Scoop has an Ethical Paywall
License needed for work use Register



Cablegate: Vietnam's National Assembly Tentatively

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





E.O. 12958: N/A

Ref: Hanoi 2780

1. (SBU) Summary: While still fundamentally a rubber
stamp for official policy, Vietnam's National Assembly
(NA) has made tentative moves toward a more independent
role. It has also become an important tool in the
Vietnamese Communist Party's limited efforts to reform
Vietnam's political system, allowing the Party to
maintain political legitimacy without relinquishing its
hold on power. During its year-end session (October 18-
November 29) the NA approved a record 14 new laws,
including a significant revision of the anti-corruption
ordinance, and adopted a resolution asking the
Government to speed up the issuance of implementing
decrees. First time "interaction" between cabinet
members and delegates made the traditional question-and-
answer session more frank than usual. This NA session
reinforced the Assembly's new role as a check on the
Government, if not the Communist Party. End Summary.

New Legislation

2. (SBU) During its year-end session (October 18-
November 29) Vietnam's National Assembly approved a
record 14 new laws. The latest economic bills
included: a new law governing the GVN's tendering
process, a revised law regulating business, a new
unified investment law for international and domestic
investment, new protections for intellectual property
rights, an E-transaction law, an act to protect the
environment, and a housing law (economic laws assessed
septel). The NA also revised the law governing public
complaints and denunciations so that citizens may now
bring suits against decisions made by State offices.
(Note: This put the law in conformity with the US-
Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement provision on
settlements of disputes. End note).

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading

Are you getting our free newsletter?

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.

3. (SBU) The Assembly also approved a law on combating
corruption and a new law to promote budgetary thrift
and criminalize "wastefulness." (Note: The latter,
developed from an existing ordinance, is mainly aimed
at misuse of State investment in capital construction
projects, poor management and exploitation of natural
and labor resources. The law on corruption is
discussed below. End note.) The Assembly also passed
a law codifying the organizational structure of the
people's police, which emphasized and expanded the role
of police in society, and ratified the Supplemental
Border Agreement with Cambodia (reftel).

Tentative Questions About Implementation

4. (U) One notable feature of this NA session was its
aggressive (by Vietnamese governance standards) review
of Executive power: specifically, delegates discussed
the power of Government officials, including the Prime
Minister, other Ministers, the People's Supreme Court
and the Supreme People's Procuracy, to issue regulatory
documents to explain and enforce Assembly legislation.
According to an Assembly report, regulatory documents
issued by those offices and individuals commonly
contain provisions that are "not in conformity" with
Assembly laws, regulations and resolutions. Four to
five percent of documents issued by ministries and
branches actually contradict higher-level legislation,
the report stated. In addition, delegates complained
that the Government is slow to issue implementing
decrees, which actually bring legislation into force.
(Note: The GVN itself reports that though it was
supposed to have issued 196 regulatory documents from
May 2002 to April 2005, it has only issued 120. A
further 452 ministerial instructions and circulars have
not been issued as required. End Note.) The Assembly
adopted a resolution asking the GVN to speed up the
issuance of the implementing decrees.

Anti-Corruption Measures

5. (SBU) The Assembly also took a pugnacious attitude
towards official corruption. Rounding out the new laws
on Government tenders and national thrift (which the
State-controlled media describes as the main pillars of
the national effort to combat corruption, wastefulness
and misuse of public property), the NA issued a
revision to the anti-corruption ordinance promulgated
in 1998. This long-awaited law establishes a central
steering committee on anti-corruption led by the Prime
Minister and requires annual GVN updates to the NA
about its work. The law also creates a form of Freedom
of Information Act power for media agencies and
reporters, giving them the right to ask government
organizations to provide documents relating to
corruption. In cases where organizations fail to
respond, they must give written reasons for withholding
requested documents. In addition, civil servants
holding official titles and duties, including managers
of State-owned enterprises and army officials, from now
on will have to declare the assets they, their spouses
and their juvenile children own. Asset declarations
will only be publicized when nominated civil servants
are approved for office. These declarations are meant
to make vested interests more transparent when civil
servants make decisions regarding public expenditures,
capital construction, State budget and investment, land
use and management, personnel issues and settlements of
public complaints and denunciations.

6. (SBU) In response to public questions put by
Assembly delegates during the course of this latest
session, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dzung
reportedly admitted that "corruption has not been
pushed back" and "still remains a serious problem" in
Vietnam. Nevertheless, he affirmed Vietnam's
determination to combat corruption and claimed that the
GVN has instructed its agencies to effectively increase
management of land-related issues and the use of public
property, the two areas of public management most
commonly connected with corruption. According to media
sources, Assembly delegates voiced concern over the
appropriateness of the Prime Minister taking the lead
in the anti-corruption fight, and made repeated
requests that government officials, including cabinet
members, make a public vow to combat corruption given
their vested interests. DPM Dzung reportedly responded
by expressing his belief that Prime Minister Phan Van
Khai will be effective as the "commander-in-chief of
the nation's anti-corruption fight."

Anti-Corruption Action

7. (SBU) While the Assembly was in session, the
Standing Committee of the National Assembly (NASC), the
powerful, appointed executive committee of the NA
headed by NA Chairman Nguyen Van An, asked the Prime
Minister to instruct the Ministry of Transportation to
review the individual responsibility of the Ministry's
ranking officials with respect to a recent train
accident in Thua Thien Hue Province. Similarly, the
Prime Minister was asked to instruct the Ministry of
Industry to review responsibility of the head of Petro
Vietnam, the State-owned oil and gas corporation, with
respect to corruption cases in its subsidiaries, as
well as a corruption case involving the Ho Chi Minh
City Electric Company's provision of a large quantity
of fake electricity meters to users, which prompted the
Assembly's dismissal of the delegate who was the
company's Director. A senior Office of the National
Assembly (ONA) staff member told the Embassy's
Political Specialist that Chairman An has explicitly
said he supports a proposal to conduct votes of
confidence on cabinet members and ranking officials on
a regular basis, every 2.5 years. According to the Law
on Organization of the National Assembly, any NA
committee may request a vote of confidence. In
addition, a vote of confidence might be conducted at
the request of 25 percent of Assembly delegates, though
delegates are not allowed to lobby other members to
support such motions. Such a provision makes any
process leading to a vote of confidence "a hard nut to
crack," according to ONA senior advisor Nguyen Chi

Procedural Changes

8. (SBU) During the year-end session, the Assembly
introduced new legislative procedures that allow two
semi-plenary sessions to take place at the same time,
where delegates may discuss draft laws according to
their interests. NASC officials said that the new
procedure is crucial to speeding up the legislative
process, which is critical if the NA is to meet the
ever-increasing demand for new legislation. However,
ONA senior staff members believe that the new procedure
is not satisfactory. Deputy Director Sy Dzung and ONA-
affiliated Legislative Affairs Journal former editor-in-
chief Nguyen Chi Dzung argued that policy-related
issues must be discussed and agreed upon by the whole
National Assembly during plenary sessions, to ensure
true understanding and consensus among Assembly
delegates. The various Assembly committees, however,
should finalize technical issues and specific wording
of draft laws. They also underscored that the limited
number of full-time Assembly delegates, as well as the
lack of professional staff members, "has hindered the
Assembly from moving faster." Twenty-five percent of
the 498 Delegates work full time in the NA. The rest
have other jobs. Sixty-four run provincial
parliamentary offices and the rest work for the
Assembly's committees and the Ethnicity Council.

Public Attention...

9. (U) According to the press, the NA's usual, three-
day question and answer session with cabinet members
was followed closely by the public. According to Le
Quang Binh (NASC member in charge of "people's
aspirations") "voters want to see cabinet members
actually promise to take actions to correct misconduct
... instead of making the usual "acknowledgements" and
commitments to "try" to work out solutions." Binh
asserted that some cabinet members do not take such
commitments seriously, while the Assembly's Board for
People's Aspirations sees them as binding promises to
the NA and voters. "Those ministers who think they
bear responsibility, please promise to do even one
thing, and manage to make it real," especially in the
areas of corruption and mis-management of public
property, he urged. He also noted that these issues
and the "the ever-widening gap between the rich and the
poor, and urban and rural areas" have always been prime
concerns for voters. All observers noted that this
attention made this session's Q and A unusually frank.

...leads to Delicate Questions...

10. (U) For the first time, NA delegates were allowed
to put follow-up questions to cabinet members after
receiving answers to their initial questions. The
Ministers of Education and Training, Labor,
Agriculture, Investment and Planning, Industry, Natural
Resources and Environment, Public Health, and
Transportation; the presiding justice of the Supreme
People's Court; and, DPM Nguyen Tan Dzung, were all
questioned. Many delegates asked how cabinet members
and ranking GVN officials would be held responsible for
misconduct and poor management in their areas or
responsibility. Some of the toughest questions were
put to DPM Dzung concerning the GVN's failure to fight
corruption and misuse of public property.

11. (U) According to press reports, NA Chairman An
noted that previous Q's and A's in previous Assembly
sessions had only proven "pleasing to the ears, instead
of bringing about actual change and improvement;"
however, this year's Q's and A's were more frank
(though they did not yet meet public expectations). He
asked cabinet members to take more responsibility when
it comes to answering questions about pending issues
and requested that delegates be better prepared with
questions in future. ONA Deputy Director Dzung
admitted privately that Assembly delegates are often
not well informed, which makes it hard for them to come
up with sharp questions or arguments. He asserted,
however, that the newly granted permission for
delegates to put follow-up questions to cabinet
ministers made the Q and A session a more "interactive"
exchange of views.

12. (U) The blunt debate over the responsibility of the
individual cabinet members, which was widely covered by
local media, prompted unprecedented rejoinders from
high ranking GVN officials. Prime Minister Khai
publicly asked for "sympathy" from the press with
respect to their frustrations over cabinet members and
ranking GVN officials failing to take responsibility
for mistakes and wrong-doing by lower level Government
employees. Repeating a common phrase "the Party does
personnel issues," Khai said cabinet members basically
do not have the right to nominate or dismiss their
employees. Under the current system, nominations for
general department directors must be approved by the
Central Committee's Secretariat, he revealed, and noted
that "top Government officials responsibilities are
endless, but the power assigned them is limited." Khai
refused to provide specific comments on what he could
do as Prime Minister to rectify the situation. "Change
takes time," he asserted; "nobody knows exactly what
will happen."

... and Prompts NA's Revised Legislation

13. (SBU) According to NA sources, members attending an
ongoing December NASC session support a plan to revise
the Assembly's Organizing Law. The revision reportedly
includes a plan to divide the current Law Committee
into a Law Committee and Judicial Committee. The
Judicial Committee will likely take the lead in
overseeing GVN's anti-corruption efforts. According to
ONA Deputy Director Dzung, the NASC is also leaning in
favor of another proposed amendment that would require
fifty percent of elected delegates to the next NA (to
be elected in 2007) to serve full-time.


14. (SBU) While still primarily a rubber stamp for
policies which have been blessed by the Vietnamese
Communist Party (CPV) and a public relations tool, the
NA has made tentative moves toward a more independent
role, at least in voicing open criticism of the GVN.
Continued criticism of ranking GVN officials by
Assembly delegates and their well-publicized requests
for improvements in selected areas is helping nurture a
public belief that the Assembly actually might have
some power. Conversely, public dissatisfaction with
the GVN has made it harder for the leadership to
squelch Assembly criticisms.

15. (SBU) Comment continued: Empowering the NA is part
of the CPV's overall political development strategy.
Combined with the grassroots democracy movement and a
long-term push to professionalize the bureaucracy, the
more independent NA is a key tool in the effort to
reform the political system in Vietnam to keep pace
with the social and economic complexities brought on by
open markets and rapid growth. The Party is intent on
maintaining and enhancing its political legitimacy
without relinquishing its hold on power. Above all,
that requires continued public acquiescence, if not
support. The policy of empowering the NA, accompanied
by serious attention to the problem of corruption,
addresses the population's top complaint (corruption)
and, it is hoped, draws the public further into the
political system within carefully defined parameters.

16. (SBU) Comment continued: There is no question that
the NA's power, particularly measured against the GVN,
is increasing, and that individual ministers recognize
that they could find themselves answering difficult
questions in front of cameras on the NA floor.
However, the CPV will not allow the growth of an
independent source of power with direct connections to
the population, so there is an essential check on the
NA: the Party dominates the NA's Standing Committee and
all other positions of responsibility, and the
Fatherland Front (a Leninist "mass organization" which
is a parallel organ to the CPV) vets all candidates for
the Assembly before the election. The NA is becoming
stronger and more significant, but it remains very much
inside the system. End Comment.


© Scoop Media

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading
World Headlines

UN News: Aid Access Is Key Priority

Among the key issues facing diplomats is securing the release of a reported 199 Israeli hostages, seized during the Hamas raid. “History is watching,” says Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths. “This war was started by taking those hostages. Of course, there's a history between Palestinian people and the Israeli people, and I'm not denying any of that. But that act alone lit a fire, which can only be put out with the release of those hostages.” More

Save The Children: Four Earthquakes In a Week Leave Thousands Homeless

Families in western Afghanistan are reeling after a fourth earthquake hit Herat Province, crumbling buildings and forcing people to flee once again, with thousands now living in tents exposed to fierce winds and dust storms. The latest 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit 30 km outside of Herat on Sunday, shattering communities still reeling from strong and shallow aftershocks. More

UN News: Nowhere To Go In Gaza

UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said some 1.1M people would be expected to leave northern Gaza and that such a movement would be “impossible” without devastating humanitarian consequences and appeals for the order to be rescinded. The WHO joined the call for Israel to rescind the relocation order, which amounted to a “death sentence” for many. More

Access Now: Telecom Blackout In Gaza An Attack On Human Rights

By October 10, reports indicated that fixed-line internet, mobile data, SMS, telephone, and TV networks are all seriously compromised. With significant and increasing damage to the electrical grid, orders by the Israeli Ministry of Energy to stop supplying electricity and the last remaining power station now out of fuel, many are no longer able to charge devices that are essential to communicate and access information. More


Join Our Free Newsletter

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.