Caught between a rock and a hard place
According to Jean Tran Thanh Van who is chairman of the Rencontres du Vietnam Association, when he returned to Vietnam from France 10 years ago to establish ICISE, Mr. Vu Hoang Ha--former Secretary of Binh Dinh Provincial Party Committee had promised to assign him 14.6ha of land, exempted from all leases and taxes in Quy Hoa valley, Quy Nhon City to support his cause.
However, the Tax Department of Quy Nhon City has repeatedly been demanding tax money imposed on the piece of land along with late-payment penalties. Talking to SGGP’s reporter, Jean Tran Thanh Van said the ground was and has been used for educational, scientific and environmental purposes, and not to be exploited for profit whatsoever.
Mr. Dao Huu Phuc, Deputy Director in charge of the Tax Department of Binh Dinh Province, told the outlet: “Previously, Quy Nhon City Tax Department had only issued tax notices as a procedure without actually collecting any money. While waiting for the Prime Minister and relevant ministries to consider the case, however, Region 3 Audit team’s trip to Binh Dinh recently has concluded that ICISE cannot be exempted from land value taxes. The ground beneath the center must be listed in the national Tax Management System (TMS), forcing Quy Nhon Tax Department to issue notices of tax collection. Currently, ICISE’s tax debt has reached nearly VND6 billion (US$258,000)”.
Answering the media, Mr. Vu Hoang Ha said: “In the past, I was very appreciative of Tran Thanh Van and his wife’s intention to invest in a science center here in Vietnam and I felt that it would be in accordance with socialization requirements. Wanting to support them, I promised to spare them the land value taxes and leases. However, it turns out the Standing Committee of the National Assembly has never issued any decree specifically for science facilities”.
According to Jean Tran Thanh Van, since its inception in 2013, ICISE has organized nearly 60 international science conferences and 16 thematic science schools, which saw the attendance of about 5,500 scientists worldwide. Among them, there are 12 Nobel laureates, 2 Fields medal winners, 2 Kavli laureates, and 1 Dirac medal winner, among others.
An exclusive policy is required
According to Mr. Vu Hoang Ha, the ICISE project is unprecedented, one that is not listed as being exempt from land leases. However, during their visit to Binh Dinh and ICISE, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Standing Committee Secretary Tran Quoc Vuong agreed that there should be an exclusive preferential policy for ICISE project. Thereby, the Standing Committee of the National Assembly had handed over to the Prime Minister the decision on exempting land value tax for ICISE.
However, in documents of couseling to the Chairman of Binh Dinh Provincial People's Committee, provincial departments have yet to state whether or not ICISE is practicing business. As a result, the Ministry of Finance has repeatedly declined Jean Tran Thanh Van and Binh Dinh province’s written applications for a tax-free policy.
On July 1st, when talking with SGGP’s reporters, Mr. La Van Thinh, Director of the Department of Public Management under the Ministry of Finance said his agency only issue policies as per usual regulations. Binh Dinh’s provincial agencies are the ones responsible for determining whether that piece of land follows Prime Minister's Decision No. 1466/QD-TTG. He added that, according to the documents and reports Binh Dinh Provincial People's Committee sent to the Prime Minister, the ICISE project is still not eligible for exemption of land value taxes.
Vietnamese law currently does not have any regulation on scientific socialization, said Prof. Dr. Dang Hung Vo, former Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment. However, according to him, Jean Tran Thanh Van’s case can also be exempt as a direct order from the Prime Minister. Therefore, local agencies and ministries need to report this case to the Prime Minister in an urgent manner.