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Cablegate: Listening to the Views of "the People"

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HANOI 000051

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/BCLTV

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SOCI VM DPOL
SUBJECT: Listening to the views of "the people"


1. (U) Summary. The GVN has set up a comprehensive system
of offices to receive public complaints, including direct
contact with local officials on a regular basis. It appears
that these offices mostly give guidance on where to go for
more specific resolution of problems rather than actually
coming up with solutions. Land tenure is a major and
continuing concern for citizens in the provinces along the
Ho Chi Minh Highway, especially in the Central Highlands.
Corruption is another recurrent theme; complaints against
officials in at least some provinces have led not only to
investigation but also successful prosecution. National
Assembly (NA) provincial offices also exist but appear to be
primarily in an information-gathering mode rather than
focused on constituent service. This network, which is
paralleled in the CPV hierarchy, appears part and parcel
with an overall push for at least the appearance -- if not
yet truly the substance -- of greater grassroots democracy.
More positively, these new functions also symbolize newly
evolving relations in which the State and Party must
increasingly be accountable to Vietnamese citizens. End
Summary.

2. (U) The Government of Vietnam (GVN) and Communist Party
of Vietnam (CPV) have set up an extensive system to "listen
to the voices of the people" and, at least in principle, to
resolve conflicts that lower line officials had failed to
settle. During a recent reporting trip along the newly
constructed Ho Chi Minh Highway (septel), Pol/C and
congenoff met with provincial officials to discuss these
mechanisms and their usage.

--------------------------------------------- -----------
Provincial ombudsmen, or at least "receiving the public"
--------------------------------------------- -----------

3. (U) Provincial officials from Ha Tinh to Gia Lai
provinces described a graduated system of "offices to
receive the public" (sometimes translated into English as
"ombudsmen") that handle public complaints and
dissatisfaction. Ha Tinh provincial Vice Chairman Ngo Duc
Huy confirmed that the province had set up its network of
offices as early as 1998, including the 5-person provincial
office, district-level offices, and commune-level offices.
On the 15th of each month, provincial leaders (i.e. the
Chairman or one of the Vice Chairmen) personally receive
citizens who feel they have not received satisfactory
answers. District-level leaders are expected to be
similarly available for public audiences on the 10th, 20th,
and 30th of each month, while commune-level leaders have
been instructed to set aside one day each week for such
public sessions. In 2003, 385 citizens visited the
provincial office, while another 220 met directly with
provincial officials (about a third fewer than in 2002).

4. (U) Vice Chairman Huy explained that the real purpose
of these offices and sessions was less to "solve" problems
than to "help direct" the citizens to the appropriate
authorities or at least explain legal realities. "Often,
they just don't understand the law," he noted. He and other
provincial officials admitted problems within the network of
"low effectiveness," "slowness," and often "weak" cadres at
lower levels, while nonetheless claiming an "85 pct" success
rate. (This appears to mean cases that do not need to be
forwarded to the Central level.)

5. (U) Quang Tri provincial officials confirmed that their
provincial leaders also set aside one day per month to
receive dissatisfied citizens directly, but were unsure
whether the same practices were current at the district or
commune level. They stressed, however, that increasingly
all state organs (including at the Central level in Hanoi)
had their own separate offices to receive public complaints.
Kontum provincial officials clarified that the State began
to require these public offices at the various local levels
in 1999, and also described a system of monthly audiences by
provincial leaders (rarely more than eight citizens each
month; some months, none) and weekly sessions as the
district level. Gia Lai officials claimed to have had such
offices as early as 1990.

6. (U) Gia Lai province has a smart-looking building in
the capital of Pleiku hosting a combined office -- sponsored
by the provincial people's committee, the provincial
people's council, and the National Assembly provincial
delegation -- to receive the public. However, it is usually
staffed by only two people, according to provincial
officials, and receives no more than "a few people" per day,
if that many. They also confirmed that the office had "no
power to solve" problems per se, but that its role instead
was to help direct citizens into the appropriate channels
and to "offer advice." A sign by the front door lists the
rights and responsibilities of both the office and the
citizens, including respectful behavior in both directions
and the need to be "truthful," but also a guarantee of the
protection of anonymity to citizens making complaints.

----------------------------
What's on the public's mind?
----------------------------

7. (U) According to various provincial officials, the
major subject of complaint centered around land tenure,
typically squabbles within a family, between two families,
or between a family and local authorities seeking to use
land for other purposes. In a few places, officials cited a
few other problems, such as:
-- charges of corruption among officials, especially over
land allocation or requisition. Officials in Gia Lai
province as well as in Quang Nam's Dong Giang district
denied, however, that there had ever been any such
complaints in their areas. Gia Lai provincial vice chairman
Le Viet Huong nonetheless admitted having received some
"anonymous letters" with such allegations, and Gia Lai
National Assembly delegate Tran Xuan Hai separately admitted
"some" cases of citizens protesting corrupt practices,
including four in 2003 that had led to two prison sentences
for five state enterprise officials;
-- non-receipt of promised benefits like retirement pay,
compensation for traffic accidents, etc.; and,
-- "wrong behavior" by officials. Kontum officials
reported a 2003 case in which a deputy commune chief was
fired as a result of complaints lodged against him through
the public complaint process, while two other district-level
cadres remain under investigation from such complaints.
Other provincial officials noted that, in some cases, public
complaints centered less on "wrong" behavior than on
"laziness" or inactivity by local officials. Gia Lai
officials claimed no such cases in 2003 but recalled a 2002
case in which an official was cited for having sex with
prostitutes and was punished with "reeducation through
labor."

8. (U) Officials in the Central Highland provinces of
Kontum and Gia Lai specifically denied that there had ever
been any public complaints about restriction on religious
belief or efforts to convince or force people to renounce
their faith. They claimed to be unaware even of any such
allegations and affirmed that there was not and had never
been any official program to seek renunciations of faith.
They pledged that the provinces would "fine" any local
officials caught engaging in such activities.

9. (U) Gia Lai provincial vice chairman Huong further
described the 2001 demonstrations as having been
orchestrated by "outsiders," rather than reflecting any
local dissatisfaction over land, religious policies, or
official behavior. He claimed that those Montagnards
fleeing into Cambodia were only "seeking a better life," and
he promised that those who returned would receive "help" and
not suffer discrimination or punishment. He admitted that
they at least potentially would lose land use rights,
however. He first claimed that "nobody" had been arrested
after return, brushing off press reports of trials in such
cases as "different" in that those individuals had "violated
the law," mostly for having illegally crossed national
borders.

---------------------------------
What about the National Assembly?
---------------------------------

10. (U) One of the hallmarks of the 11th National Assembly
(elected in May 2002) has been the designation of almost 120
"full-time" delegates -- including at least one per
provincial delegation -- among the 498-member body, and the
mandate to establish a permanent NA office at the provincial
level. According to Ha Tinh provincial officials, there has
been a NA office there since 1998, which mostly "collects
opinions" of the electors about various issues and schedules
"fact-finding trips" by the delegates to the localities,
especially before and after each NA session. They noted
that the NA office's role was primarily to "help delegates
understand local economic and social conditions" rather than
to service constituents' needs or solve their problems.

11. (U) In contrast, Quang Tri provincial officials
described their two-year old NA delegation office as
"running interference" with various provincial and local
agencies on behalf of constituents, primarily on health,
education, social, and cultural issues. Constituents also
have urged the NA office to promote more local investment
and to obtain additional infrastructure, such as to mitigate
damage from flooding. Kontum provincial officials also
reported that constituent interest focused heavily on more
state investment and on expanding educational opportunities.
Quang Nam officials pointed specifically to the construction
of the new Ho Chi Minh Highway as an outcome of constituent
demands upon NA delegates in the province, while admitting
that NA delegates usually visited the district-level at most
twice a year. Gia Lai officials similarly reported that
"opinions" of constituents collected through the NA
provincial delegation tended to focus on economic and social
issues, notably transportation and health.

-------
Comment
-------

12. (U) The CPV and GVN have over the past several years
highlighted increased grassroots democracy as a major goal.
The existence of this network of public complaint offices --
which are mirrored on the CPV side through a similar network
at all levels -- helps at least to provide an venue for
disgruntled citizens to vent steam, as well as an
opportunity for direct contact with both appointed and
elected officials. What is somewhat surprising along the Ho
Chi Minh Highway was the extent to which officials described
these offices fairly frankly as primarily buck-passing
agencies, with little or no genuine power to resolve any
disputes or any overarching authority over provincial or
local units that may be creating local dissatisfaction.
Another notable feature was the extent to which land tenure
-- disputes over land use rights and/or unhappiness over the
way the State in many cases is perceived as having trampled
on individual land use rights -- was one of the enduring and
apparently still sensitive subjects of complaint. That
said, most provincial officials indicated that voter
opinions about the Land Law adopted by the NA in late 2003
were virtually non-existent, indicating either a continued
lack of interest in or understanding of the actions of the
NA, or a persistent belief that local land issues would be
decided by local officials regardless of any changes in
national law. The GVN and CPV both appear committed more to
the appearance than the genuine substance of Western-style
grassroots democracy in action, which does not come as a
surprise. Nonetheless, the existence of these offices
reflects an newly evolving relationship between Vietnamese
citizens and the State and Party, in which the latter are
expected to be more and more accountable or at least
responsive.
PORTER

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