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Social Headlines January 24

 Hanoi reduces sentences for 230 prisoners; Former CEOs in jail for tax evasion; Two killed in truck-train collision; Pet care services booming Tet; HCMC continues to raise poverty standards

Hanoi reduces sentences for 230 prisoners



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As many as 230 prisoners who are serving sentences at three prisons in Hanoi will get reduced jail terms under a decision announced on January 22.

Of the total, 57 prisoners will be allowed to end their sentence ahead of schedule and 173 other sentences will be shortened by 1-8 months.

At a ceremony to announce the decision, Major General Dinh Van Toan, Deputy Director of the Hanoi Police, congratulated the prisoners who have been given reduced sentences due to good behaviour.

On behalf of the prisoners who have benefitted from the decision, Vu Thi Loan expressed her gratitude to the Party and State for their clemency policy and thanked prison officials for creating conditions for them to rehabilitate successfully.-

Former CEOs in jail for tax evasion

Police in Ha Noi arrested three people on Monday on charges of tax fraud relating to the Ha Noi Liquor Joint Stock Co (Halico) .

According to Lao Dong (Labour) newspaper, Ho Van Hai, former director of Halico, together with Hoang Van Xuong and his wife Dinh Thi Minh Hoa and officers of Hoang Lan Co Ltd, were found to have falsified 26 customs documents to export Vodka to Laos between 2008 and 2012.

Nguyen Thi Quynh Trang, a Halico employee who also involved in the case, made bail to nurse her newborn infant.

The tax evasion amount is estimated at more than VND10 billion (US$480,000).

Halico is the largest vodka manufacturer in Viet Nam, commanding a majority 50 per cent share of the market.

Pet care services booming Tet

As Tet nears, Hanoian families are paying to have their pets taken care of when they leave for their hometowns.

These services are fairly new to the country and have developed in recent years. In Hanoi, along the streets of Hoang Hoa Tham, Truong Dinh and Tran Dai Nghia, pet care  centres have been full. Most customers have to book in advance.

Mrs. Phuong, the owner of a centre on Hoang Hoa Tham Street, said that this year, her establishment got more customers than last year and she had to hire more staff.

At the centres, the pets are normally given baths, have their nails cut and walked daily. Prices depend both on the level of service and the pets weight.

Some of these business have increased their prices by as much as 25% this year, running the owners around VND200,000 per day more than normal.. At some places,  prices can reach VND300,000 per day for the first three days of the new year.

On Truong Dinh Street, the price of a luxury care service for dogs and cats is VND600,000 (USD28.6) per day, while mid-range kennel cost from  VND300,000 to  

VND400,000. On Bach Mai Street there are places that charge as much as VND1-1.5 million per day.

Ms. Hong Hanh, on Giang Vo Street, said she spent millions of VND to buy her dog, so she wants the best for it during the holiday.

Two killed in truck-train collision

Two people were killed in a collision involving a truck and a train in the central province of Thanh Hoa yesterday.

The truck reportedly continued into the path of the oncoming train, despite warning signals, when the train travelling from Ha Noi to Vinh, collided with the truck in Dai Loc Commune.

Reports indicated there was no barrier at the intersection. The case is under investigation.

HCM City moves to electronic administration

As of March, the HCM City People's Committee will require soft copies or electronic versions for the submission of administrative documents.

According to the committee's office, the committee will cease dealing in paperwork, with announcements and meeting schemes to be sent via e-mail.

The move aims to help all City-based departments and State-owned companies to transition to electronic procedures to reduce administration costs.

The use of e-documents will also be added as a criteria by the municipal committee and its Home Affairs Department to rate performance among departments and authorities at lower levels.

At present, the city has 137 administration units including departments, districts and State-owned companies.

HCMC continues to raise poverty standards

After seven adjustments since 1992, the official poverty level in HCMC is now three times higher than the national standards.

In 2011, the government announced new standards for households to be considered poor for the period between 2011 and 2015, which indicated that the the national poverty line for households in cities would be VND6 million(USD285) per person per year.

However, authorities in HCMC had lifted the poverty line from VND6 million to VND12 million for the period of 2009 to 2015.

The rate of poor households in HCMC decreased from 8.4% to 0.17%, and the city has announced it has nearly accomplished its goal of erasing poverty. According to the city People's Committee, even with the yearly average income level exceeding the mark of VND12 million, many households still struggle and are in danger of falling back below the line.

Representative from the city People's Committee said, "As a matter of fact, adjusted for inflation, VND12 million in 2013 is equal to VND7.2 million in 2009. We had to adjust the poverty line in accordance with inflation and economic development."

For the period of 2014 to 2015, city authorities increased the poverty line to VND16 million per person per year. The near-poverty standard was also raised to VND21 million. After the raise, HCMC now has 130,000 poor households, accounting for 7.12% of the city’s total population.

Even though its poverty standards are three times higher than national standards, authorities in HCMC said that poor households must continue to be entitled to receive social welfare benefits such as preferential bank loans and taxes.

Vietnam, DPRK boost trade union cooperation

Vice President of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour Tran Thanh Hai has affirmed the solidarity, friendship and cooperation between Vietnamese workers as well as trade union and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korean (DPRK) people and labourers in particular.

Hai made the affirmation at a meeting with DPRK Ambassador Kim Chang Il on January 21, during which he suggested the two countries make more efforts for peace, independence, democracy and social progress.

Expressing his pleasure to receive the diplomat on the threshold of the 64th anniversary of Vietnam-DPRK diplomatic ties (January 31), Hai briefed his guest on the country’s socio-economic situation, labour affairs and the operation of the Vietnamese trade union over the past time.

The DPRK ambassador spoke highly of cooperation between the two countries and the two trade unions in particular, voicing his hopes that the comprehensive relationship will further develop into the future.

The diplomat invited Hai to visit his country to tighten relations between the two countries and comprehensive cooperation between the two trade unions.

HCM City hosts New Year celebration for OVs

More than 700 overseas Vietnamese from 30 countries and territories met in Ho Chi Minh City on January 21, celebrating the Lunar New Year (Tet).

Chairman of the municipal People’s Committee Le Hoang Quan briefed them on the city’s development achievements last year, partly attributing the success to OV contributions.

As a locality with the largest number of OVs, HCM City has introduced initiatives to realize Party guidelines and State policies on Overseas Vietnamese affairs, winning their trust, Quan said.

More than 1.2 million Vietnamese nationals returned to Vietnam last year, of which 50-60% stayed in HCM City.

The city has attracted more than US$33 billion in Vietnamese remittances for the past 10 years. In 2003 alone, it received US$4.8 billion, accounting for nearly half the country’s total.  

In particular, more and more scientists and experts have returned to invest, conduct research and teach in the city.

In the future, Quan said the city will keep OVs up to date on local and national information, remove residence and business difficulties, protect their legitimate rights and encourage more OV resources to the city’s construction and development in all fields.

At the ceremony, a number of Vietnamese individuals were awarded the Prime Minister’s certificate of merit in recognition of their contributions to national development.

Participants also learnt about the city’s socio-economic development through a photographic exhibition and enjoyed art performances from well-known singers and artists.

People with disabilities take a stand

For years, Phuong Que Chi rarely visited tourism sites or parks as it was difficult for her to get there by public transport.

For Chi and others with physical disabilities, gaining access to parks, tourism sites, cinemas and theatres, and even public government buildings, seemed to be an impossibility.

But a few months ago, she and about 20 others were given the opportunity to visit the Ethnic Minorities Village tourism park outside HCM City as part of a project that helps the disabled live independently.

Carried out by HCM City's Disability Research and Capacity Development Centre, the programme is funded by the Nippon Foundation, with technical assistance provided by the Japanese Human Care Association.

"This was one of the most enjoyable experiences in my life," she added. "I hope we have more trips like this."

Two other women on the trip, Nguyen Thi Bui, 24, of Tien Giang Province, and Tran Thi Ngoc Hieu, 29, of Dong Nai Province, said it had helped boost their confidence and make friends.

Although the gravel roads made it difficult for those in wheelchairs to get around, they were able to view the interior of the Rong houses with the help of volunteers.

The group had previously visited the Giang Dien Waterfall in Dong Nai Province, a site that many thought they would never see.

The head of HCM City's disabilities centre, Vo Thi Hoang Yen, said that trips like the one to the Ethnic Minorities Village had given people with disabilities a voice.

"They realise they have rights, too," she said.

Even though the country has a Law on People with Disabilities, wheelchair accessibility for people with disabilities in Viet Nam still lags behind many other countries.

Because the country has no entertainment centres for people with disabilities, the HCM City centre has set up clubs and activities, she said.

But these do not meet the real need and more programmes should be created at cultural houses, she said.

In addition, many cinemas, theatres, parks and tourism sites have neglected to meet the accessibility standards set out by the Ministry of Construction.

According to a survey conducted by the city's disabilities centre, only 78 of 1,800 civil architectural works in HCM City's districts 1 and 3 are accessible for wheelchair users.

One of the women on the trip to the Ethnic Minorities Village said that she had once been barred from attending a musical show at the outdoors Trong Dong Stage when a young employee refused to let her enter the grounds.

To stop such discrimination, Yen said the Government should strictly enforce the accessibility standards set by the Ministry of Construction and the Law on People with Disabilities.

In addition, new construction projects that violate these standards should be penalised.

The largest barrier, however, for people with disabilities was the lack of wheelchair-accessible buses.

Last year, a report released by the National Coordinating Council on Disability in Viet Nam showed that only 117 of the 4,000 buses operating in HCM City could be accessed by people with disabilities.

HCM City's Vung Tau hydrofoil suspension affects 12,000

The suspension of hydrofoil service between HCM City and Vung Tau will affect some 12,000 passengers who now have to travel by land instead, the city Department of Transport has said.

"Transporters can meet the increasing demand," Tat Thanh Cang, the department's director, said on Tuesday shortly after the suspension was announced.

With a 20km section of the HCM City – Long Thanh – Dau Giay Expressway opened to traffic recently, it takes only an hour and 40 minutes to travel from HCM City to Vung Tau by bus, the same as the hydrofoil, he said.

The ban by the HCM City People's Committee followed a blaze aboard a hydrofoil that had been carrying 85 passengers to Vung Tau on Tuesday.

A joint team with officials from the transport department, police, the HCM City and Ba Ria – Vung Tau Province Port Authorities, and Transport Registration No 6 has been established to inspect safety regulations and compliance by hydrofoil operators.

The team will submit its report to the People's Committee and the Ministry of Transport.

"Vessels in good condition will be allowed to continue their operations while those not in good condition will face a permanent suspension," Cang said.

Meanwhile, efforts are on to prevent a possible oil spill in the Sai Gon River from the sunken hydrofoil, which has yet to be salvaged.

Flyover linking city and Dong Nai opened to traffic

A steel overpass at Vung Tau Intersection linking HCMC with Dong Nai Province was opened to traffic on Sunday, which will help ease the chronic congestion at the intersection.

The construction is 558 meters long and 16 meters wide and designed with four lanes and is invested by Construction Corporation No. 1. The total investment amounts to some VND200 billion.

It is part of a project to construct the new Dong Nai Bridge and two sides of the bridge passing through Tan Van T-conjunction to the end of the bypass of Bien Hoa City under the format of build-operate-transfer (BOT).

As thousands of vehicles are heading to HCMC from central and northern provinces and Ba Ria-Vung Tau and Binh Duong through the intersection every day, the area usually suffers congestion. To deal with this headache, the Ministry of Transport decided to have the overpass constructed.

The overpass will significantly reduce congestion at the intersection, and facilitate vehicles transporting commodities and passengers from and to HCMC. Besides, given the first 20 kilometers of HCMC-Long Thanh-Dau Giay expressway has opened to traffic, the traffic volume switching to using the expressway to go to Vung Tau has also decreased overloads on the intersection remarkably.

Also on the same day, a branch of the Hoa An Bridge linking Dong Nai and Binh Duong provinces was put into operation with an aim to tackle traffic overload on the old Hoa An Bridge.

With the Hoa An bridge connecting Dong Nai’s Bien Hoa and Binh Duong, HCMC and Tay Ninh, vehicles are able to go straight to Tay Ninh and Binh Phuoc through Trans-Asia Road from Bien Hoa. The remainder of the bridge will be completed in the third quarter of this year.

* In related news, the first section of a project to expand National Highway 1A spanning 36 kilometers from the southern side of the Ben Thuy Bridge in the north-central province of Nghe An to Ha Tinh was completed and opened to traffic on Sunday.

This is the first BOT National Highway 1A expansion project to be completed out of 17 projects to upgrade this north-south highway from Thanh Hoa to Can Tho.

According to Civil Engineering Construction Corporation No. 4 (Cienco 4) as the project owner, the project was completed nine months ahead of schedule thanks to the handover of 70% cleared site at the time of starting construction. Furthermore, as this is the first project that Cienco 4 has applied the closed model involving four parties – the lender, the investor, the supplier and the contractor – the whole process ranging from capital and material supply to construction activity has run smoothly.

The cost of the project was earlier estimated at around VND2.4 trillion, including site-clearance cost and other expenses. However, completion nine months prior to schedule has helped save nearly VND500 billion compared to the initial estimate needed for the project due for completion in August.

The project running through the central region is set to accelerate the speed of traffic flow on National Highway 1A and reduce traffic accidents caused by the narrow road in the region.

The transport ministry plans to have the entire national highway expansion to four lanes opened to traffic in 2016.

Education Ministry Orders Strict Education on Explosives

The Ministry of Education and Training ordered its subdivisions to focus education on explosives and firecracker laws after two incidents involving students recently.

Students are banned from selling, transporting, and possessing firecrackers and explosives.  Schools are ordered to work closely with administrators and parents to comply with the strict regulations.

Four students in University of Technology in Ho Chi Minh City were killed in their home in District 10 on January 11 while making home-made firecrackers for Lunar New Year.

Over 30 students in the Central Highlands of Dak Nong were hospitalized after playing with Chinese grenade toys on January 18.

Students Receive Microsoft International Certification

The Microsoft Office Specialist Challenge in Ho Chi Minh City granted certifications to 91 students on January 22.

The ceremony was held by the Department of Education and Training.

The three most outstanding students, Tran Phuc Duy from Dinh Thien Ly High School, Mai Duy Dung from Thu Duc High School and Tram Quang Minh from Viet My High School will attend the Microsoft Office Specialist World Contest Finals 2014.

The event attracted 464 participants from 57 secondary and high schools in the city.

Contestants achieving score 700 out of 1,000 or higher receive a Microsoft International Certificate endorsed by Microsoft.

Certiport Group from the US provided the format for the tests.  Students must complete tests and show adequate application of Microsoft Office Suite programs such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Teachers undertake cross-country cycling journey for charity

A group of ILA teachers have figured out how to combine travel, sports and charity work into a meaningful journey.

H2H is an annual charity cycle event that was founded by two expat teachers who worked at ILA. In 27 days, a group of teachers cycles from Hanoi to HCMC. The ride is entirely voluntary and all expenses including a bike, flights, accommodation, and other expenses are covered by each individual.

“Each rider has to raise a minimum of US$1,000 and our donations are given to 5 charity’s in Vietnam that support children’s educations, development, and healthcare,” said team leader Andrea Towne. “Our main partner charity is Saigon Children’s Charity.

“We then also share the rest of the donations with the ILA Community Network, KOTO Saigon, The Children’s Initiative, and Live and Give. Almost 100% of our donations go directly to our beneficiaries, as there is only a small fee taken out to use for our donation hosting site JustGiving. “

Towne decided to take on this year’s role to be the team leader after enjoying last year’s ride and combining her interest in traveling and sports.

“It’s such a great experience and you’re rewarded with lifelong friendships,” she said. “It is a great opportunity to see parts of Vietnam that most people don’t get to see.

“All of the riders live and work here, so it allows you to develop a better connection with the country that we’re living in. I’ve never been part of an organization that I truly believe is so great, and I feel honored to take on the role as team leader.”

Firms owe huge debts to social insurance

HCM City firms owe over VND1 trillion (USD47.31 million) to insurance agencies as a result of recent financial difficulties.

Many employees have complained that their employers have yet to pay for social, health and unemployment insurance for them. In several cases, employees have been out  

of work for a long time without receiving unemployment benefits.

Several female staff members of Ben Nghe Biro and Stationery Co., Ltd did not receive benefits for maternal leave because their company was late in their insurance  

payments. The company’s human resource manager suggested that they lodge a complaint against the company to claim these benefits.

Many employees at Mai Linh Mineral Water Co., Ltd said they have yet to receive unemployment after nearly a year.

The municipal Social Insurance Agency said the Mai Linh Group owes the most to their workers, a figure estimated to be over VND80 billion (USD3.78 million).

Nguyen Thi Hong Bach, head of Binh Tan District Department of Labour, Invalid and Social Affairs, said, “Most of disputes between employees and employers result from  

debts to social insurance. Currently, 831 companies in the district owe a total of VND52.2 billion (USD2.47 million) in social insurance payments."

Nguyen Thi Hong Hanh, from the municipal Social Insurance Agency, said that it was difficult to retrieve insurance arrears.

“The major problem is a lack of punishments timely and strict enough to act as an effective deterrent,” Do Quang Khanh, Deputy Director of the municipal Social Insurance  

Agency said.

The agency said they must finish procedures before suing more than 700 enterprises for owing back insurance payments.

Key waterway projects start in Mekong Delta

The Ministry of Transport has launched a 6,600 billion VND (314 million USD) canal project to allow ships of up to 10,000 tonnes to access all ports along the Hau river.

When completed, the Quan Chanh Bo canal will become an important part of the waterway network in the Mekong Delta, helping reduce transport costs for exports,  

particularly farm produces and aquatic products from the region.

The Mekong Delta region is actively developing water-based transport as well as seaports in a bid to lower transport costs and ease pressure on land routes linking it with  

Ho Chi Minh City.

Work is well underway on a waterway connecting Ho Chi Minh City with Kien Giang province through Long An, Tien Giang, Dong Thap and An Giang provinces, with the aim  

of completing it in 2015.

Just one month ago, the transport ministry started construction of another route using the Cho Gao canal in Tien Giang province, while land clearance is being implemented  

for another route connecting Bac Lieu and Soc Trang provinces with Ho Chi Minh City.

The three waterway routes together with the Quan Chanh Bo canal are expected to become operation in the next two or three years, forming an efficient transport network for  

the Mekong Delta.

Furthermore, from now until 2016, the transport ministry will continue with its projects to upgrade Can Tho river port so that it can handle 650,000 tonnes of cargo each year  

and receive vessels of up to 10,000 tonnes.

Meanwhile, construction work on four more wharves in Cai Cui river port, which are designed to handle 2.5 million tonnes of cargo every year, is well underway.

The Mekong Delta region comprises of 12 provinces and one centrally-run city with a total area of 40,000 square kilometres and a population of 18 million. It is the largest  

granary and the major aquaculture development region of the country.-

Festival supports disadvantaged children

Nearly 1,000 children from 24 care centres across Hanoi on January 19 gathered at the Hanoi Children’s Palace for an art festival.

The biennial event’s objective is to call for support from organisations and individuals for the disadvantaged children, therefore bringing them a better life.

Through music, songs and plays, the children expressed their thoughts, sentiments and dreams about a brighter future. They also built camps to introduce their self-made  

products while participating in an array of games.

According to Director of the Hanoi Children’s Palace Duong Viet Ha, all gifts mobilised at the event will be channelled to children in difficulty.

First held in 1994, the festival has affirmed its humanitarian values and received a warm response from the community. Particularly, many music talents such as Thanh Tung  

and Duy Cuong had been nurtured from such programmes.-

Voluntary Youth Year starts in Dien Bien

The 2014 Voluntary Youth Year kicked off in the northern province of Dien Bien on January 19 with a series of activities in support of underprivileged children and families of  war heroes.

The year will focus on the construction of new-style rural and urban areas so as to bring about better social well-being.

Over the past 15 years, the voluntary youth campaign has spread widely with tens of millions of students taking part, during which they have raised their sense of  responsibility for national construction and defence.

Following the launch ceremony, the provincial youngsters visited and presented gifts to needy students, the poor and those who rendered services to the nation.

They also voluntarily donated blood, offered free health check-ups and medicine to the locals and launched construction of a new cultural village house.

Sa Dec horticulture village busy preparing for Tet

During the days ahead of the lunar New Year (Tet) which this year falls on January 31, Sa Dec horticulture village in the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap is resplendent  with a wide variety of flowers in full bloom.

Located 4 km from Sa Dec town, Sa Dec horticulture village, the largest supplier of flowers in the southwestern region, is colorful with large fields of flowers. Flowers in Sa  

Dec are not planted in beds but on trellises with canals running under them. Growers have to row a boat to tend and harvest the flowers, according to radio The Voice of  Vietnam (VOV).

Prior to the traditional lunar New Year, flower gardens in Sa Dec are full of marigolds, chrysanthemums and roses of all kinds. There are also exotic flowers like lisianthus,  

Salvia and petunia. In Tan Khanh Dong commune, chrysanthemums cover 25 hectares with nearly 200,000 baskets planted in Khanh Nghia, Khanh Nhon and Dong Hue  

hamlets. The increasing popularity of chrysanthemums has improved the incomes of local growers.

“At this time of the year, we only need to water the flowers. The weather now is favourable for growing chrysanthemums. This year we have received more orders for  

chrysanthemums because there are more Spring festivals,” aIS Nguyen Thi Hang, a grower in Sa Dec.

At any time of the year, the village is flowery and fragrant. Flowers are everywhere: dahlias, hydrangeas, chrysanthemums ... , but roses of different kinds are the most  popular. As many as 50 species of roses including red roses, Granda roses, Cleopatra roses, and Elizabeth roses are grown in the village.

According to local growers, they still grow traditional flowers like chrysanthemums and roses and their business is quite good this year as the demand is increasing.

Horticulture has improved the incomes of more than a thousand families in the village. Chrysanthemum, cockscombs and lotuses are most popular during Tet, said Tran Thi  

Hue, a grower, adding that a hectare of flowers brings in at least 100 million VND (4,700 USD).

"We have received orders from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and many other cities. This business is profitable, but also hard. To meet the Tet demand, we have to work  constantly from dusk to dawn," she said.

A few weeks prior to Tet, the village is already in full swing. Every day, it is crowded with trucks queuing for flowers and plants. Sa Dec flowers are helping local people  increase their incomes. Dong Thap province aims to develop Sa Dec into a flower city in the future.

This village attracts many tourists, especially on the occasion of Tet who come to enjoy the fresh air, the fragrance and the colorful activity of harvesting flowers.-

World Bank reports Vietnam’s progress in sanitation services

Vietnam has made considerable progress in providing wastewater treatment services in urban areas over the last two decades and invested 500 million USD towards the  

task in recent years, according to a report released by the World Bank (WB) on January 20.

The “Vietnam Urban Wastewater Review” report shows that Vietnam is facing challenges with environmental pollution on the rise due to the country’s rapid urbanisation.

However, to keep pollution levels under control, Vietnam is estimated to need 8.3 billion USD to improve wastewater treatment services between now and 2025, notes the  report.

The paper also puts forth several useful recommendations for national policymakers. The suggestions are related to establishing a national strategy and general principles to  

be applied in water resource management, as well as policies to encourage the private sector’s involvement in the public-private-partnership model.

The report also gives suggestions to local authorities and service providers of sanitation services to develop and sustain healthy and clean cities.

The same day, another report themed “East Asia Pacific Region Urban Sanitation Review: Actions Needed”, issued by the bank, mentioned thorough researches on urban  sanitation in Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The second paper proposes measures to help countries in the region expand and upgrade environmental sanitation services in a comprehensive and sustainable manner.

According to the paper, about 2.5 billion people all over the world lack adequate sanitation and more than 25 percent of them live in East Asia and the Pacific Region.  

Although inadequate sanitation takes a tremendous toll on the quality of peoples’ lives, environment, and the economy, investments in the field yield high returns.

VNA/VNS/VOV/SGGP/Nhandan/Dantri

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