Cablegate: Iri Explores Possibilities in Vietnam

DE RUEHHI #0175/01 0461013
R 151013Z FEB 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

SUBJECT: IRI Explores Possibilities in Vietnam

HANOI 00000175 001.2 OF 003

1. (U) Summary: While the conversations were mainly introductory
and exploratory, the unprecedented level of interaction by
Government of Vietnam (GVN) offices during the International
Republican Institute's (IRI's) recent visit was a positive sign the
GVN may be more willing to meet with NGOs and USG organizations with
a good governance agenda. IRI Representative Johanna Kao's
inquiring approach, which focused on learning more about ongoing GVN
grassroots democracy and women's empowerment efforts, was also
well-received. In Hanoi, Ms. Kao was able to hold all meetings that
were requested and she was impressed by the level of engagement of
her interlocutors. Meetings in Ho Chi Minh City also went
relatively smoothly, except for reports from several lawyers who
said they were discouraged by security officials from meeting with
IRI. Overall, Ms. Kao said she came away with a better
understanding of the challenges and opportunities for NGOs in
Vietnam and would be sharing her assessment regarding potential
opportunities for IRI in the near future. End summary.

2. (U) Ms. Johanna Kao, the Indonesia Country Director from the
International Republican Institute (IRI), visited Hanoi and Ho Chi
Minh City, January 23-30, to gain a better understanding of
political reform, women's empowerment and grassroots democracy
efforts the GVN is undertaking and to explore potential
opportunities for IRI to offer assistance with these efforts. While
in Hanoi, Ms. Kao met with USAID officers, various GVN offices, the
Vietnam Women's Union and several NGOs. In HCMC, Ms. Kao met with
two City Council members, representatives from the Ho Chi Minh City
Bar Association and several GVN offices with responsibilities for
women's issues and NGO's.

Building Capacity for Women Leaders

3. (U) Ms. Duong Thi Xuan and Ms. Pham Hoi Giang, representatives of
Vietnam Women's Union (VWU), a mass organization with responsibility
for all women's issues, gave a thorough explanation of their role in
Vietnamese society, including their activities in maintaining the
VWU museum, running a publishing house for in-house publications,
managing a microcredit program for female entrepreneurs, conducting
vocational training for women, and addressing relatively new social
issues like combating HIV/AIDS and trafficking in persons. Citing
their major challenge as the need for capacity building at all
levels, particularly for provincial and commune-level staff, Ms.
Giang noted the VWU is endeavoring to train women leaders and
encourage women's participation in advocacy activities. Ms. Kao
shared details regarding an IRI program focused on women's political
participation in Indonesia, which drew much interest and many
questions from the Women's Union representatives.

4. (U) The HCMC Fatherland Front (the pro-Communist Party and GVN
umbrella group that oversees all mass governmental and
non-governmental organizations in Vietnam) told Kao they are
actively pursuing the GVN's national target of 30 percent
participation by women in the government, noting that the People's
Council Chair and Vice Chair of the People's Committee, two of the
most powerful positions in HCMC's government, are held by women.
Together with the HCMC Women's Union, the Fatherland Front selects
and prepares strong female candidates for public office and believes
they have achieved about 40 percent representation by women in
HCMC's government thus far. Fatherland Front Vice Chairwoman Dr.
Luong Bach Van noted while HCMC has been a leader in promoting
women's participation, traditional attitudes and lack of capacity
have made work in the provinces more challenging. Kao said IRI has
come across similar issues with its program in rural China and would
welcome the opportunity to share more of their experiences with the

Positive Feedback from Former IRI Intern
5. (U) At the National Assembly, Ms. Kao met with one of the Vice
Chairmen of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ngo Duc Manh.
Vice Chairman Manh was very familiar with IRI, having interned with
IRI in Washington in 1996 during his two years as a Fulbright
Scholar and Georgetown Law School. Vice Chairman Manh expressed his
interest in having IRI work with the National Assembly, noting that
"it's time to renew this relationship." He pointed out that many
National Assembly members are interested in the U.S. political
system and learning more about the relationship between the
executive and legislative branches of government, even suggesting
these might be areas where IRI could assist with workshops and
visits by U.S. experts. Manh said as the National Assembly becomes
a more independent and representative body, lobbying is increasingly
becoming a topic of interest among its members. Manh was positive
about the many opportunities for cooperation between IRI and the
National Assembly.

Tale of Two Councilmen

HANOI 00000175 002.2 OF 003

6. (U) Ms. Kao also had the opportunity to meet with two
representatives from the Ho Chi Minh City People's Council. The
Council, a body of 95 elected deputies who in turn choose the
thirteen representative members of the People's Committee, are
ostensibly the ones who bring constituent issues to the Committee's
attention. Self-nominated two-term Councilman Dang Van Khoa
described himself as an "ordinary guy representing ordinary people,"
and emphasized his role as the public's spokesman on key issues like
the city's infrastructure, education, environment and social welfare
programs. Khoa said he was one of the few on the Council with a
reputation for being outspoken, noting that many Council members
were "dozers-off" or too busy with their other occupations to attend
sessions regularly. In contrast, Khoa's long and impassioned
speeches before the Council have earned him the nickname of "the
monologuer." HCMC University of Social Sciences Rector and City
Councilman Vo Van Sen also spoke of the Council's important role in
"checking" the People's Committee, noting that the Committee had to
submit detailed reports of expenditures to the Council for their
review and hold off on passing measures if the Council requested
more information about them. [Note: It was unclear from these
conversations how much actual autonomy the People's Council truly
has, despite the elected status of its members. All candidates are
vetted closely by the Fatherland Front and the majority of the
Council are Party members. Though both Council members spoke
positively of grassroots democratic reform, they did not offer much
in the way of concrete details. End note.]

GVN-NGO Coordination
7. (U) In Hanoi, Ms. Kao also had the opportunity to visit the
People's Aid Coordinating Committee (PACCOM), the lead government
agency for registration of NGOs doing business in Vietnam, to learn
about the requirements necessary for NGO's to function at various
levels within Vietnam, and had several frank discussions with
U.S.-based NGOs operating in Vietnam about the challenges of
beginning work here. The process is long and not necessarily
transparent, and Ms. Kao gained a realistic perspective on what IRI
can expect, should the organization wish to begin conducting
programs in Vietnam. In HCMC, Ms. Kao also met with International
NGO umbrella group the HCMC Union of Friendship Organizations
(HUFO), who work closely with PACCOM to facilitate the work of NGOs
in HCMC and the southern provinces. They were enthusiastic about
Ms. Kao's description of an e-government program in Indonesia that
helped local officials communicate more efficiently with their
communities using Internet and SMS text technology. The project was
so successful that the province was able to mobilize a highly
effective rapid relief effort during a major earthquake last year.
HUFO President Le Hung Quoc said such a program might work very well
in some of Vietnam's rural provinces.

8. (U) In meetings with local women's issues NGOs in Hanoi, Ms. Kao
was briefed on their activities and discussed ways in which IRI's
goals and methods might be effective in partnership with such
organizations. She was impressed by the amount of activity
occurring at the grassroots level, with a great deal of potential
for enhancing the role of Vietnamese women in the political process.
Ms. Kao ended her stay in Hanoi with calls on the National
Committee for the Advancement of Women and the Department of
International Organizations at Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Both
organizations were open and frank with Ms. Kao about their roles and
activities, and welcomed Ms. Kao's desire to meet with them on
future visits.

Legal Eagles Want More Exchanges
9. (SBU) Though four lawyers from the HCMC Bar Association were
invited to meet with Ms. Kao in HCMC, only two, Mr. Dang Dung and
Mr. Le Cong Dinh, came to the meeting. Both said all four were
called by the Minitry of Public Security (MPS) prior to the meeting
and encouraged not to meet with IRI. Dung and Dinh also believe
that newly-confirmed HCMC Law School Rector Madame Quy likely
declined IRI's meeting request due to pressure from authorities.
[Note: Post believes it is more likely she bowed out due to
political sensitivities related to her recent battle to win the top
spot at the HCMC Law School. As acting rector, she met with IRI
several times previously. End note.] Both lawyers believe IRI
could play a positive role in helping to promoting legal reform by
supporting educational and professional exchanges between Vietnamese
and American lawyers. Ms. Kao said she was hoping to assist in
efforts to link up the HCMC Law School with U.S. universities that
have continuing education or mid-level professional programs in
support of this goal, but welcomed more ideas.

10. (U) Comment: Overall, Ms. Kao indicated that her meetings in
Vietnam were very productive, a marked contrast with unsuccessful
past efforts by IRI and all the more remarkable given IRI's stated
goal of democracy promotion. Ms. Kao was able to meet with a wide
variety of interlocutors and discuss possible programs, primarily in

HANOI 00000175 003.2 OF 003

the areas of grassroots democracy and women's participation in the
political process. Both GVN and NGO representatives engaged Ms. Kao
in discussion, expressed a desire for more information, and looked
forward to building a relationship with IRI. This initial visit was
exploratory in nature; the true test will come if/when IRI decides
to attempt a program, either solo or in partnership with a local

11. (SBU) The message received by Ms. Kao from those NGOs already
operating in Vietnam was that it is important to spend a great deal
of time building relationships here in the initial stages. Then
begin with something small and seemingly insignificant to gain the
trust of GVN interlocutors, before attempting to establish a full
program. While PACCOM plays an important role in permitting NGO
operations, NGOs on the ground advised that applications to PACCOM
should be a long way down the road, and indeed could come after
activities have commenced. The difficulties and frustrations HCMC
lawyers outlined also demonstrated that not all GVN entities are on
board with having IRI in Vietnam. Overall, post believes Ms. Kao
gained an accurate picture of both the challenges and opportunities
for NGOs wishing to enter Vietnam, particularly those engaged in the
work of promoting good governance and citizen's political

12. (U) This cable was jointly drafted with Consulate General Ho Chi
Minh City.

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