A seminar will be held in Hanoi City on Thursday to announce Vietnam’s Provincial Governance and Public Administration Index (PAPI) following a recent survey jointly conducted by the Central Committee of Vietnam Fatherland Front, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the National Assembly’s People Aspiration Committee. Jairo Acuna Alfaro, UNDP Policy Advisor on Public Administration Reform and Anticorruption, talks with the Daily about key findings in the new survey. Following are excerpts.
The Saigon Times Daily: Can you give an account of the survey’s findings on corruption in major sectors including health, education and land management?
Jairo Acuna Alfaro: PAPI 2011 for the first time provides evidence to quantify the costs of corruption and informal payments in Vietnam. We tend to say that corruption is bad for societies and that it hurts the poor the most. We also tend to hear the Government’s and Party’s reports saying that corruption is a problem and threatens the survival of the regime, development progresses and national cohesion, but we seldom have the evidence to back up these assertions. The PAPI data now provides that evidence. For example, the average size of the informal payment on health (bribes to receive public health care) is about VND1.3 million per treatment, while the amount of informal payment for school teachers’ extra classes/favoritism for students is VND5.2 million per school year. To obtain a land use right certificate (the administrative procedure) it is almost VND1 million. When you consider Vietnam as a low middle-income country and that the minimum official salary is about VND1 million, then these informal payments are clear burdens, as they represent more than one month’s wage of a public employee.
How would you comment on the findings on corruption?
- These findings answer a request for objective and reliable evidence and information from national level authorities, in particular the Government Inspectorate and the Office of the Steering Committee on Anti-Corruption. They both have requested information that quantifies the costs of corruption and informal payments experienced by citizens.
What this evidence suggests is that at the national level, authorities need to consider measures that deal with the combination of “gift-giving” practices to acknowledge appreciation for services received with “ask-and-give” practices in the forms of informal payments and larger amounts of bribes.
At the national level, the Government has instituted regulations on “gifts” for public officials and public employees, but in practice it is poorly implemented and informal payments are systemic.
Are there similarities in people’s concerns about land use issues in the provinces in the survey? What are they?
- Yes, there are many similarities across provinces regarding land management and related administrative issues. For instance, on the overall sub-dimension of land use plans and pricing, the difference between the lowest scoring province (Hai Phong) from the median scoring province (Hanoi) is minimal. That is, from Hai Phong’s 1.25 score out of a maximum of 3.3, and Hanoi’s score of 1.54, there are 31 provinces in between with extremely similar experiences by citizens. Other similarities include: citizens are poorly informed about land use plans; the land use plans have negative impact on citizens’ life; compensation is far from close to the market value; and citizens do not know where to go to get land use plans and related information.
Another similarity is in relation to administrative procedures. When compared with other administrative procedures, the procedure to get land use right certificates is consistently the lowest performing. That is, while progress has been made in terms of construction permits, certification/notary services and other personal procedures (like birth certificates, marriage certificates and the like), procedures on application for land use right certificates are experienced as the most bureaucratic, non transparent, poor in timelines of completion, poor in competency of public officials and overall unsatisfactory.
What is your assessment about grassroots democracy in the country?
- Citizens seem to be highly aware and knowledgeable about their grassroots democracy rights and obligations. However, this high level of awareness and knowledge does not seem to translate into practice of those rights. Information that is mandated to be publicly available and known by local authorities is still kept under close scrutiny. For instance, eight out of ten citizens are not aware of the local land use plans, less than 50% are aware of the poor households’ lists and only one third of citizens think commune budgets are made publicly available.
Moreover, important accountability institutions that originate from several grassroots democracy regulations are little known to the citizens. The People’s Inspection Boards and the Community Investment Supervision Boards are working and operating under the anonymity, which suggest that citizens are interacting very little with them.
On average one third of citizens participate in the decision making to start local levels projects with their own contributions (34%). But here there are contrast differences between provinces. In Long An, 66% of citizens said they participated in deciding the project, which is very high and suggest a great deal of local level participation. However, in the neighboring province of Tra Vinh, merely 3.28% of citizens said they participated in the decision of their own projects.
What points would you like to comment further?
- One point that I would like to comment further is the important role the Vietnam Fatherland Front has played in this process. As you may be aware, the Front is mandated by article 9 of the Constitution of Vietnam to “monitor the activities of the state agencies, elected deputies, state officials and employees.” Moreover, the Vietnam Fatherland Front Law of 1999 states in article 12 that the supervision by the Front “aims to contribute to safeguarding and building the Socialist Republic of Vietnam into a clean and strong one operating effectively and efficiently, and to protect the legitimate rights and interests of the people.” PAPI falls within these mandates and in a pioneering and innovative way provides objective information and evidence about citizens’ experiences and aspirations about governance, public administration and public service delivery. This new evidence complements and supports existing monitoring mechanisms that the Front and other institutions collect and discuss on a regular basis.
Reported by Tu Giang