Viet Nam should be proud of its record in promoting economic growth and poverty reduction, United Nations resident co-ordinator Pratibha Mehta told Viet Nam News Agency.
On September 2, 1945, in the Declaration of Independence to establish the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, President Ho Chi Minh quoted the US Declaration of Independence saying: "All men are created equally. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness". Throughout the past 70 years, Viet Nam has been striving for a better life for its people. What would be your comments on Viet Nam's efforts in promoting human rights, especially with regard to economic growth and poverty reduction?
Viet Nam should be proud of its record promoting economic growth and poverty reduction. Viet Nam's Doi Moi reforms paved the way for enormous improvement in the economy and people's livelihoods. Due to the focus on agriculture and high employment, alongside a decline in household size, growth has also been highly pro-poor and inclusive. Poverty fell from around 60 per cent in the early 1990s to around 10 per cent today (on a roughly comparable basis), meeting the Millennium Development Goal 1 (MDG) target ahead of schedule.
Broader progress in economic and social rights includes an increasing trend in participation of the population in the national workforce. Viet Nam reduced the proportion of households living in temporary houses down to 5 per cent (from 22.5 per cent in 1999), 90 per cent of the population have access to safe water, and almost all people have access to the national electricity grid.
Viet Nam also has 99 per cent of children enrolled in primary school at their right age. Health has been significantly improved, as shown through achievement of MDGs 4 and 5 on reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.
But of course, there are still issues to be addressed in the economy, which needs to make a shift to higher levels of productivity and in poverty which is heavily concentrated in ethnic minority areas. Indeed, ethnic minorities now account for more than half of the poor.
There is momentum building within Viet Nam to join global trends respecting the intrinsic value of universal human rights. This is notable in recent years through joining the Human Rights Council, the ratification of seven of the nine major human rights treaties, its two cycles of universal periodic review, and visits from United Nations special rapporteurs.
The on-going dialogue on human rights in Viet Nam should also be brought to the provincial level to ensure as many voices as possible are involved. Viet Nam has decided to consider further visits from special rapporteurs and the UN stands ready to support such visits and follow up actions to implement their recommendations.
After 2015, the UN will transition from MDGs to SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) so what would be your recommendations for Viet Nam in developing long-term strategies, especially in the context of the 12th National Party congress?
I would begin by encouraging the policymakers to keep the values and principles of the 1945 Declaration of Independence to the forefront when developing plans and strategies. Viet Nam has always placed an emphasis on the happiness and welfare of its people. Equity and adopting a people-centred approach are hardwired within Vietnamese policymaking.
These themes lie at the heart of the ambitious SDG which will replace the MDGs, and is due to be adopted in the UN General Assembly in September. While underpinned by the same development principles, the SDGs offer a robust framework with concrete benchmarks to both monitor and guide national development plans and policies.
The SDGs allow for better national tailoring, especially recognising the challenges faced by middle income countries (MICs) – such as the need to boost national economies while protecting the environment and maintaining equity, facilitating investment and transfer of technologies, and ensuring modernisation and inclusion of societies.
Environmental sustain-ability is taking centre stage. This is vital given the growing global threats posed by climate change, and these are especially pertinent to Viet Nam which remains one of the world's most exposed nations.
Additionally, ensuring equity, another key theme of the SDGs, is likely to require more activist policies going forward. This is particularly relevant to MICs like Viet Nam where greater inequality and vulnerability, due to demographic change, urbanisation and industrialisation tend to emerge. Growth alone can no longer be relied on to eliminate poverty and new forms of multi-dimensional poverty have become apparent. This requires renewal and modern-isation of targeted program-mes to address areas and groups (especially the ethnic minorities) which disproportionately suffer from poverty, improvements in the scope and quality of public services and national investments in social protection to ensure that no-one is left behind.
Viet Nam has a lot to show for its successes with the MDGs and can lead the way in localising the new development framework. Yet there are also certain areas of unfinished business which need to be addressed – notably on goals, such as MDG 7 on environmental sustainability where performance could be stronger. This should be the first priority in the post-2015 period.
How will UN assist Viet Nam in implementing the SDGs?
The Government of Viet Nam and the UN are already in the process of jointly developing plans for UN engagement in the country beyond 2016.
As we move towards implementing the Sustainable Development agenda the values of human rights and equity become all the more important. This is why ensuring that these common values are at the core of national development planning is essential.
The UN will support Viet Nam in accessing global best practices, approaches and expertise in economic, social and environmental policy. The UN agencies in Viet Nam will support further global and regional integration, and promote south-south collaboration and regional and global networks and partnerships.
The SDG framework is ambitious and complex, and all countries must mobilise resources, including domestic financing, in a national effort to meet the targets. A specific challenge facing Viet Nam is likely to be the progressive decline in overseas aid and concessional lending, so it is also essential to facilitate the effective contribution of private sector partners.
I want to close by cautioning that securing best value may require changes in the composition of spending. Specifically, economic and social spending is often as valuable as an investment as infrastructure spending.
These are big issues for a newly emergent MIC, but rest assured that the UN will continue as a key partner supporting Viet Nam in meeting the challenges of the post 2015 world. — VNS