding the up the economic development for the good of the public is inefficient and unfair.  However, to take away a person property without a public cause and without fair compensation would be extremely unfair to those who have to give up their property.

So common sense tell us that if the government want to take private land, it must ensure that the land will be for a public cause and the people would be fairly compensated for their loss.  Fair enough?

Recently (as in today), there has been uproar as 2000-4000 Vietnamese police officers move in to forcefully evict farmers of their land in Van Giang.  Well, the first question you have to ask is whether or not the purpose of taking over of the property actually serves a public good in any manner?

The land taken in Van Giang is to be used for an economic development project known as Ecopark.  Ecopark’s introduction letter on its website includes the following:

Ecopark is being created by leading urban development experts (Viet Hung Urban Development and Investment – Vihajico) and demonstrates our commitment to Vietnam’s real estate market. We have listened to our customers and adopted a sustainable, environmentally-friendly approach as the foundation for urban development.

Located on 500 hectares to the south east of Vietnam’s capital – Hanoi, Ecopark is currently under construction and set to become a model township, with a comprehensive range of facilities including commerce, service and culture. In addition, during the first few years the investor will also focus on developing healthcare, education and tourism facilities. As a result, Ecopark will provide the strong development momentum needed for the key economic axis of Hanoi – Hung Yen – Hai Duong – Hai Phong.

Our first real estate products have recently been launched onto the market and have received a significant level of customer interest. We are keenly aware that the success of Ecopark very much depends on us providing a suitable living environment and added value for our customers. The first phase of Ecopark is scheduled to be completed within the next three years, when the green city will welcome its first residents. Green developments such as Vuon Tung and Vuon Mai will offer some of the most convenient and comfortable living environments. Rung Co will offer a range of modern apartments. While, Pho Truc will be the place for those wishing to develop their business, tourism or food brands and services. All of these developments are being carried out with energy and enthusiasm to meet our customers’ expectations.

We hope that the latest information and images of Ecopark available on this website will demonstrate both our commitment to our customers and progress of the development.

From the introduction letter above, one has to question the public benefit that might derived from this venture.  This is certainly not the same as the building of schools or highways where the benefit to the public is clear.   From the introduction alone, it is probably fair to say that Ecopark, while it might be an interesting and worthwhile venture, it was not conceive solely for the purpose of serving the good of the public, but rather it was conceived as a business venture for the sole purpose of making profit.  This reason alone will disqualify the government from use andor transfer land from one party to another.

For the purpose of the next analysis, we will assume that Ecopark was conceived for the purpose of of serving the public and not for private gain.  Then the next question that needs to be answered is, whether or not Dan Oan are being fairly compensated for their losses.  Acccording to the Vietnam Express, the citizen of Van Giang was offered 135,000 đồng per square meter of land (approximately 75 cent per square foot ) that they are required to give up.  A quick search of land being sold around Van Giang have land prices varying from 2.2 million đồng  to 5.5 million đồng per square meter ($12.22 to $30.55 per square foot) depending on location.  It would be quite difficult to argue that Dan Oan are being fairly compensated for their losses.  Now perhaps one can understand the plight of Vietnam’s Dan Oan.


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