Swiss Ambassador Beatrice Maser Mallor speaks to Viet Nam News about her country's priorities for Viet Nam in the 2016-2020 period following Switzerland's support over the last two decades.
Can you review the Swiss government's ODA in Viet Nam since 1992, when the SDC started operating in the country?
Viet Nam and Switzerland are mutually reliable and long-standing partners and have diplomatic relations that commenced in 1971. Swiss development activities in Viet Nam were initiated in 1992. As of 2015, Switzerland has provided ODA grants of more than 400 million Swiss francs to Viet Nam. The current development co-operation is based on a bilateral agreement signed in 2002. Two Swiss government agencies — the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation or SDC, and the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs or SECO — provide complementary technical and financial assistance to Viet Nam.
Viet Nam is a priority country for Switzerland in terms of development and economic co-operation. The overall goal of the SDC is to support sustainable and inclusive development and poverty reduction in Viet Nam.
The SDC focuses on sustainable livelihood in the upland areas, forestry management and social forestry in rural areas, besides the brown goods sector. At present, the main elements of the SDC rural development programme are public service delivery for agriculture and rural development and to contribute to generating a decent income for poor, mostly ethnic minority, households in the northern uplands. The emphasis is on small-scale livestock production for better poverty alleviation and on improving the market access of rural households engaged in spice, shan tea, bamboo and rattan, besides ethnic textile production. In 2016, the SDC will end its poverty alleviation programme, and on the other hand will continue to operate global and regional programmes in Viet Nam, particularly in the areas of food security, climate change and water beyond 2016.
What is your assessment of the implementation and results of the Swiss ODA projects in Viet Nam?
Overall, the Swiss ODA projects have been doing very well. Of course, some projects need more time in order to become successful, because they introduce new ways of thinking and doing, which can lead to some difficulties or even resistance. Trust and an open exchange of information and ideas are preconditions for a successful collaboration. This allows us to have open and constructive dialogues in order to design and implement projects that address the needs of Viet Nam. Sound assessments and the selection of the right project partners are also important. I think we have done many things right to ensure success, but of course, not every single project has been successful.
What will the Swiss government's ODA projects target in Viet Nam in the future?
In line with Viet Nam's economic development and success in poverty reduction, we are shifting our focus and will do more development projects in the economic sphere and on green issues and urban development.
The Swiss co-operation takes into account the rapid socio-economic development of Viet Nam over the past two decades, including its remarkable success in poverty alleviation and its recently achieved middle-income country status. Therefore, Switzerland has embarked on a robust expansion of its Economic Co-operation and Development Programme, implemented by SECO, the Swiss development agency responsible for economic development co-operation. SECO is now in a phase of strategic reflection for co-operation in the 2017-2020 period. Given the current stage of development and past experiences of SECO's engagement, Viet Nam will remain a priority country.
Based on expected developments in Viet Nam, the government's priorities lined out in the national socio-economic development for the 2016-2020 period, past experiences and internal expertise, SECO has already conducted a first assessment to suggest prioritised areas for future co-operation. According to this assessment, SECO will most probably focus its co-operation on three topics, which are enhancement of transparent revenue collection and reliable public financial management as well as the development of a stable and comprehensive financial sector; increasing the resource efficiency and competitiveness of small and medium enterprises (SME) and improving their market access; and supporting integrated urban development that aims at cities with reliable public services.
How has the situation changed since your arrival to Viet Nam?
The first time I came to Viet Nam in 1996, I visited a hydropower plant in the northern Hoa Binh Province. Oh, it was spectacular and amazing. I mean Viet Nam has achieved great success. When you look at the statistics, you can see that the number of people in poverty has reduced significantly. Viet Nam is growing economically, people are much better off, especially the middle class. Both economic and social developments have taken huge steps forward. One thing Viet Nam should do is to make sure that the successful development continues. It is also particularly important that the majority participate in development. If only a few people benefit, it will be a challenge for Viet Nam in the future. But I see many positive signs that Viet Nam will solve this issue. — VNS