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Governance Country Profile: Vietnam

Available in: Tiếng việt

Governance in Vietnam

Governance in Vietnam

"Although the term ‘state management’ is familiar to most Vietnamese, the term ‘governance’ is relatively new. When we refer to ‘governance’ we have in mind something much broader than ‘state management.’ State management is part of governance, but the governance system also includes citizens, firms, civil society organizations, professional associations, and many others playing a variety of roles."

Vietnam Development Report 2010—Modern Institutions outlined the progress and prospects for improving governance in Vietnam: Strengthening accountability and transparency, strengthening access to information, and addressing the weaknesses that foster corruption. With support from the UK-DFID through the GAPAP trust fund, the World Bank’s program aims to support evidence-based policy making on all areas of governance.

Governance, however, is not a sector but is a theme that cuts across all sectors. The World Bank’s Country Partnership Strategy 2012-2015 emphasizes that improving governance demands addressing fundamental imbalances in access to information, strengthening civic participation and enhancing accountability, and reducing corruption. Only by integrating governance fully into the country program will we be able to support Vietnam’s aspirations for building a modern governance system by:

Strengthening Accountability

"Accountability has improved more than is often acknowledged, albeit often with a delay, and not always of the best form."

In Vietnamese, the words for “accountability” and “responsibility” are very similar, but they have different meanings. “Accountability” means that doing well is rewarded and performing poorly has consequences. This is much more than just an allocation of who is responsible for handling which functions. The real questions are “accountable to whom?” and “accountable for what?” In a system that relies entirely on administrative controls, accountability focuses on the rules coming down through the hierarchy and trying to avoid mistakes. But if there is also accountability for results, especially in the case of delivering services, then the emphasis shifts. Citizens or firms become clients, and service to clients becomes more important. Rather than trying to avoid mistakes, officials and service providers also try to excel and innovate.

Governance in Vietnam
Vietnam's media

Over the last quarter of a century, Vietnam’s politics and society have gradually evolved towards greater openness and space for civil participation. Public discourse on a range of political, social, and economic issues has increased. Provisions are in place to require input by citizens in certain decisions at the grassroots level. The ability of the National Assembly to perform the role of a check and balance on the executive has strengthened. Despite this progress, greater openness and opportunity for citizens to participate in governance is needed to support Vietnam's long term vision of becoming a modern industrialized society.

Vietnam Development Report 2010—Modern Institutions focused on the differences between "upward accountability" for compliance with rules and "downward accountability" for results. In Vietnam, mechanisms for downward accountability, such as the periodical citizens report card surveys in Ho Chi Minh City and the improved transparency of draft laws, are just emerging. Expanding and strengthening mechanisms for downward accountability can help make the government more responsive to the needs and concerns of citizens and firms.

With little awareness of legal rights and the lack of effective mechanisms to demand better services, the citizenry is not well placed to provide pressure from below. The World Bank's Country Partnership Strategy recognizes that ability to exercise rights as provided by law will be critical for success in expanding opportunity and the Bank will therefore support Government's efforts to strengthen capacity for and awareness of citizen's rights. With support from the Nordic Trust Fund and the UK-DFID GAPAP Trust Fund, the World Bank is working with partners such as the Vietnam Institute for Human Rights and the Ministry of Information and Communications on a range of activities to support human rights, including a research and training program on awareness of human rights at the local level, and a workshop on the media, communications and human rights.

The National Assembly and People's Councils have been playing increasingly active roles in external oversight, despite being constrained by high turnover. Supporting the National Assembly and its support structure by collaborating on interactive workshops and training is a key part of the governance program in Vietnam. Working with the Institute for Legislative Studies and the Training Center for Elected Representatives, the World Bank has supported workshops on topics such as access to information, governance in land management, and the dissemination of the key messages of Vietnam Development Report 2010—Modern Institutions.

Improving accountability is also being mainstreamed in the project portfolio and in sector studies. For example, the Vietnam New Model University Project aims to ensure that the university financed by the project is capable of self-governance with appropriate institutional structures and policies in place and that the NMU demonstrates autonomy and accountability in its relationship with the Ministry of Education. Similarly, Lessons for Hospital Autonomy Implementation in Vietnam from International Experience, a study conducted by the World Bank and Vietnam's Ministry of Health, examined the positive results from the implementation of hospital autonomy in Vietnam, analyzed the existing problems, and proposed recommendations to optimize hospital reform.

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Expanding Access to Information

"Information is central to accountability and to performance."

Whether it is for the policy maker's or the public's purpose, the need for better and more widely available information was a theme in every chapter of the Vietnam Development Report 2010—Modern Institutions. Policy makers need information to do their job well, and citizens need information to exercise their rights.

Vietnam has made progress in improving transparency, but challenges remain. With increasing penetration of the internet and other media, information and opinions are more widely available than ever. At the same time, it is difficult for Vietnamese citizens to access information from state bodies, and this in turn constrains public oversight of government-provided services and functions. Although several laws call for documents of various kinds to be public information, these documents are often difficult to obtain in practice.

land-use certificates, posted on wall
How to obtain a land-use certificate

When the Government Inspectorate and the World Bank, in cooperation with other development partners, sponsored Vietnam Innovation Day 2009—More Accountability and Transparency, Less Corruption, more proposals were aimed at improving transparency, access to information, and awareness than at any other aspect of accountability.

In cooperation with other development partners, the World Bank is supporting efforts to improve in transparency in Vietnam by emphasizing the need for data on actual levels of transparency, and the value of feeding data on good practices back to the provinces. In 2009, in cooperation with the People's Participation Working Group, the World Bank supported a survey of access to information in five provinces. The report showed that perceptions of access to information fell far short of what is written in the law. In 2010, a new approach was taken, measuring actual levels of transparency of land related documents at the province, district, and commune level.

With support from UK-DFID, from 2012 the World Bank will be expanding its support to access to information in Vietnam through the establishment of a new effort to systematically measure actual levels of transparency, analyze the institutional weaknesses hindering access to information, and identifying policy and capacity shortcomings that need to be addressed.

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Reducing corruption

"Controlling corruption is central to Vietnam's efforts to move forward to becoming an equitable middle income society."

Corruption has long been recognized - by citizens, by firms, by civil society, by the government, and by the Party - to be a fundamental problem in Vietnam. Vietnam Development Report 2010 - Modern Institutions highlighted the importance of information and civil society oversight in the fight against corruption, as well as the need to address fundamental conflicts of interests in the way investigations are carried out.

Dong Ho Painting on corruption
Traditional corruption, Dong Ho painting

Working together with other development partners, the World Bank provides ongoing support to the Government's efforts to monitor the level and pattern of corruption, providing a real understanding of corruption, rather than relying on guesswork. Data on corruption has been a central element of our messages at the Anticorruption Dialogues, sponsored by the Government Inspectorate and Sweden and the UK. On health, education, land, and on the results of the Anticorruption Dialogue itself, the importance of bringing data to bear on our understanding of corruption is a constant message.

The Vietnam Anti-Corruption Initiative Program 2011 (VACI) supports innovative ideas to minimize corruption, strengthen transparency, and bring a better living environment for people. The program is co-organized by the Government Inspectorate and the World Bank with support from many bilateral donors. The theme for VACI 2011 was "Strengthening public integrity and law implementation for effective anti-corruption". A total of 34 innovative projects received small grants to support anticorruption in health care services, education, administrative procedures, recruitment management, and to actively involve ethnic minorities and people with disabilities in the fight against corruption. Innovative approaches included awareness raising, communication and arts performances, and the use of information technology and automation initiatives.

The World Bank's Country Partnership Strategy emphasizes that understanding corruption calls for a sector-specific approach. Some studies focus specifically on corruption, while others do not focus on corruption, per se, but nevertheless provide important insights into the sector-specific nature of corruption.

One area of sustained involvement in is the area of land management. A recent study on Recognizing and Reducing Corruption Risks in Land Management (PDF), undertaken in cooperation with the Embassies of Denmark and Sweden, focused on the incentives for corruption - and weaknesses in the system of oversight - at every step in the process flow. A combination of policy reforms, greater transparency, and enhanced accountability can help reduce the threat of corruption related to land management.

The Vietnam Urbanization Review provides another example of the integration of governance into a sector-specific study. This study, which will be released in April 2012, addresses a range of governance issues including those surrounding the need to develop and support transport links between cities. As background for the report, the team conducted a survey of firms that are engaged in trucking to identify the biggest constraints they face. Corruption features prominently in the results of this survey.

The Vietnam Development Report series, prepared by donors for release at the Consultative Group meeting each year, increasingly integrate governance challenges into the themes of the report. In addition to VDR 2010—Modern Institutions, which focused squarely on governance, one can find governance themes in the two more recent installments in the series. VDR 2011—Natural Resources Management highlights the corruption risks in land management, and the importance of transparency in the granting of concessions for mining. VDR 2012-Market Economy for a Middle-Income Vietnam documents the importance of transparency, showing that provinces with more transparency access to documents have lower levels of corruption.

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