Cablegate: Thai Binh Communes: Once Dysfunctional, Now Exemplars Of

DE RUEHHI #1253/01 3150348
R 100348Z NOV 08



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: On a recent visit to several villages in Thai Binh
Province, Poloff found local officials striving to implement the
"Grassroots Democracy Ordinance," which enshrines greater
transparency in budgets and allows more villager participation in
local decision-making. According to the GDO, Party officials must
organize "confidence votes" for People's Committee and People's
Council Chairman and Vice Chairman once every two years, with local
Fatherland Front representatives presiding; no leader in the
villages Poloff went to was voted out of office in 2008 elections.
Aware previous governance problems in their areas played a
significant role in prompting national grassroots democracy efforts,
district and commune officials were confident these problems are a
thing of the past. End Summary.

"Grassroots Democracy" in the Vietnamese Context
--------------------------------------------- ---

2. (SBU) Communist Party and Government of Vietnam leaders who
obsess over stability began "grassroots democracy" efforts after
riots in Thai Binh Province erupted in 1997 over land grabs and
official corruption. When used by the Party and Government,
however, "grassroots democracy" does not refer to the ability of
people to freely choose their representatives and leaders, but to
leaders' accountability to the people.

3. (SBU) In early 2007, the National Assembly Standing Committee
passed the Grassroots Democracy Ordinance (GDO), which upgraded and
replaced a 2003 decree. The GDO states that commune governments
must publicize socio-economic development, land use and regulatory
plans and estimates, the accounts of annual commune budgets and the
management and use of funds, investment amounts and development aid
for programs and projects. District and commune governments must
also publicize total fees and other finances collected as well as
the results of investigations, inspections and the settlement of
"negative incidents" such as corruption cases at the commune and
village levels.

4. (SBU) The GDO also delineates the responsibilities and powers
officials and civil servants have in settling local problems. The
GDO prohibits acts that "victimize people who have complaints," but
does not specify penalties for local officials who abuse power. The
GDO allows villagers to propose candidates for local leadership
positions and "no confidence" votes in their leaders, although local
Party bodies such as the Fatherland Front (the Party's umbrella
organization for social organizations) preside over these votes.

Practicing "Grassroots Democracy" in Thai Binh
--------------------------------------------- -

5. (SBU) On an October 30 visit to the Thai Binh villages in which
the violent demonstrations of 1997 had taken place, Poloff found
government and Party officials striving to implement the GDO. Thai
Thuy District Party leaders told Poloff that, after the GVN
promulgated the GDO, they organized workshops for all commune
leaders on the ordinance's contents and instructed commune leaders
to disseminate information on the rights people enjoy under the GDO.
The District People's Committee Vice Chairman asserted that, due to
ongoing dialogue between local officials and "the people," improved
living and health standards and solid rice and other agricultural
production, the situation across the District was "stable."

6. (SBU) In Thai Binh's Quynh Phuc and An Ninh Communes, Party
officials in 2008 organized no-confidence votes for the Chairman and
Vice Chairman of the People's Committee and People's Council (akin
to a local National Assembly). However, no leader was voted out of
office. Officials in the communes said they publicized local budget
inlays and outlays, as required by the GDO, through village
loudspeaker systems and via bulletin boards in local Party offices.
Before beginning a project -- for example, building a road -- local
officials consulted the affected people first. Invariably, some
villagers did not want a project to proceed, but Party officials
were eventually able to win them over through consultation, coaxing
and non-financial compensation.

7. (SBU) The Quynh Coi Party Chairman admitted that his commune had
experienced problems with land grabs in 1997. However, since
commune leaders have more "regular dialogues" with villagers, as
directed under the GDO, the number of complaints have steadily
dropped, he declared. He said his office organized confidence votes
once every two years not only for the People's Committee and
People's Council Chairman and Vice Chairman but for school
principals and mass organization heads as well.

8. (SBU) "The people know everything" about how much money the
commune gets from the central government budget and how this money
is spent, the An Ninh People's Committee Chairman asserted. Before
a project is begun, the People's Council meets to discuss ideas and
people are invited to air their views, he added. The commune has
not had any negative incidents -- demonstrations -- since the late
1990's because villagers are involved in the decision-making process

HANOI 00001253 002 OF 002

per their rights under the GDO, he concluded.

Comment: Showcasing Changes in Governance

9. (SBU) In 1997, the central government called in hundreds of
security personnel to restore order in and around An Ninh and Quynh
Coi Communes and closed off the area to outsiders for months after
the demonstrations. That Poloff was easily able to visit these
areas shows just how much the situation has improved and how
confident local leaders are in how they are governing. Based on how
these Thai Binh communes are implementing the GDO, the ordinance
seems a small but important step towards more participatory
government in Vietnam. End Comment.

10. (SBU) This cable was coordinated with ConGen Ho Chi Minh City.


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