Speech at national assembly-donor dialogue on public consultations

01 Dec 2009

Speaker: Ms. Setsuko Yamazaki, UNDP Country Director.
Date:      1 December 2009
Event:     National assembly-donor dialogue on public consultations

Dr Nguyen Si Dung, Vice-Chairman of the Office of the National Assembly;
Honorable Members of the National Assembly;
Honorable Members of People’s Councils;
Distinguished representatives from the international community;
Ladies and Gentlemen;

The representation function of a parliament requires that the interests and aspirations of that country’s people are considered and reflected in all parliamentary work. Public consultations help to ensure that the views of citizens are included in the legislative process and that this process is systematic, transparent and inclusive. The dialogue this morning on how a public consultation mechanism can be introduced as part of the work of elected bodies in Viet Nam is therefore very important and I am encouraged to see so many participants here. 

Increasingly, governments and parliaments around the world are facing pressures from citizens to open up decision-making processes on policies and legislation. This is as a result of economic and social changes and an expanding information society that has increased the desire of citizens to be heard – and not just during elections.

For instance, in February this year Australia held the first-ever Citizen’s Parliament which gathered 150 ordinary citizens representing different regions of the country who spent four days discussing how Australian democracy could be improved. And in 2005, Russia created a “Public Chamber of the Russian Federation”, composed of a variety of civil society organizations that analysed different legislative initiatives from the point of view of various sectors of society. 

Over the past decades, the National Assembly in Viet Nam has been reforming its own procedures and taken a series of measures to make its work more transparent and accessible to the people of Viet Nam. The National Assembly now broadcasts some of its legislative sessions on radio and TV and has introduced other information resources, including a National Assembly website, a newspaper and a magazine to make information about its activities more widely available.

The various public consultation processes which we will be discussing today, such as public hearings, mark yet another step towards strengthening the systematic participation of citizens in legislative work in Viet Nam.

So what are the benefits of public consultations?

As Viet Nam transitions to middle-income country status and integrates further with the rest of the world, the National Assembly is increasingly dealing with complex and technical policy issues. The work of the parliamentary committees in providing detailed analysis and scrutiny of national policies and legislation therefore becomes critical. This year, the National Assembly Committee on Social Affairs has chosen to consult on the draft law on people with disabilities as well as implementation of the labour code on the situation of women workers. I understand that through different forms of consultation government agencies, people with disabilities, women workers, the business sector, researchers and experts have all had the opportunity to contribute their views on both pieces of legislation. The UN is very interested to hear how these different perspectives have further enriched the law-making process by the committee.

However, let us not forget that public consultation is a two-way process. Just as important as seeking the views and opinions of the public is the obligation to account for the use of these views. If citizens learn that their efforts to contribute have not had an impact on parliamentary decisions, these decisions may lose their legitimacy and discontent and disengagement can arise. 

Public consultations are particularly relevant at the provincial and local levels. Experience from around the world demonstrates that good local governance can help to achieve and further human development and poverty reduction. Local assemblies, and in the case of Viet Nam, the People’s Councils, are closest to the groups targeted by national or local policies and programmes. The ability of the People’s Councils to properly perform their function has a direct impact on the living conditions of the people they represent. Public consultations are therefore critical to ensuring that the needs of the entire community are met, especially the most disadvantaged groups.

Let me take this opportunity to commend the Committee of Social Affairs and the People’s Councils of Lao Cai, Nghe An, HCMC, Hai Phong, Quang Ngai, Hoa Binh, Thanh Hoa, Dong Thap, Bac Giang and Binh Thuan for your efforts to promote the contribution of citizens to your decision-making processes. Not only will the quality of your decisions be enhanced but there is also the potential that citizens will become more proactive contributors within your communities and help to achieve Viet Nam’s development goals. So I strongly encourage you to continue working, under the leadership of the National Assembly, to refine the consultation tools and adopt them as part of your legislative work.

UNDP, through its project with the Office of the National Assembly, has supported the pilot consultation processes for two years. I would like to stress our commitment to continue a transparent dialogue and collaboration with the leadership of the National Assembly and the donor community.

Finally, let me end by thanking the Office of the National Assembly of Viet Nam for partnering with UNDP to facilitate this important dialogue with the donor community. I look forward to listening to the experiences you will share with us this morning and hope that the dialogue proves useful in providing further inputs for how we can refine the consultation tools and make them part of the work of the National Assembly and People’s Councils.

I wish you all a fruitful discussion. 

Thank you.