Significance of OGP participation for Vietnam

Being a renowned international initiative of strengthening effective governance, OGP has practical significance to all of its members. All experts interviewed for the study “Prospect of Vietnam’s Participation in the Open Government Partnership Initiative (OGP)” have affirmed that the participation in OGP would bring Vietnam considerable benefits. The significance and importance of OGP participation are presented in details as follows:

Firstly, OGP helps to increase people’s trust in leadership of the Vietnamese Communist Party and State.

At present, in every country, citizen’s confidence in the state is defined by effectiveness in two major aspects: (i) protection of national sovereignty and territory from invasion of foreign forces; (ii) national governance, anti-corruption. For the second aspect, in the 18th Century, Scholar Le Quy Don asserted that one of the five risks leading to collapse of a country, was the overwhelming corruption. The overwhelming corruption certainly results from ineffective governance. This is only one of five risks, but affecting the 4 remaining risks, namely: the young do not respect the elderly; students do not respect teachers; soldiers are haughty and generals are deteriorated; feudal intellectuals turn away from the politics.

In relation to the second aspect, since the Doi Moi (1986) the Vietnamese Communist Party and State have gradually conducted institutional reform, strengthened national governance and intensified anti-corruption. Efforts in this area have been increased during recent years under pressure of development, international integration and people’s demand. Despite these efforts, the results stay limited.

Effectiveness of Vietnam’s governance is still low and in downward trend. As being claimed by the Communist Party: “bureaucracy, corruption, wastefulness have not been driven back”. In reality, corruption in Vietnam remains widespread, acute and is inclined to become more and more sophisticated and complicated. This situation results in serious decline of people’s confidence about the leadership of the Communist Party and the Vietnamese State. Besides, the Vietnamese Communist Party’s Platform of National Construction in Transitional Period to Socialism (revised, supplemented in 2011) clearly states that “bureaucracy, corruption, standing aloof from people will cause catastrophic damages to the destiny of the country, the socialist regime and the Party”. The National Strategy for Anti-corruption to 2020 has confirmed that “corruption decreases people’s confidence in the party’s leadership, the State’s management, potentially induces conflicts of interest, social resistance, widens the wealth gap, becoming a great hindrance to the success of the reform process, the fighting capacity of the Party and threatening the survival of the regime”.

According to General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, the current situation has been urgent since if the Party is unable to fight corruption, it will “lose the people’ trust”. One of the reasons leading to the low efficiency of governance and anti-corruption in Vietnam is that people don’t trust and feel discouraged and unprotected when they take part in. According to a recent study, only 38% of Vietnamese people said they would be willing to denounce corruption (the lowest rate among surveyed countries in Southeast Asia). Among them, 51% said if they made denunciation, it would change nothing, while 28% would not denounce due to the intimidating consequences. In connection with this problem, the Political Document of the Twelfth National Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party admitted that: many party committees, governments at all levels had not performed well their roles in leadership, direction, management, implementation of anti-corruption, wastefulness; and had not activated the united power of the entire political system and people in the fight against corruption.

Within the above context, OGP participation will provide a new mechanism to promote good governance and anti-corruption, therefore helping to increase people’s trust in leadership, anti-corruption and social management capacity of the Communist Party and the Vietnamese State.

Secondly, OGP helps speed up the process of institutional reform of governance in Vietnam.

In general understanding, institution is a set of rules guiding the establishment and operation of the state apparatus. Institutional reform means to amend, supplement the rules in order to enhance quality of social management performed by the state, including improvement of relationship among the state, citizens and enterprises.

Institutional reform of governance appears to be an urgent, central task and shall be treated as a breakthrough for the development of Vietnam. The reform is to resolve problematic situation which includes that “the existing institution contains some spaces nurturing corruption… Established principles of “openness”, “transparency” in governance have not been complied. The behaviors of “asking and giving behind the doors” still persist and paying bribes to get promotion or avoid criminal punishment are continuing. Corruption has turned cunning and been difficult to be exposed”.

From a broader angle, the Report: Vietnam 2035 Toward Prosperity, Creativity, Equity, and Democracy (Report Vietnam 2035) has shown that: “Vietnam’s governance structure could also be at an inflection point. The institutions that were adequate to carry the country to its lower-middle-income level are now exposing gaps that, unless addressed with boldness and urgency, are likely to impede the journey to uppermiddle-income status”.

The above situation has been identified by the Vietnamese Communist Party and State. The Political Document of the Twelfth National Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party recognised that although the country has made progresses, “national competitiveness has not improved much, especially economic institution, infrastructure and technological innovation”, “ the institution of socialist-oriented market economy has faced many difficulties, has not made a breakthrough to boost socio -economic development”, “ State management has not met the developmental needs of the market economy and international integration; administrative reform and capacity to build institution ensuring that enterprises and people can freely do business and equally compete in the market economy have been limited”. Based on this context, the Twelfth Party Congress assigned itself the task of “focusing on completing a comprehensive and modern institution of market economy, based on full compliance with rules of the market economy and deep international integration. The party also defined this task as one of the three strategic breakthroughs for the country to advance.

Participation in OGP will make a turning point in reforming governance institutions in Vietnam. By implementing 4 fundamental principles (introduced previously, including ensuring people’s right to access to information kept by the state agencies; people’s right to take part in activities of state management; application of highest principles of integrity and professionalism and modern technology to enhance openness and accountability of the state apparatus, OGP will make direct contributions to address the key weaknesses of the current governance institutions in Vietnam, including “commercialization of state institutions, excessive fragmentation institutions’ power, lack of checks and balances within the government, and limited voice and participation of citizens in policy development and implementation”.

Overcoming this situation is the preoccupation and determination of the recent leaders of the Vietnamese government, which shows the urgency of the problem. Former Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung confirmed the necessity of “renovating governance institution, strongly upholding people’s right to mastery”, and that “the government must perform well its function of nurtering development.” Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, immediately after his accession, stated his commitment to “build a Government of nurturing development, Government of Action, Government of serving, purity, integrity, anti-corruption, anti-waste”.

Thirdly, OGP helps promote Vietnam’s image and profile in international community and enterprises.

Since Doi Moi (1986), apart from people, the Communist Party and the state of Vietnam have paid more and more attention to the international situation and to the business sector and enterprises during the process of formulation and enforcement of policy and law. The two kinds of stakeholders, in turn, have had increasing influence on activities of governance of Vietnam.

The real situation of ineffective governance with widespread corruption has tarnished Vietnam’s image and profile to international forums, foreign and domestic enterprises. For instance, corruption in using ODA made Japan suspend its ODA support to Vietnam in 2008 and 2012. Denmark, in the middle of 2012, also suspended three climate change projects due to suspicion of corruption.

For enterprises, corruption discourages foreign investors and causes inequality among domestic enterprises in accessing public investment projects. For example, after 20 years of relation normalization and 15 years of the US- Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement, the US invested in only 748 projects with registered capital of over 11 billion USD by 20/6/2015, ranked 7th among countries and territories having invested in Vietnam. Prof. Nguyen Mai, chairperson of Association of FDI Enterprises explained that: “the US investors do not want to go around with ‘asking- giving behind the door’ culture, but would rather see related laws and policy explicit, transparent and predictable”.

The increase of corruption leads to increase in scale of national public investment, particularly infrastructure investment, meanwhile quality of infrastructure of provinces and cities are undermined. Within the above context, improving enterprises’ trust in the state appears to be an urgent need. According to The Viet Nam Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index (PAPI) 2015, people’s satisfaction to quality of provincial public administrative services through 4 aspects measured by PAPI was poor and has remained almost unchanged in recent years. Specifically, speed of improving quality of provincial public administrative services in the past 5 years has been evaluated as unnoticeable, while it should have been accelerated to meet the needs of enhancing national competitive capacity.

Participation in OGP also helps prevent and minimize corruption so as to promote Vietnam’s profile to the international community and enterprise sector. Furthermore, the mission of OGP is to share the vision and deepen the depth of democracy and good governance for people’s interest- these are elements bolstering “soft power” or influence of a country in the international community. By this way, Vietnam’s image in the international community will be significantly improved due to OGP.

For enterprise sector, in addition to benefit from minimization of corruption, OGP also opens up and nurtures new business conditions by promoting technological innovation in governance in order to contribute to creating a transparent, open and fair business environment attracting domestic and foreign investment. This matches current policy of the Vietnamese Communist Party and State which treats enterprises as driving force for the development of country and society.

Fourthly, OGP helps the Vietnamese Government take advantage of support and assistance from the international community and people to strengthen quality of governance.

As being introduced in the previous section, the participating country must, as one of their obligations, make contribution to progress of the Open Government in other fellow countries by sharing experience, skills, technical and technological support and necessary resources.

For this reason, joining OGP will offer the developing countries, including Vietnam, an opportunity to exchange knowledge and experience within the global network and receive material and technological support in order to enhance quality of the country’s governance.

In fact, OGP has been used by more and more international organizations, for instance TI, as a supporting instrument to promote good governance. OGP has been increasingly supported with commitments from multilateral partners and NGOs, such as UNDP, WB, ADB, Oxfam, International Budget Partnership… Multilateral donors also use OGP to design their technical support in various countries, for example, support of OECD in Tunisia…

For people, participation in OGP means that the government officially recognize a comprehensive agenda to change the previous way of governance in which the mutual support and collaboration between state and citizens are emphasized. One of OGP’s principles is to promote citizen engagement in the governance. This approach brings benefits to not only the citizens, but also the state. The state is supported and assisted by its citizens in different affairs, such as advice for construction, policy and law critique, monitoring and control of state apparatus, etc.

The thought of mobilizing people’s participation and support to public governance and anti-corruption is not unfamiliar in Vietnam. President Ho Chi Minh affirmed that “…campaign of anti-corruption, anti-wastefulness, anti-bureaucracy certainly relies on people for its success.” The Communist Party of Vietnam also considers persuasion of people to join the fight against corruption as the decisive factor to win the victory. The Political Documents of Party National Congresses from the Tenth to the Twelfth tenure have confirmed an unchanged point of view on upholding strength of the entire political system and people to fight corruption. The Party’s Resolution of the Twelfth National Congress, apart from reaffirming the need of heightening strength of the whole political system and people to fight corruption, wastefulness, pointed out necessity “to set up an effective mechanism for supervising and controlling power”, “ to boost the oversight role of elected bodies, the Fatherland Front, people’s mass organizations in fighting corruption, wastefulness”, “to introduce effective policy and mechanism to encourage, reward and protect safety of persons who discover and denounce corruption”.

Within OGP’s scope, support and assistance from people to the state are proven through the help in controlling abuse of power, which is committed by public agencies and public servants, when corrupt acts are exposed and denounced. Moreover, OGP promotes the process in which people join state agencies practically and effectively in the decision making and policy formulation process, as well as in monitoring the implementation of those decisions and policies. This will help enhance efficiency of public governance and anti-corruption. A recent prestigious research has shown that “Vietnam has the potential for development of modern governance by a virtuous circle of participation of all citizens. Convincing underrepresented citizens that their voice matters in policy formulation, implementation and monitoring gives them a greater stake in the process and outcomes, which in turn encourages them to seek out more information and education on the issues. As a result, policy decisions will be improved because of the higher quality of information available to decision makers. From the citizen perspective, greater participation enhances legitimacy and ultimately leads to greater compliance with the law. Vietnam’s participation in OGP is an appropriate action fostering the above trend in the country.

Participation in OGP also contributes to establish new trust and vitality for different stratum of people to join actions on anti-corruption, overcome formalistic approach to anti-corruption that, according to Mr. Nguyen Sinh Hung former Chairperson of the 13th National Assembly and Mr. Ksor Phuoc, former chair of the 13th National Assembly’s Ethnic Minority Council (2015), made “people lose their trust…” “people are fed up with” anti-corruption because “they complained, made criticism for long time but nothing happened…”

Fifthly, OGP assists the Vietnamese Government implement effectively international treaties and domestic legal documents on anti-corruption.

Good governance and anti-corruption are intertwined and influenced each other strongly. Quality of good governance is always directly proportional to great results of anti-corruption.

By this approach, participating in OGP will positively support enforcement of the law on anti-corruption in Vietnam. Based on the four mentioned principles, OGP may be seen as an additional mechanism for directly promoting implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) of which Vietnam became a state party in 2009 and the 2005 Law on anti-Corruption (amended twice in 2007 and 2012). While OGP will create an overall impact, it closely attaches itself with some core Articles of the UNCAC, the Law on Anti-corruption, regulations on openness, transparency and public administration (Article 10 of UNCAC, Chapter I of the Law on Anti-corruption) as well as other regulations on society and people’s participation in anti-corruption (Article 13 of UNCAC, Chapter VI of the Law on Anti-corruption), etc.

In other words, participation in OGP means that a country commits or re-commits itself to implement UNCAC and other existing international and national instruments on anti-corruption. In relation to this, a number of OGP participating countries have formulated concrete action plans for anti-corruption while carrying out their commitments to Open Government. OGP set up itself a Working Group to assist participating countries in strengthening implementation of commitments and sharing experience on anti-corruption.

Furthermore, OGP would facilitate Vietnam’s implementation of free trade agreements – FTA. By November 2015, Vietnam had entered into and concluded negotiations of 12 FTAs, of which 8 FTAs have taken effect and been enforced. The major FTAs are: the agreement establishing ASEAN Economic Community (AEC); the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) between 10 ASEAN countries and the Six states; FTA with European Union; Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); FTA Vietnam-Korea. Therefore, economists named the year of 2015 in Vietnam as “year of integration”.

The above-mentioned FTAs have paved the way for Vietnam to integrate and develop and expand its markets for traditional commodities of agriculture, forestry, aquaculture, textile and garment, footwear and leather, etc. FTAs also put forward concrete requirements for state members to perform institutional reform of governance towards democracy, openness, transparency and accountability. For instance, TPP includes a separate chapter about transparentization and anti-corruption in which state members are required to ensure that the law, rules and administrative regulations to be published and that legal procedures, particularly administrative procedures will be independent and impartial. TPP’s state members are also required to promote integrity within the state apparatus, maintain or apply code of conduct for public servants and introduce measures against interest conflict. Besides, TPP’s state members are obligated to guarantee participation from society and private sector in anti-corruption activities (Article 26.10). In summary, TPP sets forth concrete requirements to its state members in building governance with integrity- one of principles for the rule of law. International experience has demonstrated that once corruption is pushed back and the rule of law is respected, national economy may grow sustainably.

Sixthly, participating in OGP will further foster the constructive collaboration between State and civil society organizations in improving quality of public governance.

More and more participation of civil society organizations in public governance has become a noticeable trend in Vietnam. Before and at the beginning of Doi Moi, only socio-political organizations within the Fatherland Front system were entitled to take part in and implement policy. At present, scientific and technological organizations, business associations, occupational associations, NGOs are enabled to make contributions to promote transparency, accountability and quality of public services. The Provincial Competitiveness Index (PCI), PAPI and the pilot Project on Citizens scoring public administrative services through M-Score (Mobile phone scorecard tool) are examples of such contributions. However, these contributions only reach the level of providing information for the government. OGP, guided by the principle of collaboration between the state and civil society organizations in setting up national action plans, will lift up the cooperation between the state and civil society organizations in the implementation of Vietnam’s reforms.

Taking part in OGP will bring positive impacts on implementation of the Party’s policy and related Articles of the 2013 Constitution concerning the status, roles of civil society organizations in the period of Fartherland construction and defence. Specifically, within the current political system of Vietnam, the Fatherland Front and its affiliated members bear responsibilities and functions to supervise operations of the state apparatus and make social criticisms. This notion was repeatedly reaffirmed by the Party’s National Congresses from 9th to 12th and was institutionalized by the Politburo’s Decision No. 217-QĐ/TW, dated on 12/12/2013 to promulgate Regulation on Supervision and Social criticism by Fatherland Front and mass socio-political organizations. It clearly pointed out that “supervision” was monitoring, discovering, examining, evaluating, making petitions in order to influence state agencies, organizations, and cadres, party members, elected representatives, public servants, state employees on implementing guidelines, policy of the party, law and policy of the state and that “social criticism” was assessment, remark, raising opinion, recommendations for drafts of guidelines, policies of the party, draft laws and policies of the state. Supervision and social criticisms are functions of Fatherland Front and its affiliated members, which were legalized by the 2013 Constitution stipulating that the Vietnam Fatherland Front shall “rally and uphold the strength of the great national unity, exercise democracy and promote social consensus; conduct social supervision and criticism; and participate in the building of the Party and the State, and in people’s external relations’ activities, thus contributing to national construction and defence”.

These regulations indicate the urgent needs for the Fatherland Front and civil society organizations in Vietnam to continue to reform contents and method of activities in order to fulfil their duties of supervision and social criticism. By requiring that participating countries must collaborate with civil society organizations in formulating and implementing the Action Plans to meet commitments on Open Government, OGP provides an extra mechanism for the Fatherland Front and civil society organizations to no longer stand aside, but directly impact and supervise the state agencies performing social management in accordance with principles of openness, transparency and accountability. Consequently, activities of supervision, social criticism conducted by the Fatherland Front and civil society organizations will be more efficient and practical. This will contribute to removing a major and chronic constraint which is the superficial assurance of participation of civil society organizations and citizens in governance in Vietnam, as indicated in the PAPI Report 2015 and the Report Vietnam 2035.

Seventhly, joining OGP will help Vietnam move up in the ASEAN and global competition ladder, help boost investor confidence and attract high quality FDI.

At present, foreign investors come to Vietnam due to its advantage of a cheap labour force and low expenditures of environmental protection. Such attraction will remarkably decrease and end once the Vietnamese’s income increases and standards for environmental protections will be tightened by the State. Vietnam should be ready for this realistic prospect in the coming years.

A feasible alternative is to appeal high quality investment (in development research) with large knowledge content and added value. However, this alternative demands a transparent and predictable business environment as well as strong institutions to enforce legal regulations. According to a recent research conducted by the World Bank, investors rank investment climate, quality of institutions and law including constituents such as voice and accountability, political stability, efficiency of government, law on business and competition, rule of law and anti-corruption second of significance (just behind size and potential of market) to decide their investment destination for high added value projects. Therefore, participation in OGP will help to boost the process of institutional reform of governance, enhance transparency, accountability and citizen engagement. This will contribute to improving the local investment climate and increasing Vietnam’s attraction to high quality investors.

Source: Study on the Prospect of Vietnam’s Participation in the Open Government Partnership Initiative (OGP) – 2016

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