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Wednesday, 20 May 2020 09:38
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People's participation in social management in Vietnam

(LLCT) - In the current global trend of national governance innovation, people play an increasingly important role and become more involved in the policy making and implementation process. Based on the study of the Party’s and State’s regulations, laws, and the reality of people's participation in social management activities through the results of the Vietnam Provincial Governance and Public Administration Index (PAPI), this article suggests how to promote people's participation in social management.

Keywords: people’s participation and social management.

1. Legal documents prescribing people’s participation in social management

In Vietnam, along with the process of economic innovation, the expansion of democracy with the mobilization of people from all classes for state management activities has also been increasingly expanded. People’s participation in decision-making processes and state management activities has also been institutionalized in many Vietnamese legal documents such as Article 2 of the 2013 Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam: “The State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a socialist law-ruled State and of the People, by the People and for the People”. Article 25 also stipulates: “Citizens have the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and have the right of access to information, the right to assembly, the right to association…” In Article 28, the Constitution states: “1. Citizens have the right to participate in the state and social management, and to discuss and propose to state agencies about local issues as well as national issues. 2. The State shall create conditions for citizens to participate in the management of the State and society; and shall publicly and transparently receive and respond to opinions and petitions of citizens”.

In the 2013 Constitution, how people participate in social management activities is stipulated in Article 69: “The National Assembly is the highest representative body of the People and the highest state power body of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The National Assembly shall exercise constitutional and legislative powers, decide on important issues of the country, and conduct supreme oversight over the activities of the State”.

Thus, in principle, when people are eligible, trusted and elected to work at these agencies, they have the right to directly examine and decide on directional issues, decide important issues, monitor activities of the State and determine the development direction of the whole society.

As citizens, when eligible, and having undergone the procedure of recruitment of cadres and civil servants organized by agencies in the political system of Vietnam, they become members of State organizations. Then, people have the right to participate in the activities of executive and judicial authorities like state administrative agencies (government, ministries, ministerial-level agencies, government agencies), procuracy (People’s Procuracy at all levels), and judicial bodies (people’s courts at all levels). When performing public duties, people can use State power to carry out various tasks in State administrative management, perform functions and duties of each agency, clearly showing the role as a country owner and a society master. In other words, people have the right to widely participate in the activities of State agencies in all areas such as legislative, executive, and judicial bodies. With this participation, people are directly or indirectly involved in state administration.

To concretize the people’s right to participate in social management, the Law on Promulgation of Legal Documents 2015 and Decree 34/2016/ND-CP detailing a number of articles and measures to implement the Law on the Promulgation of Legal Documents 2015 promulgate the participation of people in the drafting and development of legal documents. Article 6 of this Law provides that individuals have the right and are facilitated to make comments on the request for the drafting of legal documents. In the process of drafting legal documents, drafting agencies and organizations and concerned agencies and organizations shall create conditions for individuals to give their opinions. Article 10 of Decree No. 34/2016/ND-CP (2016) also states that: In the process of making a request for the formulation of legal documents, the agency that makes the request shall be responsible for collecting opinions of the subjects directly affected by the policies in the proposal and get the opinions of relevant individuals, study explanations, and absorb these comments.

The Ordinance on the Implementation of Democracy in Communes, Wards and Townships (2007) of the National Assembly Standing Committee specifies the content as well as the form that are directly discussed. The contents discussed and directly decided by the people include guidelines and contribution levels to build infrastructure and public welfare works within the commune, village, and residential quarters using funds partly or entirely contributed by the people, as well as other work within the community in accordance with the provisions of law. The form of people discussing and deciding directly is a) Organize meetings of voters or voter-representatives of households based in each locality and residential quarter; and b) Distributing opinion sheets to voters or household representative voters. In the case of holding voter meetings or household representative voters, voting is done by hand show or secret ballot or voting is decided by the conference. If the number of affirmative votes has not exceeded 50% of the total number of voters or household representative voters in the hamlet, residential quarter or in the whole commune, the meeting shall be reorganized. If the meeting cannot be reorganized, opinion polling will be distributed to voters or household representative voters.

The Ordinance also stipulates the content and form of people discussing and voting for the competent authorities to decide. Article 13 of the Ordinance stipulates the issues that people discuss and vote on including: 1. Regulations and common agreements of the village and district; 2. Election and dismissal of the head of the village or the head of a residential area; and 3. Election and dismissal of members of the People’s Inspection Boards and Community Boards for Investment Supervision.

Article 19 of the Ordinance prescribes the contents to which people contribute their opinions before the competent agencies decide, including: 1. The draft of a commune-level socio-economic development plan, plan for transformation of economic structures and production structures, schemes on sedentarization and settlement, new economic regions, and professional development plans at the commune level; 2. Draft detailed land use planning and adjustment plans, as well as management and use of land funding at the commune level; 3. Draft plans for the implementation of programs and projects at the commune level, as well as undertakings and plans for compensation, ground clearance support, infrastructure construction, and resettlement, and draft residential planning options; 4. Draft project of establishing, merging, and splitting administrative units, adjusting administrative boundaries directly related to the commune level; and 5. Other contents that need to be consulted by the people in accordance with law, at the request of competent state agencies or commune governments if necessary. In particular, Clauses 1 and 2 in Article 21 of the Ordinance clearly state the responsibility of the commune-level government in organizing the implementation of the contents of people’s comments. Accordingly, 1. The commune-level People’s Committee shall elaborate and approve a plan to collect people’s opinions on contents under the competence of the commune-level administration, clearly stating the implementation method, implementation time, and responsibilities; and 2. The commune-level People’s Committee shall coordinate with the Vietnam Fatherland Front Committee and socio-political organizations of the same level in organizing the implementation of the approved plan.

Article 22 of the Ordinance prescribes the responsibilities of the superior agencies in organizing the implementation of the contents of the commune-level people’s opinions: 1. Collecting the people’s opinions before deciding on the directly concerned matters that affect the rights and interests of citizens in the commune; 2. Directing the commune-level People’s Committees to organize the collection of people’s comments in the commune; 3. Providing necessary documents for organizing the collections of people’s comments; and 4. Acquiring people’s opinions on the contents put up for comments.

2. Current status of people’s participation in social management through PAPI index

The Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index (PAPI) focuses on understanding the effectiveness of governance, policy implementation and public service delivery based on people’s experience and assessment with annually collected data. In Vietnam, PAPI is not only a useful indicator of governance capacity and effectiveness at the provincial level, but also a tool to assess the improvement of government levels over time. The content of PAPI includes 6 content axes: (1) Participation of people at the grassroots level; (2) Transparency; (3) Accountability; (4) Prevention of corruption in the public sector; (5) Public administrative procedures; and (6) Quality of public services. In 2018, PAPI added two more content axes: (7) Environmental governance; and (8) Electronic governance.

Regarding community participation, PAPI stated 4 component criteria: (1) Opportunity to vote; (2) Election quality; (3) Voluntary contributions; and (4) Percentage of people participating in land use planning.

The content of “Participation of people at the grassroots level” includes 3 components: (i) “Opportunity to participate in the election” includes criteria to assess the people’s opportunity to vote in the elections of the National Assembly deputies, People’s Council deputies at all levels (held every 5 years), and the position of village heads in rural areas and heads of residential areas in urban areas (held every 2.5 years); (ii) “Election quality” includes criteria for evaluating the quality of elections. Elections are judged to be of higher quality if held publicly, transparently, or by secret ballot voting rather than raising hands, each elected position has at least 2 or more candidates, and the government does not suggest who to vote for; and (iii) “Voluntary participation” shows the results of the analysis of the question of whether people are invited to contribute opinions voluntarily to local infrastructure projects, and whether they are invited to participate in the design process and construction supervision or not. Additionally, this component also includes the results of answering questions about whether local governments use pressure to force citizens to contribute cash, materials, or workdays to the construction of local public works or not. According to PAPI’s grading method, each content axis has a maximum scale of 10. The maximum score of a component content is equal to 10 divided by the number of component content of that content axis. In the content axis “People’s participation at the grassroots level,” there are 3 component contents, so each component content has a maximum score of 3.33. Thus, it should be noted that the score shown in Figure 1 is the maximum number of points achieved on a scale of 3.33. Figure 1 shows that the content of the “Opportunity to participate” tends to improve in the years that Vietnam organizes the election of deputies in the National Assembly and People’s Councils at all levels (in Vietnam, delegates are elected in an organization). This change does not stem from the organization of elections but simply data collected in the election year and what the people remember about this event. Specifically, 2011 and 2016 are the years when Vietnam held the election of National Assembly deputies and People’s Council deputies at all levels. In those years, the score of this content is higher than other years. The content of “Election quality” has a fairly stable score over the years, showing that Vietnam’s election organization has not changed much over the past years, except for the forms of information and communication that have been changed with more support of the developed mass media.

The figures in the content of “voluntary participation” of people show a relatively good and stable improvement in Vietnam during the 2014-2018 period. In particular, the in-depth analysis of PAPI 2018 data shows that the proportion of people forced by local authorities to contribute to new construction or remodeling of public works in the locality tended to decrease. About 50% of the contributors said they had made voluntary contributions in 2017 and 2018, higher than the average of about 45% in the years prior to 2017. Although figures indicate that there are still some people’s reflection on local authorities’ use of pressure to force people to contribute to public facilities at the grassroots level, it shows that grassroots governments have recently tended to let people make more voluntary contributions.

Under the provisions of the 2013 Land Law, land planning is implemented every 5 years and 10 years and land use plans are adjusted annually in localities. Also according to this Law, when preparing land planning, the government must organize meetings and collect comments from the people.

With the question of the proportion of people who have the opportunity to comment on the local land use planning, Figure 2 shows that only about one-third of the respondents answered that they had the opportunity to comment on the local land use plans. In particular, this rate decreased in the years 2017-2018. This reflects the fact that in Vietnam, land is still the area where people have the least access to information. Many questions and complaints related to land – especially land acquisition, clearance and compensation – are common.

From the Party and State’s laws and policies on people’s participation in social management to the practice of this work through PAPI indicators, one can see that there are many shortcomings in people’s participation in social management. According to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP, 2009), ensuring people’s participation in social management is one of the eight characteristics of good public governance. The proven practice, the equal participation of all strata of society, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or social group, will increase the effectiveness of public governance. So how to mobilize people’s participation in the governance of the country?

Firstly, trust must be built. People’s participation in the formulation and implementation of state guidelines and policies is similar to the interpersonal dialogue. People can only have constructive dialogues when they really trust each other. In order for people to participate more in the work of the government, on the one hand, the government must believe in the people’s ability to contribute well to the activities of the government. At the same time, the government must create trust in the people. In order to build this trust, the authorities much consult with the people substantially, avoiding formality and “doing for the sake of doing”. People’s opinions must be received (if true), and if they are rejected, explanations are needed. At present, the opinions of people, if not taken into account, are rarely interpreted, so there is a lack of confidence that their opinions are taken seriously.

Secondly, in order to contribute effectively to governance, people must have knowledge about the fields of opinions presented. Therefore, the responsibility of the government is both to improve the intellectual level of the general public, as well as when consulting the people on their guidelines and policies, the competent authority should focus on consulting people about their knowledge and understanding of that policy area. The widespread request for opinions by giving each family a draft version, like the case of the Draft Constitution 2013 in Hanoi, will not be effective and be costly. In fact, in Vietnam, along with economic reforms, political reforms have also taken place quite strongly in the direction of “becoming more and more open”, mobilizing people to actively participate in social management. More and more people have forums to express their opinions and in fact, people are becoming more involved in government activities. However, PAPI survey data also shows that people’s participation is not the same for different fields. In some areas such as land, people have few opportunities to express their opinions on land use planning and plans. To mobilize people to participate widely in the administration activities of the government, they must create trust and improve knowledge among the people.

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References:

1. National Assembly: Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam 2013.

2. National Assembly: Land Law 2013.

3. The National Assembly Standing Committee: “The Ordinance on Democracy at the Establishments of Communes, Wards and Towns”

4. UNDP: Vietnam’s governance and public administration index in Vietnam in 2018.

5. UNESCAP: “What is good governance”, https://www.unescap.org/sites/default/ files/good-governance.pdf, accessed 10-8-2019.

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Le Van Chien

Institute of Leadership Studies and Public Policy,

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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