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Thursday, 22 March 2018 10:08
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Improving the quality of public policy making and implementation: Issues and solutions

(LLCT) - The public policy making and implementation process in Vietnam today is facing barriers in the policy making and issuance stage, in policy implementation and evaluation. In order to overcome these barriers, it is vital to develop and improve public policy making institutions in the direction of publicity and transparency, in establishing a public policy development process with the participation of the concerned sides, increasing people’s participation in policy making process, strengthening policy dialogue between the Government and interest groups, etc.

Key words: public policy making, policy implementation.

1. Arising issues

Beside the progress and success in the public policy making and implementation process in Vietnam, there are limitations and shortcomings, specifically as follows:

Firstly, in making and issuing policies

The public policy making process is still largely affected by the old method. Basically, it is internally and subjectively imposed by state agencies. Legislative and regulatory initiatives come mainly from government agencies, however, the participation of other entities, especially enterprises, people of different classes and related subjects, are still very limited. There have not been any specific regulations on mobilizing the intelligence of the people, experts, and scientists for participatory policy making.

The quality of documents is low, and there are not many options to choose from, which leads to difficulty in evaluating the feasibility and the impact of policy solutions toward the environment and society. The Resolution of the 5th Plenum of the Party Central Committee (12th tenure) on improving the socialist-oriented market economy clearly stated: “Some law provisions, mechanisms, and policies are overlapping, conflicting, unstable, and inconsistent; there are signs of sectional interests, and there has not been yet any breakthrough in mobilizing, allocating and using the development resources effectively”(1).

In terms of policy development, there has not been a strategic vision, systematic thinking, and identification of prioritized areas. As a result, this has led to scattered and ineffective investment. A number of policies are still governed by interest groups, which tend to create advantage for state agencies and cause difficulties for enterprises and people. Likewise, there are loopholes, of which some civil servants may use in order to seek profit and corruption (such as policies of land, capital preferences, use of public resources, management over state-owned enterprises, etc.).

There is an overlap between development strategies and policies in several areas. As a result, it leads to encroachment, pass or evasion of responsibility, bureaurcracy, corruption, dispersal, a scattering of resources, which, ultimately, undermines policy feasibility.

Social criticism and policy lobbies, evaluations of the impacts of public policy before, during, and after the issuance of policies are still weak. The role of the policy appraising and approving agencies has not been promoted, so loopholes have been generated in the issuance of some policies which do not meet the practical requirements. Some even make use of the policies to seek profit, causing discontentment among the public.

Secondly, in implementing public policy

The limitations and shortcomings are shown in the policy implementation stage. Most of them fail to ensure timeliness, comprehesiveness and consistence in the implementation process, especially those policies on socio-economics and environment protection in recent time.

The institutionalization of guidelines and policies of the Party, State, the development of plans and programs are not implemented in a timely manner. The policy deployment and implementation are affected by incomprehensive document issuance (a law pending a decree, a decree pending a circular, etc.), by the inconsistence between the ministries, sectors, issuing and implementing agencies, and by the unclear coordination mechanism and accountability, influence of sectional interests, and interest groups.

The regulations and procedures set out in the policy implementation process are mostly unstable. Administrative procedures are still slow and complicated, causing difficulties in the implementation of policies such as procedures for appraisal, approval of programs and projects, issuance or financial expenditure, etc. For example, in 2016, the Ministry of Justice checked more than 3,000 documents issued by ministries, branches, and localities. It found 124 illegal documents in terms of contents and authority. Through the appraisal of 678 administrative procedures the rationality and legality of 141 procedures were recommended to remove and 537 were recommended to amend(2).

Policy communication and dissemination to the related subjects (authorities, executives and people) is not made in a timely and sufficient manner, which causes insufficient, even an incorrect understanding of the policy.

Incapability, limited competence, imperiousness, bossiness, bureaucracy and corruption of some civil servants in policy implementation are the causes of obstruction, even contrast, to the goal of the policy.

Insecured conditions and resources for policy implementation, as well as the heavy damages off the outdated “ask-give” mechanism, have enabled and burdened the realization of many policies.

Inspection and supervision are not done in a timely and substantial manner. The settlement of complaints and accusation of law violations in the implementation process is still slow, and many unfair cases have had serious influence on public policy implementation. Summing up reality and drawing experience for policy making and implementation are not duly appreciated; moreover, they are not done in a consistent and timely manner. This makes it difficult to evaluate the policy implementation results because of the lack of reliable information on the implementation process and the measures that need to be supplemented and perfected.

Thirdly, in policy evaluation

Awareness of policy evaluation is simple and one-sided, and it is often done in the form of administration, conclusion, and task report of the Government’s  agencies responsible for policy implementation. The relevant authorities does not take good care of policy evaluation. Policy revision is only made when a “problem” occurs.

The policy evaluation process and criteria, especially effect of the policy in terms of cost - benefit, have not been institutionalized.

Policy evaluation is sometimes one-sided and only reflects the judgements of state agencies. However, it shows disregard for public opinion and the beneficiaries of the policy.

The involvement and role of policy beneficiaries in evaluating public policy are not masked. There is a lack of an effective mechanism to monitor, acknowledge, and handle people’s feedback on policy implementation. This only draws the attention of the managing agencies when serious incidents or cases happen (land dispute, environment pollution, hydropower dam problems, epidemics, fire, etc.).

Adequate spending on policy evaluation is not ensured, so it relies on foreign support and donors.

2. Recommendations and solutions

To overcome the limitations and shortcomings and  improve the quality and effectiveness of public policy development and implementation in Vietnam today, attention should be paid to the following issues:

Firstly, continue to develop and improve the public policy making institution

“Continue to renovate thinking, improve the mechanisms and policies, remove difficulties and obstacles in a timely manner, in order to arouse all the potential and resources of the country and create new motivation for its rapid and sustainable development”(3), that is the guideline pointed out by the Party at the 12th National Party Congress.

Synchronizing policy development and law making is one of the most serious weaknesses of the legislative process and public policy making process in Vietnam. This leads to the fact that when a law is issued, it is hard to be translated into practice or is not suitable for life because the policy research and making is still weak and incompatible with the law. In order to overcome the above limitations and shortcomings, on June 22, 2015, the National Assembly issued the Law on Promulgation of Legal Documents for State agencies to replace the Laws on Promulgation of Legal Documents of 2004 and 2008. The law of 2015 places more emphasis on the policy analysis and making process while adding specific regulations on the responsibilities of agencies, organizations, and individuals proposing policies. The new law reserves Article 35 to stipulate the responsibilities and contents of policy impact evaluation in developing law. The current important problem is to implement the above legal documents in public policy making and implementation process of the government, ministries, sectors, and localities in order to remove the unsuitable documents which are against law provisions.

Secondly, reforming the public policy making process towards democracy, publicity and transparency; institutionalizing the participation of the subject in policy development; establishing a public policy development process with the participations of the concerned parties such as the government, enterprises, socio-political organizations, people, scientists, experts.

In other words, the development of public policy, originally the exclusive function of state agencies, has become the concern and responsibility of the whole society. Vietnam needs a team of professional policy makers from different social backgrounds, specifically:

- Increasing people’s participation in the policy making process, considering this a mandatory requirement in the process; creating conditions for the people to acquire information and make contribution to the drafting of policies which are directly related to them, and avoiding impractical policies for the people due to insufficient condition for implementation.

- Improving policy dialogue between the Government and interest groups, especially enterprises. Continue to organize the dialogues between enterprises and the Prime Minister so that business directors can have direct conversations with the Prime Minister on enterprises’ problems. Through dialogue, the Government will be able to understand what the enterprises want and the enterprises will be able to know what the government is planning.

- Establishing a group of outstanding experts and form “Think tanks” in order to assist the Prime Minister in policy research and design. This group of experts, should keep frequent two-way interactions with the ministries and sectors in charge of policy implementation. On July 28, 2017, the Prime Minister signed the Decision No. 1120/QD-TTg on establishing the Economic Consultant Team, consisting of 15 members who are top domestic and overseas economic experts, to consult the Prime Minister on economic development issues.

- Setting up a competitive mechanism in policy ideas and reports on the basis of promoting the role of universities, independent research agencies, and national policy research organizations.

Vietnam is currently lacking independent policy research and criticism organizations, whose activities would help the Government study policies from different angles and ensure objectivity. Thus, it is a necessity to reorganize the system of policy making agencies, keep on renovating and improving the institutions so as to facilitate the development of forms of policy research organizations, including independent research agencies and policy research organizations independent from state budget.

Universities and research institutes should be restructured to remove mechanism similar to those of administrative agencies depending on the ask - give mechanism. Training and research should be in close association with practice, help formulate ideas for policies, and meet life requirements. Besides, the State should create favorable conditions of good academic material, environment and research space at universities and policy institutes, and help establish a basic and comprehensive policy research reasoning system in Vietnam. Along the multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary basis, it is necessary to encourage the participation in researching and analyzing policies from the branches of social sciences such as economics, psychology, and sociology in order to provide evidence - based quantitative data.

- Close coordination between the Government, ministries, sectors and relevant agencies is needed in policy making so that overlap and conflict are avoided.

At present, it is clear that every ministry has its own policy proposals, but they do not include identification of a preferred field and specific action plan. As a result, to develop the most comprehensive policy, it is required to develop clear regulations on coordination between ministries and sectors, and define the responsibility between agencies more specifically. Close cooperation between the Government, relevant ministries, enterprise associations, scientists, and foreign experts is required in the process of making and adjusting policies.

Thirdly, policy makers, participants and policy beneficiaries should have full, proper, clear awareness and understanding of the content of the policy and solutions to its implementation.

It is important to promote the communication and dissemination of policies to people of different strata and publicize the policies for the people to understand, to discuss, to carry out and to supervise. Depending on the subject, suitable forms of communication and dissemination should be made such as sending the policy-guiding documents to the relevant organizations and enterprises.

After the issuance of policies, it is necessary to concretize them with action guiding documents and reporting forms (if any), and develop working plans and projects.

It is vital to prepare resources for implementing policy and mobilizing resources (human, material resources, funds from central, local levels to international organizations. The resources people provide could be exploited so as to reduce the expenditure from state budget, make use of the support from international organizations and other goverments. The expenditure should be used purposely and effectively. Competent State agencies shold supervise and inspect the use of the finance and evaluate its effect closely.

Organizing the policy implementation reasonably, assigning related organizations and individuals specific responsibilities, identifying the main responsible person and the coordinator in policy implementation process is key to a successful public policy plan. Attention should be paid to the ability, specialty and strength of individuals so that task overlap and unclear responsibility could be limited.

Highlighting the tasks of surveying, inspecting, and supervising progress and effect of public policy implementation is another important step that needs to be taken. The purpose of this activity is to deal with violations (if any) and discover weaknesses in management mechanism, policies and laws. Thus, measures to overcome them can be proposed to authorized agencies. At the same time, the positive factor could be promoted to help raise the validity and effect of state management and protect the benefits of the State - the right and legitimate benefits of the related individual, agency and organization.

Fourthly, appreciating the role of policy analysis and instituting an evaluation to act as a prerequisite for gradually improving the quality of policy - making and implementation.

Vietnam needs to consider policy evaluation as a mandatory procedure for some important policies of the State. In particular, it is necessary to implement properly the evaluation of possible impact of legal documents and policies, evaluate social, environmental, and livelihood impact on the public investment decision as well as supervision over public policy implementation.

Developing fully the public policy evaluation criteria on suitability and validity, effectiveness, fairness, and impact of policies, the policy’s capacity to solve problems is also important.

Attaching attention to public opinion, ideas, aspirations of the people to identify shortcomings in the policy-making and implementation process, along with having a binding mechanism to state agencies in feedback on the ideas and receiving the results of public policy research, analysis, and evaluation is necessary.

Organizing independent evaluation groups, consisting of members who work as evaluation experts, from state or non-state agencies, in accordance with the specific goal and task of the group is needed. Finally, reserving satisfactory finance for evaluating policy, enhancing the training of public policy experts. Importance should be given to the summarizing of realities in public policy designing and implementation.

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Ngo Ngoc Thang

Political Academy Region I

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