Donors back empowerment of Viet Nam's new National Assembly
Da Nang – Members of parliaments and senior officials from 9 countries and 3 multilateral donors, who gathered for a 3-day meeting last week in Da Nang, committed to support the empowerment of Viet Nam’s newly elected National Assembly (NA).
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) pledged USD 2 million to develop a new comprehensive programme to support the newly elected NA in the exercise of its legislative, representative and oversight responsibilities mandated by the Constitution.
“Democratic parliaments are not just an effective check on executive powers but the best way to ensure that all citizens, especially the poor, have their voice heard and their needs addressed”, said UNDP Resident Representative, Jordan Ryan. UNDP, drawing on its global network of support to parliaments, seeks joint participation and funding from other donors in this innovative new programme.
Drawing on financial support from Australia, and organized by the Office of the National Assembly (ONA) and UNDP from 26-28 June in Da Nang, the seminar on “Strengthening legislative capacity of the NA and People’s Council” came one month after the election of 498 deputies to the 11th tenure of the NA.
The meeting brought more than 25 senior Vietnamese representatives from the NA and 5 Peoples Councils together with members of parliament and senior officials from 9 countries (The Netherlands, France, Germany, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, United States, Denmark, Sweden.) International organizations, including UNDP, the International Parliamentary Union, the European Commission and the World Bank joined in the discussions on how to enhance the NA’s central role in continuing Viet Nam’s reform process.
The newly elected National Assembly (NA), slated to convene its first session in mid-July, will face complex questions on Viet Nam’s continued reform path and the drive for increased international integration, said the ONA Chairman, Mr. Vu Mao.
Recent amendments to the 1992 Constitution have increased significantly the power of the NA and People’s Councils (PCs) but their law-making and oversight capacity fall “far behind requirements”.
Viet Nam, second fastest-growing economy in the region, is still facing a shortage of laws if the country is to meet its development targets including doubling the GDP by the end of the decade. Currently, the NA enacts between 10 and 20 laws per year as opposed to 50 in Singapore’s parliament, 100 by South Korea’s and 200-400 by the US Congress. “It’s too slow”, said Vu Mao. “Viet Nam needs more. The NA should produce around 50 laws per year. We need a new thinking to move the legislative agenda forward in terms of both quantity and quality”.
“The NA needs a long-term legislative strategy and not just a simplification of lengthy and complex law-making procedures”, said Mr. Uong Chu Luu, a newly elected MP and a vice-minister in the Ministry of Justice. “The current law-making is ad hoc and piecemeal. The quality and viability of our laws remain a concern.”
One of the most important innovations of the amended Constitution is the decentralization of budget oversight. However, some representatives of provincial PCs called for more resources and stronger financial decentralisation to local authorities, saying that the Ministry of Finance is still controlling nearly everything including many fees and tax collections.
“It’s important that the NA has the ability to actively participate in the formulation, approval and oversight process of the budget. This process is all about accountability of how public money is spent”, commented Mr. John Dawkins, former Treasurer, Minister of Finance, and Minister of Trade of Australia.
To exercise this supervisory role mandated by the Constitution, the NA is exploring the possibility of establishing a professional law-drafting committee which would leave technical wording issues to experts and free up the NA to debate policy issues of importance to the nation. It is also considering to set up its own auditing office to allow the deputies to make informed decisions on budgetary allocations and assist with monitoring central and provincial revenue and spending.
“In Germany, the Federal Audit Court is an independent body from the government and the parliament” said Ms. Christine Schmatloch, officer-in-charge of Budget Management from the German Bundestag Administration.
Ms. Anne Marquant from the Financial Commission of the French Senate highlighted the necessity to enhance the skills and specialisation of MPs to follow and oversee different areas of parliamentarian affairs.
Many participants also suggested the setting up of an Information and Training Centre to help MPs, especially the newly elected deputies, deal with a range of issues including parliamentarian affairs management, constituency and budget building and fiscal oversight capabilities and ways to foster partnerships with civil society to promote accountability in a participatory manner.
“The newly elected NA is facing a big challenge, said Ralph King, charge d’affaires of Australian Embassy. There are a lot of new MPs who need to be trained.”
“It’s important that MPs operate independently”, said Ms. Nirmala Rambocus who was elected in May to serve as a member of the Netherlands Parliament. “To gain this independence, in my country, before and the elections, candidates go through an intensive training to prepare themselves for the job.”
Donors, including UNDP, Denmark and Sweden, are actively supporting Vietnam’s National Assembly. This new initiative launched by the ONA and UNDP will provide an overall framework to increase resources to the NA and to assist with coordination. At the conclusion of the workshop, Madame Nguyen Thi Kim Thoa, a member of the NA, welcomed this new initiative and said, “We welcome donors to fund this initiative through UNDP.”