Donors assist local governance initiative
Ha Noi - Provincial elected representatives and officials of the National Assembly (NA), who have just come back from a two-week visit to European local government institutions, are expected to get their voice heard on empowering local representative bodies in Viet Nam.
"This visit is extremely timely coming just as the crucial debate on the amendment of the Law on Oganization of Local Authorities affecting People's Councils is about to start in the National Assembly," said UNDP Resident Representative Jordan Ryan at the debriefing held yesterday at the NA Office. "I strongly hope that, with their findings, the members of the delegation will enrich and contribute to this important debate."
From 21 July to 4 August, the 15-member delegation visited number of local government institutions, including the Association of Local Government of the Netherlands, the Union of Belgium Cities and Municipalities and the German Association of Cities and Towns. They also met with representatives of local councils in Utrecht, Antwerpen, Brussels, Bonn, Cologne and Rhein-Sieg cities. They held discussions about the local government political systems with academicians at the Universities of Louvaine and Bonn.
"This initiative allowed the Vietnamese elected representatives to see first hand how European local government institutions in general, and local councils in particular function" said Mrs Mia Steninge, First Secretary of the Danish Embassy. The Government of Denmark is providing funding for the UNDP project that sponsored the recent visits. Mrs. Steninge also expressed the hope that the insights the delegation gained into local governance and local democracy in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands will help promote participation, accountability and effectiveness at grassroots levels in Viet Nam.
"The visit provided us with the opportunity to observe different types and models of local governments at work", said Mr. Pham Thanh Son, Vice Chairman of the Office of the NA, who led the delegation. He pointed out the close relationship between the councilors and voters in these countries. "This constituency work can help us deal more effectively with increasing number of complaints and petitions at the local level," Mr Son said. To do this, local deputies, especially at commune level, also need new skills and capacity, according to Mr. Nguyen Van Thuat, Vice Chairman of Nghe An province People's Council.
"We saw that these institutions, though established very long ago, are under going continuous reforms to be as close to the people as possible. Such efforts to ensure the participatory and democratic process are also needed in Viet Nam. But they should be reviewed and analyzed in the Vietnamese context," said Mr Tran Sang, Chairman of Hai Phong City People's Council said.
"No democratic system is perfect", commented Mr. Ryan, citing the UNDP's latest Human Development Report. "Each needs to be constantly improved to respond to the real needs of the people".
Last year, Vietnamese People's Councils were given new power, especially the budget oversight, as part of the decentralization of budgets mandated by the amended Constitution. "It's important that local elected bodies have 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" noted Mr. Ryan.
The visit was organized in the framework of a UNDP project, largely funded by the Government of Denmark, to strengthen local representative bodies in Hai Phong, Nghe An and Binh Duong, three pilot provinces in Viet Nam. As the United Nations global development network, UNDP draws on knowledge and expertise around the world to promote greater democratic governance.
In recent years, international assistance has extended beyond traditional development support to efforts to help the proper functioning of democratic institutions, including legislatures. Last month, UNDP announced a new $2-million initiative on strengthening the legislative, representative and oversight functions of the National Assembly and the People's Councils in Viet Nam. Mr. Ryan emphasised: "This visit is important to foster a deeper understanding of how best to develop institutions that are more responsive to the needs of the citizens, especially the poor".