Vu Mao, former chairman of the National Assembly Office, speaks to the Khoa hoc & Doi song (Science & Life) newspaper about question and answer sessions during National Assembly meetings.
Do you think depu-ties should provide evidence for their arguments if they want to ask a question of a senior government official in the national assembly during Q&A sessions?
We should consider the meaning of this concept in a wider context. The deputies convey questions from voters in their constituencies. Ideally those questions should be supported by evidence. But in many cases they can't. In my opinion, the deputy should be able to use evidence that he/she gathers from the media. We shouldn't put the deputies under so much pressure to provide evidence.
Do you mean that we shouldn't make it a rule that questioning deputies should provide evidence?
That's right! Voters in constituencies only tell deputies what they hear and see in their local area. Also, deputies themselves don't have offices to help investigate into what they are told by voters. For example, at a recent Q&A session of the full house last month, deputy Do Van Duong asked a senior official standing in the dock why buying an egg in Viet Nam carried 14 taxes. He then listed all 14 types of tax. In that Q&A session, the official had to explain why there were so many taxes on eggs.
That was a good case. But evidence can't always be given like in the egg case. Some questions relate to quality of services, so it's more difficult to provide a concrete answer. What I want to emphasise here is we should look at the political perspective of each question.
You're an old veteran of the national assembly and have attended many Q&A sessions. What was the most memorable Q&A you experienced?
During a Q&A session, Dang Vu Chu – the then minister of industry, was asked to clarify why people lived in the rural areas had to pay for the electricity cable to their homes while those living in urban areas didn't have to. "Such a practice was not fair", voters told minister Chu. They then asked his ministry to pay them back.
Chu couldn't give an answer as he was not in a position to make the decision.
I then reported the problem to then Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and asked him to allow me to organise a meeting with the concerned ministries to find a solution. We asked the National Assembly to return VND870 billion to the people. But instead of paying to each household directly the sum would be used to upgrade electricity grids in their localities and to fund infrastructure projects in their communes, including roads and schools.
Should the draft Law on Supervision of the National Assembly and People's Council include specific regulations requiring that questioned people take responsibility for what they say?
Absolutely! They have to take responsibility for what they say whether they have evidence or not. I think the law should spell out regulations that both questioned people and people standing in the docks have to abide by.
We should also understand that the Q&A session is not a court. The national assembly is not a place to decide who is right or who is wrong. Of course, those being questioned should behave honourably as a representative of voters in his/her constituency.
Each committee of the national assembly is assigned to supervise issues relating to their functions. How do you evaluate the activities of these committees?
The rights and responsibilities of each committee are clearly stated in law. For example, the National Assembly Economic Committee has to supervise the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. So in all issues relating to those ministries, their ministers have to give answers. That's in principle but in reality the quality of Q&A sessions is not always what people expect.
Do you think the blame should be shifted to the tough working conditions of deputies?
There are various causes, including the time slot for a Q&A session; most deputies are part-time. In addition, they don't have a supporting office like those in other countries. — VNS