Speech at Da Nang Conference “XII National Assembly: Enhancing Capacity during the Integration Period”

30 Aug 2007

Speaker: Mr. John Hendra, United Nations Resident Coordinator
Date:       Thursday, Aug 30 – Friday, Aug 31, 2007
Event:      Da Nang Conference – “XII National Assembly: Enhancing Capacity during the Integration Period”

His Excellency Uong Chu Luu,  Deputy Speaker of Viet Nam’s  National Assembly (NA)
Dr. Nguyen Si Dung, Vice-Chairman, Office of Viet Nam National Assembly Senior Government Officials
Donor colleagues and international guests,
My Fellow Colleagues from the United Nations Family in Viet Nam  
Ladies and Gentlemen
 
As UN Resident Coordinator, It is very much my privilege to provide a few opening remarks for this very important Conference here in Da Nang. At the outset, and on behalf of all of us here today, I would like to offer our warm congratulations to you Vice-Chairman Uong Chu Luu, and to the other leaders of the National Assembly, on your recent election -- or re-election as the case may be. Your commitment to making the National Assembly strong and effective during this challenging period of rapid change in Viet Nam is both impressive and of vital importance to the country’s future development. We greatly appreciate your presence at this conference here in Da Nang.  
 
I would also like to offer our sincerest appreciation to Dr. Si Dung for your great professional commitment and your consistent efforts to ensure the continuation of this important, ongoing dialogue between the National Assembly, the Office of the National Assembly and the donor community.
 
Finally, I would also like to extend a warm welcome to senior officials from the Government of Viet Nam, Counsellors and senior international experts here with us to share their experience. Your presence at this conference and your support are very important.
 
As many of you know, a similar Conference as today’s took place in 2002 in this very hotel, after the election of the XI National Assembly. That Conference proved be to a significant step forward in strengthening the relationship between the National Assembly and the international community, and the subsequent partnership that developed has helped further enhance  the capacity of the National Assembly these past five years.  
 
It is clearly our hope that this Conference will also provide a similar opportunity for the new leadership of the National Assembly to build a strong partnership with the international community. These two days offer an excellent setting for the leadership to discuss with national experts and the international community the priorities, expected results and important challenges facing this new National Assembly. The Conference offers the opportunity to share in an open manner best practices and identify various options to address key challenges ahead.  
 
During Viet Nam’s reform process, the role of the National Assembly has been evolving -- and will continue to evolve. With the rapid development of the country, new demands are being placed on the Assembly and on its elected members. There is more work to be done in scrutinizing and passing laws, in addressing concerns of citizens and in ensuring oversight. In that context, the strengthening of the capacity of the Assembly is one of the key aspects of overall governance reform in Viet Nam.  
 
Clearly, the National Assembly has made important progress over the past five years in carrying out the functions defined for it by the Vietnamese Constitution. This is evidenced by the number and content of laws passed during the XI Legislature, and the tools used to scrutinize the work of the Government.
 
However, as the Vietnamese leadership itself emphasized during its first session last month, the Assembly has key tasks to perform to improve and harmonize the legal system, to strengthen oversight on Government performance and law enforcement at all levels, and to increase its role in decision making on major national issues, including socio-economic plans and financial policies.  
 
The full performance by National Assembly of the prerogatives it has been given by the 1992 Constitution should substantively contribute to the new phases of Viet Nam’s reform process and path towards greater international integration. In particular, the National Assembly through its elected members as representatives of  the people should be a more vocal partner in the discussion related to socio-economic development policies.  

The Assembly also has a key role to play with respect to the state budget and should contribute to strengthening of the budgetary procedures and the budget structure, as well as increased participation in budgetary allocations through the review of the budget now entrusted to the full National Assembly. This will be of crucial importance as Viet Nam approaches middle income status and will need to rethink its approach to social security – and important decisions on state budget allocations to health care, childcare, education, employment security and  pensions.
 
Like so many other legislative bodies, the National Assembly  will not be assessed just against the number of laws passed, but also by the quality of those laws, the organizational effectiveness of its Committees, the strength of  its Procedures and the adoption by the Assembly of key Acts.  
 
From a United Nations perspective, we look forward to this National Assembly continuing the good work of its predecessor on gender equality by debating and approving the new Law on Domestic Violence.  What’s more, while good progress has been made in putting in place the legal framework for anti-corruption efforts, as the UN we also hope to see this National Assembly ratify the United Nations Convention Against Corruption as it can both help address gaps in the existing legal and institutional framework and ensure systematic monitoring and reporting.  
 
As we will discuss, the Assembly still faces many challenges - particularly in the three key areas of representation, law-making and oversight. While important strides were made during the XI National Assembly, the capacity of the Assembly with regard to law-making and oversight remains limited compared to the needs of the country.  
 
Not only is the need for representation and interaction between Members of  the National Assembly and the public outlined in the 1992 Constitution, it is also important to recall that the ability of Deputies to represent the citizens of Viet Nam and maintain contact with them was very much emphasized by voters during the recent campaign. The National Assembly will need to determine how to increase the frequency of its interaction with social organizations and broader civil society. Not only will this contribute to direct contacts and thus strengthen participation, it will also allow Deputies to access technical and specialized expertise which could help inform the debate and the drafting of laws within Committees.
 
In measuring our ambitions, it is important to remember that  the majority of deputies do this work on a part-time basis. Add to this the fact that almost 70% of the deputies are newly-elected, and one can see how important it is that the capacity of the National Assembly be  developed in a sustainable manner to meet the challenges of the country and the expectations of voters.
 
In this regard, I think two key questions require specific consideration over these next two days: 1) how to best ensure that the increased capacity of the National Assembly is institutionalized?; and 2) how to combine individual capacity development of Deputies with sustained capacity development of the institution itself?  
 
As UN Resident Coordinator, I would like to re-affirm that the UN system is strongly committed to assisting Viet Nam in this high priority area. The UN enjoys a close relationship with the National Assembly as exemplified by ongoing support for elected representatives being provided by UNDP, UNIFEM, UNICEF, UNFPA and other UN agencies with contributions from several key donors including Canada, Ireland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.  
 
 With the formal adoption of the “One UN Plan” by the Government of Viet Nam and the UN Participating Agencies, with its strong focus on transparent, participatory and accountable governance, and with strong support from many development partners, we look forward to continued cooperation between the UN, the broader donor group and the National Assembly. In particular, we will soon start new initiatives under the “One Plan” to further enhance the capacity of the National Assembly and continue our work with the Committee on Budgetary Affairs. I am confident that the close relationship that exists with the National Assembly, its Committees, Deputies and staff will not only continue but deepen.
 
Finally, I also hope that this Conference might mark the beginning of an annual opportunity for the senior leadership of the National Assembly and the international community to discuss, in an open and constructive manner, what can be accomplished to enhance the capacity of the National Assembly.
 
Let me conclude by wishing all of us success over these next two days. Today’s Da Nang Conference is an excellent opportunity to hear from national and international experts and exchange views about how best to address these challenges, especially during this period of increasing integration of Viet Nam into the global economy.  
 
I look forward to the next two days, and hopefully meeting again soon, to review the progress we have made together in addressing some of the most important challenges facing Viet Nam’s new National Assembly.
    
Thank you very much for your kind attention.