Speech at the International Consultative Forum on Supporting the Socio-Economic Development of the Ethnic Minorities and Mountainous Areas, 2006-2010

Sep 28, 2006

Speaker: Mr. John Hendra, United Nations Resident Coordinator
Date:       Ha Noi, 28 September 2006
Event:     International Consultative Forum on Supporting the Socio-Economic Development of the Ethnic Minorities and Mountainous Areas, 2006-2010
Your Excellency Pham Gia Khiem, Deputy Prime Minister.
Minister Ksor Phuoc - Chairperson of CEM, and Chairperson of the Forum
Mr. Cao Viet Sinh, Vice Minister of MPI and Co-chairperson of the Forum
Distinguished Guests,  
Friends and Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 It is very much my privilege, as the recently arrived UN Resident Coordinator to Viet Nam, to both also welcome everyone here this morning and to have the chance to address this important forum.  
 I would like to take this opportunity to express, on behalf of the United Nations, our appreciation to the Government of Viet Nam, the Committee for Ethnic Minorities and the Ministry of Planning and Investment, for taking the initiative to organize this forum, which, in our view, is a key mechanism to promote open and constructive dialogue between the Government and the international community on socio-economic development in mountainous areas and among ethnic minority people in Viet Nam.  
 We are very impressed by the Government’s commitment to consultation with the international community, national organizations and in particular men and women, girls and boys from ethnic minority communities and mountainous areas. We in the United Nations believe strongly that openness and democratic participation are the best means to improve policymaking and planning in all spheres, but especially with regard to sensitive issues.  
 As just outlined by Mr. Ha Hung, CEM Vice Chairman, in his comprehensive presentation, Viet Nam has made impressive progress toward achieving the MDGs and important progress in addressing socio-economic development challenges in mountainous area and among ethnic minority people. However, like many other countries, Viet Nam still faces significant challenges in making this progress truly progress for all.  We are all aware of the gaps between lowland and mountainous areas and with minority groups, gaps that speak to the quality, not just the quantity, of progress in poverty reduction.  
 During his recent visit to Viet Nam, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan praised the country as a leader in realizing the Millennium Development Goals. Noting the energy and dynamism of the Vietnamese people, he expressed his astonishment at the speed of the nation’s progress over the past two decades.  
 Yet the Secretary General also recognized that there is much work still to be done in realizing the MDGs in every province, in every district and in every village. In his words (and I quote): For Viet Nam and the United Nations, the job will not be done until everyone enjoys freedom from hunger and deprivation, access to education, protection from infectious diseases and a healthy, safe environment.   
 The United Nations shares with Viet Nam the belief that no one should be left behind in the drive towards national prosperity and enhanced human development. In Viet Nam, this means extra efforts for the least well off, an emphasis on reducing poverty in ethnic minority and mountainous areas and ensuring that ethnic minority people enjoy equal access to the full range of social services, including education, health, clean water and sanitation. This is an imperative of equitable growth and development.   
 As the new United Nations Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam, I am particularly impressed with the Government’s demonstrated commitment to social equity. Policies and programmes such as Programme 135 and the National Targeted Programmes have made as we have seen, and will continue to make, a real contribution to the lives of ethnic minorities and others living in poor and mountainous areas. The rich experience these past efforts represent are an invaluable foundation for your efforts in the future.  This forum is an excellent opportunity to review progress and lessons learned from that experience and to chart out a more accelerated path going forward.
 I am sure that today’s discussions will be interesting, open and constructive.  With your permission, I would like to take just a few more minutes to outline with you some initial key considerations we feel will also be important to discuss during this forum.
Participatory Approaches
 Global development experience shows that people themselves are good judges of what they need.  Programmes that give people the opportunity to make choices produce better outcomes than those that over-centralize decision-making.  So it should come as no surprise that education and health services are more likely to address the real needs of ethnic minority people if they themselves have a role in setting priorities and determining approaches. We therefore welcome whole-heartedly the efforts already made to open up the redesign process of Programme 135. We in the UN believe that this marks a qualitative shift in Viet Nam’s approach to poverty reduction. We are pleased to have played a small role in this, and we stand ready to support the Government’s efforts to take participation and consultation even deeper.
Empowering Approaches
 In line with a participatory approach, it makes sense that we seek to empower people to take charge of their own development. One approach is to decentralize control over resources to the lowest possible level consistent with accountability and transparency. That is why we also fully support the decision to further decentralize management and implementation of Programme 135 to the commune and village levels. This change empowers the poor and their communities to exercise the rights as envisaged in the Grassroots Democracy Decree, and to become owners of their development process. We believe it is also time to take this principle down to the level of the individual through piloting cash transfer programmes.  The United Nations stands ready to support such initiatives with access to comparative international experience, best practice and impartial monitoring and evaluation of policy and programme pilots.
Evidence-based Approaches
 Trying to achieve development results without adequate data is like trying to ride a bike from Danang to Kon Tum with your eyes shut – it’s likely to have a bad end result.  Effective programmes and policies have to be based on reliable, appropriate and high quality data.  We need to understand what’s happening to know where our efforts are needed most, to identify what approaches are required and to assess what’s worked and what hasn’t.  We know that our data on the situation of the poor in ethnic minority and mountainous areas is not as robust as we’d like it to be.  Ensuring that the infrastructure is in place to furnish decision makers with the data they need is an essential first step to effective development efforts. Sound evaluation of what we have already done is an equally important guide to what we should, or indeed should not be doing in the future. Once again, as the United Nations here in Vietnam, we commit ourselves to supporting the Government in its efforts in these areas.
Capacity at Local Levels
 Good policies and adequate resources are necessary but not sufficient in themselves. The worthwhile ambitions of the range of efforts the Government makes for ethnic minority and mountainous areas will not be maximized if local government and, most importantly, ethnic minority people and the poor themselves lack the capacity to take charge of own development. Hence, strengthened local capacities are key to the effective development and implementation of policies and programmes, and to ensuring the achievement of the MDGs in every province, in every district and in every village in Viet Nam.
 Finally, coordination will be as crucial to poverty reduction for ethnic minority and mountainous areas as it is for all aspects of Viet Nam’s development process.  As we now know internationally - and as Vietnam is showing the world - any attempt to achieve the MDGs will only succeed if they are translated into nationally-owned and nationally-driven strategies.  In short, coordination only fully works when truly owned and led by Government.  
 That’s why we welcome the Government’s leadership in organizing this forum as well as in coordinating these various efforts. Again, we stand ready to support the Government’s coordination efforts, including the establishment of more transparent and effective systems and procedures in planning and implementing the Government’s own programmes. These can enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of government programmes and encourage donors, in line with Hanoi Core Statement, to both align their support to Government programmes and better ingrate assistance.
 I would like to conclude by again thanking CEM and MPI for providing us with this opportunity for this discussion and for their hard work in organizing today’s event. We look forward to active discussions and to learning more about your efforts to improve the quality of life of ethnic minority people and others who live in mountainous areas and ways in which we as the United Nations can better support these efforts in close collaboration with other development partners.
 Thank you and on behalf of the United Nations, I would like to wish this important forum great success.
Xin cam on.