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Vietnam Fatherland Front’s supervision and social critical feedback on religious affairs today: Some theoretical and practical issues

(LLCT) - Since its establishment, the Vietnam Fatherland Front has unceasingly improved and affirmed its roles as the representatives of the Vietnamese people through the supervision and criticism toward the State. The article analyzed the theoretical basis and reality of the roles of Vietnam Fatherland Front in supervising and giving critical feedback on religious affairs in order to suggest some measures to improve the Fatherland Front’s capacity in the future.

Key words:  Vietnam Fatherland Front, supervision and criticism, religious affairs.

1. Political and legal basis of the Vietnam Fatherland Front’s supervision and social critical feedback on religious affairs

After the August Revolution victory in 1945, which established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, President Ho Chi Minh clearly pointed out the nature of the Vietnamese State, which is the following:

“I - OURS IS A DEMOCRATIC COUNTRY

All interests are for the people.

All the power belongs to the people.

Renovation and construction are the responsibility of the people.

The war resistance and national construction are the tasks of the people.

Authorities from the communal to central government levels are elected by

the people.

Organizations from the central to communal levels are established by the people”(1).

The core of Ho Chi Minh Thought on a new-style State is that political power belongs to the people and serves their interests. The State is entrusted by the people with this right (via the general election to elect representatives of all social strata in state agencies) to manage and administer society. Therefore, the people, in one form or another, must control the social administration and management of the State. Accordingly, the State must be close to the people, listen to and sincerely accept their opinions and aspirations. It is the call of Ho Chi Minh that, “Ours is the government of the people, having the only goal to serve the people’s interests. The government sincerely expect from our countrymen their help, supervision, control and criticism in order to fulfill its duty of being the loyal and devoted servant of the people”(2).

The purpose of the people’s social supervision and criticism is nothing more than making the State increasingly transparent, strong, effective and efficient; the Government hopes the State will truly become a State of the people, by the people and for the people. The supervision and social critical feedback on the work of the State is both the right, responsibility, and obligation of the people as the country’s master.

One of the tools for the supervision and social critical feedback towards the State is via their representative organizations including the Vietnam Fatherland Front.

The supervision of the Vietnam Fatherland Front was first introduced in the political documents of the 8th National Party Congress, which read “The Vietnam Fatherland Front... joins with the Party and State in exercising and supervising the implementation of democracy”(3).

At the 10th National Party Congress, the Party clearly stated the content, scope and subject under the supervision and social critical feedback of the Vietnam Fatherland, “The State shall promulgate mechanisms for the Fatherland Front and mass organizations to perform supervision and social critical feedback well on the planning and organizing the implementation of the Party’s and State’s directions, guidelines, policies and big decisions, including the task of organization and cadres building”(4).

The task of supervision and social critical feedback of the Vietnam Fatherland Front is further affirmed at the resolutions of the 11th and 12th National Party Congresses. Particularly, it was concretized in Decision 217-QD/TW dated 12 December, 2013 by the Politburo on the promulgation of the Regulations on supervision and social critical feedback of the Vietnam Fatherland Front and socio-political organizations.

On that basis, the supervision and social critical feedback of the Vietnam Fatherland Front on religious affairs is defined in Article 7 of the Ordinance on Beliefs and Religions 2004, “The Vietnam Fatherland Front and its member organizations shall, within the ambit of their tasks and powers, have the responsibility:

a) to rally people who have beliefs or follow religions as well as non-belief or non-religious people to build up the great national unity bloc, constructing and defending the Fatherland.

b) to promptly report the people’s opinions, aspirations and requests on matters related to beliefs and religions to competent state agencies.

c) to take part in propagating among and mobilizing dignitaries, priests, monks, followers, persons who have beliefs, religious organizations and other people to observe the law provisions on beliefs and religions.

d) to participate in the formulation and supervision of the implementation of policies and laws on beliefs and religions”(5).

Thus, it was not until the National Assembly promulgated the 2013 Constitution did the law regulate the task of the Vietnam Fatherland Front on monitoring the implementation of policies, and laws on beliefs and religions. However, there are not any specific provisions on the task of social critical feedback.

This has been added to the 2013 Constitution. Article 9 of the 2013 Constitution and Article 1 of the Law of Vietnam Fatherland Front 2015 state: “The Vietnam Fatherland Front shall constitute the political base of the people’s administration; represent and protect the lawful and legitimate rights and interests of the people; rally and fully utilize the strength of the great national unity bloc, exercise democracy and promote social consensus; conduct supervision and social critical feedback; and participate in the building of the Party and the State, and in people-to-people diplomacy, thus contributing to national construction and defense”(6).

On 18 November 2016, the National Assembly promulgated the Law on Beliefs and Religions, in which the responsibility of the Vietnam Fatherland Front is stipulated in Article 4 as follows:

1. To unite religious followers and non-followers to build the great national unity bloc for national construction and defense.

2. To report in a timely manner the people’s opinions, aspirations and petitions on religious issues to competent State agencies.

3. To participate in drafting legal documents on belief and religion; to perform social critical feedback on drafts of legal documents, planning, plans, programs and projects for the State’s socio-political development related to belief and religion according to the law.

4. To participate in disseminating, mobilizing dignitaries, clergymen, followers, believers, religious organizations and other people to implement law on belief and religion.

5. To monitor activities of people-elected agencies, organizations, officials and civil servants in the implementation of religious laws and policies”(7).

To concretize the task of supervision and social critical feedback of the Vietnam Fatherland Front as stated in the Law on Vietnam Fatherland Front 2015, on 15 June 2017, the National Assembly Standing Committee, the Government and the Presidium of the Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee issued a joint resolution consisting of 4 chapters and 25 articles, which stipulates in detail the forms of supervision and social critical feedback of the Vietnam Fatherland Front.

Thus, it can be said that by 2017, the Vietnam Fatherland Front has had a sufficient political and legal basis for performing the function and duty of supervision and social critical feedback on society and on religious affairs.

At its 3rd meeting, the Presidium of the Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee (8th tenure) issued the specialized resolution on renewing the contents of the work on religious affairs of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, in which there was a solution to “developing a program and plan for contact, listening and learning to firmly understand the situation and aspirations of religious people, and at the same time disseminate information and convey new religious guidelines and policies to dignitaries and followers of religions; thereby enhancing the effectiveness of the people’s participation in designing policies and laws related to religions and beliefs and strengthening the task of supervision and social critical feedback of the Front and socio-political organizations on religious affairs”(8).

2. Supervision and social critical feedback of the Vietnam Fatherland Front on religious affairs in practice

The Vietnam Fatherland Front’s supervision and social critical feedback on society and on religious affairs are done in the following forms:

a) The Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee shall nominate its representatives to participate in drafting committees, editing groups of many draft laws and ordinances such as the Civil Code, the Penal Code, the Criminal Procedures Code, the Law on the Election of Deputies to the National Assembly, the Law on Organization of People’s Councils and People’s Committees, the Law on the Election of Deputies to People’s Councils, the Law on the Execution of Criminal Judgments and the Law on Complaints and Denunciations. At the same time, hearing the opinions of people will help the Vietnam Fatherland Front Committees at all levels across the country build up proposals and promulgate effective documents. On average, the Front Central Committee has made comments and recommendations on about 20 laws, ordinances and decrees(9).

b) The Vietnam Fatherland Front Committees of different levels assume the prime responsibility for, and coordination with the organization of meetings between voters and deputies to the National Assembly and People’s Councils at all levels, before and after each session in order to report on the planned work and outcomes; to receive opinions, petitions of voters and the people in all spheres, including the implementation of guidelines and policies on religions.

c) Between two sessions of the National Assembly and People’s Councils at all levels, the Presidium of the Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee and the Vietnam Fatherland Front committees at all levels formulate the public’s opinion, aspirations and petitions of voters, including dignitaries and followers of religions in order to report before the meetings of the National Assembly and People’s Councils and make recommendations to competent agencies of the Party and State for settlement.

d) The Standing Committee of the Vietnam Fatherland Front committees at all levels shall nominate their representatives to participate in supervising delegations of the National Assembly Standing Committee, agencies of the National Assembly and the People’s Councils of the same level, in order to supervise the administration and management of the authorities at all levels; to make recommendations for handling violations of guidelines, policies and laws, including religious affairs in the operation of the State administrative apparatus at all levels.

e) Vietnam Fatherland Front committees at all levels organize the reception of citizens, reception of complaints and denunciations from citizens; participate in the settlement of complaints and denunciations related to subjects mobilized and rallied by the Vietnam Fatherland Front; request state management agencies to settle complaints and denunciations of religious organizations on land and religious activities according to the law in localities. From 2005 to 2013, Vietnam Fatherland Front committees at all levels coordinated in the supervision of 15,567 turns for procedure-conducting bodies, 254 turns for procedure-conducting persons and 32,207 turns for the settlement of complaints and denunciations(10). From 2013 to 2016, the Central Committee of Vietnam Fatherland Front and socio-political organizations implemented 10 monitoring programs; Vietnam Fatherland Front committees organized 721 supervisions at provincial level, 6,404 supervisions at district level and 49,546 supervisions at commune level(11).

g) Vietnam Fatherland Front committees at provincial and district levels shall assume the prime responsibility for selecting and nominating representatives of Vietnam Fatherland Front committees, member of socio-political and social organizations participating in the panel of judges of the people’s courts of the same levels in order to monitor the law enforcement in trials of criminal, civil, marriage and family, labor, economic, administrative cases under the local court(12).

h) The Vietnam Fatherland Front committees at all levels have actively participated in solving religious hot-spots such as “Ha Mon evil way” in the Central Highlands; the “Duong Van Minh” illegal organization in some mountainous provinces in the North, and the taking advantage of the sea environmental incident caused by Formosa Company by some extremist dignitaries from the diocese of Vinh (Catholism) to incite and instigate some followers to act against the law, etc. The Front has also mobilized, persuaded and combatted the negative and limited perspectives of religious life influenced by market mechanisms.

i) The Vietnam Fatherland Front has actively participated in contributing ideas and proposals to formulate guidelines, policies and laws on religion and belief. The Central Committee of the Vietnam Fatherland Front has proposed guidelines and policies on religions that need amending and supplementing in The platform on national construction in the period of transition to socialism (revised and supplemented in 2011); contributed and proposed policies on religions in the 2013 Constitution; nominated representatives to the Drafting Board and the Editorial Team to formulate many policies on the Law on religion and belief such as amending and supplementing the Ordinance on Belief and Religion; Decree No. 92 / ND-CP detailing the implementation of the Ordinance on Religion and Belief; coordinated in the formulation, amendment and supplementation of a number of documents prescribed by the Government and the Prime Minister on regimes and policies towards subjects under the charge of the Front, including dignitaries and the outstanding members of religions.

In 2016, the Vietnam Fatherland Front organized social critical feedback on the draft Law on Belief and Religion with a detailed plan and strict procedures, mobilizing the wisdom, responsibility and dedication of many social components including experts, researchers on theoretical and practical operation of religions and religious dignitaries and followers. The contents of social critical feedback on the draft Law were accepted by the drafting agency, which contributed to the promulgation of the Law on Belief and Religion in November 2016 by the National Assembly.

Generally, supervision and social critical feedback on religious affairs of the Vietnam Fatherland Front over the past time has achieved the following major results:

- It has contributed to ensuring the leading, directing and organizing of religious affairs to be in conformity with the guidelines, policies and laws, and to be close to legitimate requirements and aspirations of religions.

- The Vietnam Fatherland Front has increasingly shown the role of “representing and protecting lawful and legitimate rights and interests of the people”, including dignitaries and followers of religions, contributing to the building of social consensus and religious solidarity within the great national unity bloc.

- It has promoted the participation of religions in socializing health care, education, charity activities and expanded religions’ people-to-people diplomacy according to the common goals. It has contributed to making the good cultural and ethical values of religion increasingly promoted in the social life, thus, building the cultural life in residential areas and religious facilities. It promotes the roles of dignitaries, clergymen, followers, particularly the representatives of religions in political, socio-political organizations such as the National Assembly, the People’s committees, the Committees of the Vietnam Fatherland Front at all levels and its member organizations including the Women’s Union, the Farmer’s Union, the Red Cross, the Association of Elderly People, the Study Encouragement Society and the Association for Support of the Vietnamese Handicapped and Orphans(13).

However, the reality of supervision and social critical feedback of the Vietnam Fatherland Front on religious affairs has shown many difficulties and weaknesses as follows:

- Due to the lack of clarification of the “people’s supervision” mechanism of the Front, in which it only means, “supporting the State’s supervision, examination and inspection”, the legitimacy of the Front is limited(14). In fact, after its supervision, many recommendations and petitions of the Vietnam Fatherland Front may not be considered, resolved and replied to by State agencies and authorities at all levels to prevent the Front from reporting to the people.

According to the Law on Vietnam Fatherland Front in 1999 and the Decree No. 50/2001/ND-CP dated August 16, 2001 of the Government detailing the implementation of a number of articles of the Law on the Vietnam Fatherland Front, the Fatherland Front only, “encourages the people to exercise their supervisory rights and participates in monitoring activities with State power agencies; through their activities it summarizes opinions of the people and its members, suggests competent State agencies to commend and reward good persons for good deeds, and consider, settle and handle cases of law violation”. This provision has made the Front both passive and dependent on its monitoring mission.

- Dependence on the organization and the conditions for operation of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, the characteristic of indulgence, avoidance and having a fear of negatively affecting the support of State agencies and authorities for the organization and operation of the Front are obstacles to the implementation of the Vietnam Fatherland Front’s supervision over state agencies and authorities at all levels.

- Because the political guidelines of the Party on the Vietnam Fatherland Front’s task of social critical feedback have not been institutionalized for a long time, the social critical feedback and religious affairs have only been proposing opinions or petitions. The effectiveness of this task has been low due to the lack of specific penalties for cases in which these opinions and petitions are not replied. In many cases, the collection of opinions and petitions from the Vietnam Fatherland Front by advisory bodies preparing for the formulation and promulgation of legal policies on belief and religion have been formal and perfunctory.

- The organization of the apparatus and staff in charge of religious affairs of the Vietnam Fatherland Front committees at all levels has not been invested adequately to be compatible with its mission.

The requirement for the Front’s cadres in charge of religious affairs is that they have to thoroughly grasp both the expertise of supervision and social critical feedback, the guidelines, directions, policies and laws on religion and have deep knowledge on canon law, dogma; they must grasp the thoughts and feelings of dignitaries, clergymen and followers of religions so that they can well organize the advisory task, supervision and social critical feedback. Many of the Front’s cadres working on religious affairs have not been trained in professional matters, thus their qualifications as required is limited.

3. Solutions to enhance the effectiveness of the Vietnam Fatherland Front’s supervision and social critical feedback on religious affairs

- In terms of awareness, it is necessary to affirm that supervision and social critical feedback on society and religious affairs is currently an objective requirement and an important mission of the political system in Vietnam. The Vietnam Fatherland Front, with its role of “representing, protecting the lawful, legitimate rights and interests of the people”, exercises the function and duty of supervision and social critical feedback on society and religious affairs - to check bureaucracy, subjectivity, voluntarism, arbitrariness, authoritarianism and alienation from the people and to ensure the democratic rights and legitimate interests of the people in general, of dignitaries, followers and religions in particular. This perception is the consensus within the political system, first within the Party and Government, which is the basic condition for implementing the next solutions.

- Effectively implement the inter-ministerial Resolution No. 403/2017/NQLT-UBTVQH14-CP-DCTUBTWMTTQVN dated June 15, 2017, between the Standing Committee of the National Assembly, the Government and the Presidium of the Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee, detailing forms of supervision and social critical feedback of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, proceeding towards the formulation and promulgation of legal documents of the Vietnam Fatherland Front’s supervision and social critical feedback.

- On the basis of ensuring the leadership and direction of the Party, the Vietnam Fatherland Front needs to be more independent in terms of organization and budget, to overcome the dependency, which can easily lead to the “ask-give” mechanism like today. Accordingly, the budget of the Vietnam Fatherland Front should be allocated by the National Assembly and assigned to the specialized agencies of the Front at all levels, with the inspection and control of the financial agencies at all levels.

- The Vietnam Fatherland Front itself must enhance the capacity of supervision and social critical feedback on society and religious affairs.

The Vietnam Fatherland Front Committees at all levels must regularly contact and intensify exchanges and take note of the publics opinions on religions; they should take care and invest appropriately in organization that advise and implement religious work of the Vietnam Fatherland Front.

Strengthening the investment for the staff working on religious affairs of the Vietnam Fatherland Front is also very important. Policies and strategies on theoretical, practical and professional training and fostering should be adopted, particularly parallel to the firm grasp of Ho Chi Minh’s views on religion and belief and the guidelines, policies and laws on religious work of the Party and State. That being said, raising the capacity to approach, mobilize and handle religious matters and the capacity to serve the supervision and social critical feedback on policies and laws on belief and religion is needed. They should also look to amend the policy for the Front’s staff working in religious affairs to create a driving force to attract human resources for religious work and overcome the psychology of not wanting to work on religious affairs of cadres in general and the Front’s cadres. At the same time, it is vital to strongly promote the role of the consultative force on religious affairs of the Vietnam Fatherland Front committees at all levels.

____________________

l Endnotes:

(1) Ho Chi Minh: Completed Works, vol. 4, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2000, p. 190.

(2) Ho Chi Minh: Completed Works, vol. 7, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2000, p. 361-362.

(3) CPV: Documents of the 8th National Party Congress, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1998.

(4) CPV: Documents of the 10th National Party Congress, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2006.

(5) The National Assembly Standing Committee (Session XI), Ordinance No. 21/2004/PL-UBTVQH11 of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly on Religions and Beliefs.

(6) The National Assembly: The Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was adopted by the 13th National Assembly at its 6th session on November 28, 2013 and the Law No. 75/2015/QH13 on the Vietnam Fatherland Front was adopted by the 13th National Assembly at its 9th session on June 9, 2015.

(7) The National Assembly: Law No. 02/2016/QH14, the Law on Belief and Religion was passed by the 14th National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, at its second session on November 18, 2016.

(8) Conclusion No. 02/KL-DCT, on December 29, 2015 of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Vietnam Fatherland Front on renewing the contents and operational mode of the Vietnam Fatherland Front in religious work.

 (9) Report No. 421, on May 15, 2013 on the Standing Committee of the Central Committee of the Vietnam Fatherland Front on the summary of implementing the Law on promulgation of legal documents 2008 of the Central Committee of the Vietnam Fatherland Front and member organizations.

(10) Report No. 35-BC/CCTP, on March 12, 2014 of the Central Steering Committee on Judicial Reform.

(11) The Standing Committee of the Central Committee of the Vietnam Fatherland Front. Report No. 382 /BC-MTTW-BTT, on May 31, 2017 on the review of 3-year implementation of Decision No. 217-QD/TW and No. 218-QD/TW on December 12, 2013 of the Politburo (11th tenure).

(12) The Supreme People’s Court - the Central Committee of the Vietnam Fatherland Front. Joint Circular No. 01/2004/TTLT-TANDTC-UBTWMTTQVN dated March 1, 2004 guiding the preparation of personnel and recommendation for election of the People’s Court Jurors.

(13) There are 10 participating in the 13th National Assembly (Buddhism: 4; Catholicism: 2; Caodaism: 1; Hoa Hao Buddhism: 1; Protestantism: 1; Brahmin: 1) accounting for 2%; the numbers of participants in People’s Councils for 2011-2016 term at provincial, district and commune levels are 123,958 and 13,037 respectively. 50 religious dignitaries, clergymen, practitioners, intellectuals and followers are members of the Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee (7th tenure); 556, 3,036 and 17,631 are members of the Vietnam Fatherland Front at provincial, district and commune levels respectively. The number of dignitaries, clergymen, practitioners, intellectuals and followers of religions being members of the Executive Committees of 5 socio-political organizations at central, provincial, district and commune levels are 10, 647, 7,706 and 28,411 respectively.

(14) The Law on the Vietnam Fatherland Front 1999.

Dr. Le Ba Trinh

Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee

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