Speaking points by UNDP Country Director, Louise Chamberlain, at the Annual Ethnic Minority Policy Forum

May 19, 2014

Date: 19 May 2014
Event: Annual Ethnic Minority Policy Forum
Venue: Melia Hotel Ha Noi

Mr. K’Sor Phuoc, Chairman of the Ethnic Council of the National Assembly;
Mr. Danh Ut, Vice-Chairman of the Ethnic Council;
Mr. Son Phuoc Hoan, Vice-Minister, Council for Ethnic Minority Affairs;
His Excellency Ambassador of Ireland, Mr. Damien Cole;
Honorable Members of the National Assembly,
Government representatives, Community members, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are here today because we believe there are few more pressing development challenges faced by Vietnam than the persistence of entrenched poverty in Ethnic Minority Communities. This is a vital area of work that requires bold new thinking. It is important that we all - government, national and international partners - redouble our efforts to close the disparities and inequities which have emerged in income poverty and other domains.

I begin by commending the Government’s commitment, and by thanking the Ethnic Council of the National Assembly and the Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs, for organizing this policy forum.
Difficult problems require innovative solutions, and the purpose of this event is to provide space for open dialogue and collaborative analysis. This year’s discussions will provide direct inputs to the National Assembly’s oversight of poverty reduction policies and programmes, and the specific challenge of accelerating the pace of development in ethnic minority communities.

The United Nations in Viet Nam strongly appreciates the proactive approach of Government at all levels in the current review of poverty reduction policies and programmes. Development Partners are keen to contribute to identifying key issues and policy recommendations. We also acknowledge the clear directives from the National Steering Committee for Poverty Reduction issued in April and May of this year, and the follow up to commitments made at the Viet Nam Development Partner Forum.

It is important that we recognize the challenges that need to be overcome, in order to close the gaps. I would specifically highlight the following four points:

First, poverty levels for the Ethnic Minorities groups are more than three and half times the national average and the gap does not seem to have narrowed in recent years. The mainstream growth process, despite its tremendous achievements, has not been able to reach all, and at the same time, the comprehensive poverty reduction framework through the National Target Programmes has not been effective in addressing imbalances.

Second, underpinning these variations is the reality that deeper economic development in Ethnic Minority areas has been weak. Ethnic Minority households remain reliant on farming and forestry; job creation and productivity improvements have been constrained and highly uneven. And still, it is worth noting that agricultural productivity has been the key driver of the limited poverty reduction that we have seen.

Third, if we look at multidimensional poverty the situation is actually quite complex. Although the gap versus national averages tends to be smaller, the constraints faced by specific groups and minority communities are often more problematic. A key question is the quality of public service provision, especially in healthcare and schooling, and there is even a worsening of multi-dimensional poverty for children within some groups.

Fourth, we have seen the growth of inequalities among and between Ethnic Minority groups and significant differences in outcome. Evidence suggests this is driven by the ability of groups to access and benefit from national development. For example, poverty among the Thai has actually increased in recent years. This is astonishing given economic growth has been positive during the period and others have seen ongoing reductions in poverty. Explaining this differential performance is challenging and calls for analysis and a more diversified approach which recognizes particular characteristics of that population group; and yet, does not lead to stereotypical responses.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me briefly touch on some policy and implementation responses to this situation. Fist, in order to secure more rapid development for the ethnic minorities, common efforts need to move rapidly from the articulation of good intentions to addressing the ground realities.

It is time to challenge some assumptions that determine existing policy. Focus should increasingly be on empowering people to become architects of their own destiny. Policies and programmes should serve as enablers to the capacity of individuals and communities to overcome disadvantages. Ethnic Minorities should not been seen merely as targets of policy, but rather as agents of change, able to contribute to and participate in their own development, and that of Viet Nam at large.

Closely linked to this is the pressing need to embrace, promote, and respect cultural diversity and develop culturally appropriate understandings of development processes. Growing evidence shows that contextualization is needed if ethnic groups are to participate in and benefit from national economic development. Cultural diversity needs to be recognized as a fundamental ingredient in inclusive development, and must form part of any future efforts to change the legal framework governing Ethnic Minority development.

Third, in the implementation of policy, there is a need for better coordination, especially in the balance between central management and local delivery; horizontally and vertically; and enabling a more active engagement of local civil society.

In addition to the shaping of strong policy responses, a more active role of CEMA as the champion and rapporteur of ethnic minority development, and a greater focus on the monitoring of outcomes as changes in people’s lives rather than on the reporting on inputs, combined with accountability measures at the local level, can help improve results.

Co-chairs, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I will end my brief remarks here. - I wish all participants success in today’s discussions and hope that these will deliver practical recommendations to address the needs and aspirations of Ethnic Minorities. The United Nations in Viet Nam is ever ready to support the National Assembly and the Government in formulating new approaches and in bringing these to fruition.

Xin Cam on